Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Make or break match for Pulse

Wellington-based team in danger of slipping out of finals contention

Caitlin Thwaites of the Pulse will be a tough proposition for the Magic's defenders tomorrow. Photo / Getty Images
Caitlin Thwaites of the Pulse will be a tough proposition for the Magic's defenders tomorrow. Photo / Getty Images

Central Pulse coach Robyn Broughton faces some tough selection decisions as her team approach one of their biggest tests of the transtasman league season.

Her side take on defending champions the Magic in Wellington tomorrow in what is shaping as make or break for the Pulse's maiden play-off hopes.

As the season nears halfway, the much-hyped Pulse are in danger of slipping out of finals contention early if they cannot claim some big scalps over the next couple of weeks.

With an experienced, well-rounded line-up featuring seven players with international experience, the Pulse were tipped to be in the race for a top four spot but their new-look line-up has been plagued by inconsistency.

The Pulse haven't been able to take full advantage of their depth this season, with Joline Henry still able to play only a limited role as she continues her comeback after the birth of her first child. A calf niggle has slowed Henry's progress further, leaving Broughton with the difficult decision whether to rest the former Silver Fern so her injury can fully mend, or keep putting her out there for limited patches to help rebuild match fitness.

After a strong impact in her first outing against the Steel, Henry looked sluggish when she came on at halftime in last week's shock extra-time loss to the Mystics - her frustration building to the point where she was warned by an umpire after angrily swatting the ball out of court.

If Henry is struggling, Broughton needs to weigh up whether it is fair to the team to allow the veteran to play her way into form.

A formidable defender and strong attacking outlet, Henry's value is beyond doubt when she is fully fit, but her on-court temperament worked to her side's detriment last week.

Tomorrow's clash will provide some interesting match-ups across the court, with the battle in both shooting circles expected to be the highlight. The Magic's all-star defensive pairing of Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin will need to be at their best to counter Australian import Caitlin Thwaites and the highly competitive Donna Wilkins, while down the other end Irene van Dyk can expect a torrid test against Pulse captain Katrina Grant.

Pulse management will have had a tough scouting job to do on the Magic ahead of tomorrow's match, with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side less predictable this season.

Magic coach Noeline Taurua has managed to get 13 of her 14 players out on court this season - a difference from previous years when she was heavily reliant on a top seven or eight.

In Jess Waitapu and Ellen Halpenny she has two solid goal attack options, while teenage star Nadia Loveday's impressive debut against the Tactix last week has given Taurua plenty to think about at wing attack.

"One of the things I was looking at in regards to our recruitment and selection is building that next layer underneath and trying to provide them with an environment that they can grow and have enough support, but also that they can take responsibility for what they do so they're court-ready and prepared," said Taurua.

"They've all moved so fast and we're at the stage now where a lot of them deserve the opportunity and it's just unfortunate we can only get so many people out there."

Tomorrow's clash will be preceded by some interesting match-ups across the Tasman, which will have a big impact on the top four's make-up.

The hot and cold Fever have a chance to move into the top four today if they can beat the Melbourne Vixens, while tomorrow the Queensland Firebirds and Adelaide Thunderbirds go head to head in a top-of-the-table clash. Both sides are on eight points, but a stronger goal percentage has the Firebirds on top.

Round 6

ANZ Championship

Today: 4.10pm West Coast Fever v Melbourne Vixens, Perth.

Tomorrow: 2.10pm Queensland Firebirds v Adelaide Thunderbirds, Brisbane; 7.20pm Central Pulse v Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic, Wellington.

Monday: 7.40pm Southern Steel v Northern Mystics, Invercargill.

- NZ Herald

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