Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Awards line up shows depth of young talent

Magic goal attack Julianna Naoupu (left) is tipped as a favourite to win the best young player award. Picture / Christine Cornege.
Magic goal attack Julianna Naoupu (left) is tipped as a favourite to win the best young player award. Picture / Christine Cornege.

Since the transtasman league began there has been much gnashing of teeth over lack of depth in New Zealand netball compared with that of the Australians.

Things were already beginning to look up this season with two Kiwi sides - the Mystics and the Magic - emerging as genuine contenders for the ANZ Championship crown heading in to this weekend's playoffs.

But perhaps the best indication yet of the growth of New Zealand's talent pool came in yesterday's announcement of the nominees for the league's best young player award, with four of the five candidates from this side of the Tasman.

Last year's winner, Kayla Cullen of the Mystics, Magic shooter Julianna Naoupu and defenders Storm Purvis (Steel) and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit (Pulse) have been nominated alongside Amorette Wild of the NSW Swifts.

But according to the criteria printed in the ANZ Championship media guide, only Purvis is eligible for the award. It appears somewhere between the season's start and this week the guidelines have changed.

The award was originally limited to players under 25 who, before the start of the season, had taken to the court no more than five times.

But the criteria has been simplified, with any player 22 years and under eligible for the award, regardless of previous ANZ Championship and international experience.

Naoupu, who has played a key role in the Magic's remarkable finals charge, will likely be the favourite to take out the rookie award.

Two of Naoupu's teammates also figure in the nominees for the season MVP award, with Laura Langman and Irene van Dyk selected with Mystics captain Temepara George, Vixens midcourter Madison Browne, the Pulse's Australian import, Caitlin Thwaites, and Swifts shooter Susan Pratley for the league's top individual prize.

Four of those players - Langman, van Dyk, George and Browne - are set to feature prominently for their sides in this weekend's playoffs.

But it is bricks and mortar, rather than the athletes, that have dominated the discussion in the lead-up to the finals.

The Claudelands Arena, which the league boasts provides an "accessible, rich experience for fans and supporters" - curiously leaving off the actual players from that list - is on its way to being a sell-out for the Magic's sudden-death playoff against the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

An extra stand was added yesterday to maximise the venue's capacity.

The Magic this week went public with their concerns over the court surface at Claudelands, claiming the wooden sprung floor does not have any "give" and was potentially injurious to the players.

But on the upside, after playing three matches in Hamilton already this season, they have intimate knowledge of the apparent dead spots on the court - how's that for home advantage?

The Melbourne Vixens claim some of their home advantage has been lost by moving their fixture across the road from their regular home court.

In a first for netball, tomorrow's major semifinal between the Vixens and Mystics will be played at Rod Laver Arena - one of the premier tennis venues.

The stadium has a capacity of 14,000, but Vixens' management are expecting the crowd for tomorrow's match will be closer to 10,000.

Testing timeANZ Championship - playoffs

Major semifinal

Melbourne Vixens v Northern Mystics

Tomorrow, 4.20pm, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne

Umpires: Sharon Kelly (Australia) and Jono Bredin (NZ)

Minor semifinal

Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic v Adelaide Thunderbirds

Monday, 7.40pm, Claudelands Arena, Hamilton

Umpires: Rachael Ayre (Australia) and Mandy Nottingham (NZ)

ANZ Championship MVP nominees:

Laura Langman (Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic)

Susan Pratley (NSW Swifts)

Madison Browne (Melbourne Vixens)

Caitlin Thwaites (Central Pulse)

Irene van Dyk (Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic)

Temepara George (Northern Mystics)

Best young player nominees:

Storm Purvis (Southern Steel)

Julianna Naoupu (Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic)

Amorette Wild (NSW Swifts)

Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit (Central Pulse)

Kayla Cullen (Northern Mystics)

- NZ Herald

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