Netball: Rebuilding midcourt depth coach's priority

By Dana Johannsen

Moving defender Kayla Cullen to centre could be a short-term fix for midcourt deficiencies. Picture / Dean Purcell
Moving defender Kayla Cullen to centre could be a short-term fix for midcourt deficiencies. Picture / Dean Purcell

Expect plenty of chopping and changing in the Silver Ferns test line-ups this year, with player development the key objective for coach Waimarama Taumaunu over the next two seasons.

After a four-day national camp in Auckland this week, Taumaunu will name her 12-strong team for next month's Constellation Cup series on Monday, along with her extended national squad.

She will then name a new test team for the October quad series with Australia, England and South Africa, and Taumaunu has already confirmed changes are likely.

"We've got three major aspects to this year's international programme, so I do want to try and get as many of these squad members on to court," said Taumaunu.

"So we're looking to use the Constellation Cup, the two parts of the quad series and the January tour [to England] to try and get some youngsters on, in what might be less pressured situations."

The area where the most changes are likely are in the midcourt as the selectors look to rebuild the depth in their ranks following the loss of Liana Leota and Joline Henry (pregnancy) and the retirement of Temepara George.

One possible short-term fix that has been explored is to shift Laura Langman in to wing attack and move defender Kayla Cullen up the court in to centre, but it is more likely they will first look to either Grace Rasmussen or Camilla Lees to slot in to wing attack, and keep the two incumbents in their preferred positions.

Taumaunu invited an extra four midcourters outside of the existing national squad and accelerant group to trial for a place in the Ferns.

From that group an unlikely candidate in converted shooter Bailey Mes has emerged as a strong contender for a place in the wider squad.

The 23-year-old has been training in the midcourt with the Northern Mystics for most of the season, but had just one disastrous quarter at wing attack during the ANZ Championship.

However, Mes impressed during trials, looking at home in the midcourt alongside some of the more established national players.

"She is a tall, strong, accurate player and she is one of the ones that has stood up over the last few days," said Taumaunu.

"She has been a bit of a surprise. I obviously thought she had potential, but she has looked very comfortable in the wing attack position."

It might be a bit of a stretch for Mes to be elevated straight into the New Zealand squad at this stage, but it is likely she will be included in the national programme on some level.

Mes said she was pleased with her performances over the week and hopes to continue playing midcourt.

"I kind of came in with the attitude that I had nothing to lose and just to give it 100 per cent.

"It's been really intense, but I'm just stoked I got the opportunity," she said.

The return of former Silver Fern Jodi Brown to the national fray has also posed some interesting selection decisions in the shooting end.

It's understood the selectors have been very impressed with the performances of Brown over the week.

A wily attacker, Brown has shown strong creativity and deception when she found herself in space. But during the ANZ Championship she tended to struggle against the tighter marking styles of the Australian teams.

It would be a big call for the selectors to give Brown the nod ahead of Magic goal attack Julianna Naoupu, who has been one of the form goal attacks of the transtasman league.

But it is likely both will get their opportunity in the black dress at some stage this season.

- NZ Herald

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