Michael Burgess

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

Netball: Shooting a deja vu challenge for Brown

Jodi Brown (right) has played second fiddle to Jhaniele Fowler. Photo / Christine Cornege
Jodi Brown (right) has played second fiddle to Jhaniele Fowler. Photo / Christine Cornege

In the midst of the Steel's dramatic resurgence this season, Jodi Brown has been overshadowed in more ways than one.

Not only is she dwarfed by Jhaniele Fowler, who stands 13cm taller than the Silver Fern, but she has also played second fiddle to the Jamaican who has dominated the Steel's shooting statistics and subsequent headlines.

Going into today's match against the Magic, Fowler has shot 457 goals. That's more than the Magic pair of Irene van Dyk and Ellen Halpenny combined and an average of more than 50 per match. In contrast, Brown has managed 102 goals (11 per game) and contributed just a single goal (of 60) in the round-seven win over the Swifts.

"It's been a big change for me," Brown told the Herald on Sunday. "For a long time, I have played in a circle with two moving shooters but it is obviously different this year. It puts pressure on my passing game but I enjoy the challenge."

Brown has been here before, albeit over a decade ago. When van Dyk first arrived in the country in 2000, Brown, who had been the goal shoot, was shunted aside to make way for the South African at the Capital Shakers. Van Dyk has re-invented herself considerably since but back then was similar to Fowler, with her feet planted under the hoop, waiting for the pass. Brown spent the best part of five years in tandem with van Dyk and has turned back the clock this year.

"It's been a challenge for her," says Steel coach Janine Southby. "She is now part of a less mobile shooting circle but has worked hard to change her game and adapt.

"She is very conscious of what is required from a team point of view and has been huge for us, though it might not always be noticed."

Brown has certainly stepped up, contributing 163 goal assists (second highest in the competition) but knows that won't be enough heading into the sharp end of the season. The Steel's stay in the top four was brief; they reached fourth place after round nine but were bounced out last week, after their loss to the Vixens and the Magic's extra-time heroics against the Firebirds. Starting with today's game against the Magic, the southern team can't afford any more losses if they want to guarantee their first play-off finish since 2010. The Magic have won four of the last six games between the two sides. The Steel need an alternative to the total reliance on Fowler.

"We realise we need to have a game A and game B," says Brown. "We need to have two shooters to share the load; if teams manage to shut down Jhaniele, we have to adapt."

Brown also needs to consider the Silver Ferns. Given the demands of the modern international game, she can't afford to be typecast as a feeder; someone who provides the bullets but doesn't fire them. She was one of the bolters in Wai Taumaunu's team last year and is desperate to keep her spot.

"There have been conversations between Wai [Taumaunu], Janine [Southby] and myself," says Brown. "The Steel game plan has been acknowledged in that context but they will still need to see aspects of both games - that's my challenge."

In a young team (average age 23.7 years) Brown is captain on the court and one of the leaders off it. The Steel has run a split squad this year, with half the team based in Dunedin and the rest in Invercargill.

They still manage to get together for four team trainings a week. Brown helps to manage the logistics, keeping the threads together, off and on the court.

- Herald on Sunday