Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Inner Circle: Netball's Aussie invasion

Chelsea Locke (R) of the Pulse controls the ball from Katherine Coffin (L) of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic during the round one ANZ Championship match. Photo / Getty Images.
Chelsea Locke (R) of the Pulse controls the ball from Katherine Coffin (L) of the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic during the round one ANZ Championship match. Photo / Getty Images.

The two sides tipped to go head-to-head for the New Zealand conference title both suffered shock losses in the opening round of the ANZ Championship, hinting at a shift in the balance of power in New Zealand netball.

An unforgivable lapse in concentration from the Northern Mystics saw them run down in the final minutes by a spirited Southern Steel side in Friday night's opener. The Auckland franchise blew a seven-goal lead in the final quarter to go down by one goal.

The Magic suffered the same heartbreaking result, albeit in a different manner, in last night's clash against the Pulse.

The one-goal thrillers bookended a weekend of otherwise big scorelines in the transtasman league, with the Australian derbies proving to be surprisingly one-sided.

The usually highly-competitive Australian conference is looking decidedly more clear-cut after one round.

It's looking like it could be a long season for the Thunderbirds, who went down to the Fever 63-44, on the back of a lacklustre defensive performance. Inexperience in the shooting end could be the Vixens downfall this year with the Melbourne side racking up the lowest score of any team in round one in their 57-42 loss to the Swifts.

Sock it to 'em

After the great compression sock scandal of 2015, when Mystics captain Maria Tutaia drew the ire of league bosses for wearing brightly coloured compression garments, fans will be relieved to know there are new regulations in force this season. Players are permitted to wear compression garments so long as they use the league's official suppliers and are in black or white, or match the team's colours.

Tutaia pushed the envelope in round one by wearing red socks, which is technically one of the Mystics colours.

Aussie invasion

At one stage in last night's clash between Pulse and the Magic there were seven players out on court that were born or raised in Australia. Only one of those carries import status.
With greater movement between the two countries, it's becoming increasingly common for players to have both New Zealand and Australian heritage, and Netball NZ have made a point of trying to target those players.

The likes of the Magic's Courtney Tairi and Malia Paseka were lured back to New Zealand several years ago and both having gone on to play for the Silver Ferns. Midcourter Jamie-Lee Price was born in Australia, but has played most of her netball in New Zealand after moving here after her father, Steve, took up a contract with the Warriors in 2005.
Magic defender Kristiana Manu'a took up a contract with the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side last year, with her Kiwi links making her eligible to play for both countries. Netball Australia moved quickly to lock Manu'a into their system though, with the young defender named as part of the wider Diamonds squad.

The Pulse line-up meanwhile features three former Queensland Firebirds players - shooter Ameliaranne Wells, who became a Silver Fern in 2014; midcourter Chelsea Locke, who has dual citizenship courtesy of her Kiwi mother; and import defender Jacinta Messer.

Langman stars in Swifts debut

While plenty of Aussie players have come over to this side of the ditch, Silver Ferns midcourter Laura Langman is carving out a path of her own by taking up a contract with the NSW Swifts.

The 133-test Silver Fern was outstanding in the Swifts 15-goal win over the Vixens, keeping star wing attack Madison Robinson quiet all game, and even forcing her to the bench at one point. It was Robinson's first game back after lengthy injury lay-off, with the dynamic midcourter suffering a serious knee injury that kept her out of last year's World Cup.

The Silver Ferns selectors would have been keeping a close eye on the Langman-Robinson match-up. Last year former coach Waimarama Taumaunu mulled over the idea of moving Langman back to wing defence to in an effort to curtail the influence of Robinson, who was the dominant ball distributor for the Diamonds. But the season-ending injury to Robinson, and the lack of replacement options for Langman at centre, meant the move didn't gain a lot of traction.

Taumaunu still keeping her eye on things

While Taumaunu has stepped down as Ferns coach in September last year, she is still very much part of the national set-up. Taumaunu has remained on as a national selector, and was spotted in the crowd with clipboard in hand in last night's Pulse v Magic clash.
Meanwhile, Taumaunu's replacement at the helm of the Silver Ferns, Janine Southby, this week advertised for an assistant coach.

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