Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Mystics share new vision

Silver Ferns defender Kayla Cullen has been impressive while training further up the court. Photo / Getty Images
Silver Ferns defender Kayla Cullen has been impressive while training further up the court. Photo / Getty Images

An overload at one end of the court has seen some big positional shifts in the Northern Mystics squad early in the ANZ Championship pre-season.

Until last week, Debbie Fuller's plans to convert Silver Ferns defender Kayla Cullen into an attacking player and develop Cathrine Latu as a goal attack option had only been run through in the mind of the Mystics coach. Now, after two weeks of training together as a full squad, Fuller has had the opportunity to test her theories on court.

The biggest move has seen Cullen, used primarily as a goal defence for the Mystics last season, switch to the other end of the court. Fuller would not say which bib she sees the athletic 23-year-old wearing this year, only that she would play "a role in the attacking end". But at Friday's open training session, Cullen spent the bulk of her time at wing attack.

Fuller said she's been impressed with what she's seen from the versatile star.

"It's a position she's not accustomed to recently, but she's played down that end of the court all through her schooling career, so I think she will be really strong there," said Fuller.

"The thing with Kayla is that she's always open to change. She saw it as an opportunity to expand her game knowledge and game awareness."

The move was made necessary by some curious selection decisions which created a pile-up in the defence end.

The return of veteran Anna Harrison to the team following time out for the birth of her second child, and the addition of rookies Holly Fowler, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson and Fa'amu Ioane, who all typically play at goal defence and wing defence, has left the Mystics light on attacking options.

Ioane is expected to move up the court to concentrate on the centre position, while English import Serena Guthrie, voted the best league's wing defence last season, will also likely spend a lot more time at centre this year.

It's the shooting end where the options begin to look a little thin.

The Auckland franchise are carrying just three recognised shooters in their squad this year: Latu, Maria Tutaia and basketball convert Megan Craig, who is still learning the ropes in netball. With Craig standing at 2.04m tall, she is shaping as a handy option at goal shoot if the Mystics can bring her up to speed before the season.

But with Latu and Craig both specialist goal shoots, there is no obvious back-up for Tutaia in goal attack.

Fuller is confident Latu can be developed into a viable goal attack option. The veteran shooter, looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season in which she missed out on the Silver Ferns World Cup squad, has clearly put in a lot of work during the off-season with her conditioning.

The Mystics coach said while we haven't seen a lot of Latu at goal attack, she believes the 24-test Silver Fern has the footwork and court smarts to be a strong option in the roaming role.

- Herald on Sunday

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