Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: New impact, same old story

Anna Harrison has enjoyed being a central figure for the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images
Anna Harrison has enjoyed being a central figure for the Silver Ferns. Photo / Getty Images

Anna Harrison has proved herself as a 60-minute performer over the Quad Series but she will remain the Ferns' "No1 impact player".

Across the recent series Harrison started (and finished) every one of the six matches, apart from the first half against South Africa last week. It was a significant achievement for her; she has played 73 times for the Ferns but before this year had never featured in consecutive full games. Of those 73 matches, she has started 46 but completed only 12 games.

Her time on the bench is not so much a reflection on her ability but an indication of her versatility.

"Anna has done a great job for us but she is still a great impact player - I really value her impact in all three [defensive] positions," says Ferns coach Wai Taumaunu. "I've often said to her, 'Anna I'm really sorry but you are the No1 impact player across our defensive end'. We have to keep running her in all three because she can be so destructive when she comes on court."

"It's been good to be a regular part of the team," says Harrison, "and feel fully involved all of the time. I know I am often seen as a utility player and not a solid part of the team and it can be frustrating but, as you get older, you accept things. Anyway, there are plenty of positives that go with it as well; I know I can add value to all three positions and I need to keep an open mind."

Harrison struggled at times during the Quad Series at wing defence but that needs to be put in context. She has never played in the position at club or franchise level but has been used in the position in her last nine tests and in almost 40 per cent of her international games. She has always had potential on the wing - she first played there in 2003 and was a massive disruptive influence against Australia in the 2010 Commonwealth Games final.

Harrison's shift beyond the defensive circle this time was partly down to Casey Williams being injured, and Taumaunu was reluctant to have too much inexperience at the back.

"Without Casey, I felt that the three older hands (Katrina Grant, Leana de Bruin and Harrison) were the ones who would hold that defensive end together and that has proved to be the case. During the training camps it became increasingly obvious that those three were the ones with the maturity and the game sense to do that."

A transition from the defensive circle to wing defence might pose some physical questions but that was never an issue with the superbly conditioned Harrison. Taumaunu did have some worries over the attacking side of her game but they were quickly dispelled.

"It's been good for me," says Harrison, "but there is still so much to improve on. The hardest part (of being wing defence) was learning all the structures but all that time in the (defensive) circle is also an advantage, as I know what helps them back there."

Harrison has perhaps been unfortunate to match up against Madison Browne in this series. Browne was benched for part of the Constellation Cup series but Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander has since realised her mistake and the nippy Vixens midcourter is at the top of her game - possibly the best player in the world at the moment.

"Maddy has presented a real challenge for us and she is a player we have to keep thinking about," says Taumaunu. "Maddy and the Australians have really come to grips with our space marking (game) and we have to look at that."

"The main thing I have learnt with facing Madison is that you can't rely on isolating her one-on-one to defend her," says Harrison.

"It is crucial that you work as a unit. Obviously it is a big challenge but one that I thoroughly enjoy."


Anna Harrison

• Tests: 73

• Starts: 46

• Completed matches: 12

• Games at wing defence: 29

• Games in more than two positions: 20

• The 29-year-old Harrison made her debut in November 2002 in a win over South Africa in Auckland.

- Herald on Sunday

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