Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Southby facing perennial problem with Silver Ferns

Ameliaranne Ekenasio is one of three rookie shooters in the Silver Ferns lineup for the upcoming quad series. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ameliaranne Ekenasio is one of three rookie shooters in the Silver Ferns lineup for the upcoming quad series. Photo / Greg Bowker

It's a new era for the Silver Ferns, but the perennial issue remains: shooting depth.

The major headache facing Janine Southby heading into her first test as national coach in this weekend's Quad Series opener is a marked experience gap in the shooting end.

With the retirement of Jodi Brown and unavailability of Maria Tutaia (foot injury) and Malia Paseka (pregnant), only Bailey Mes remains in the shooting circle from last year's World Cup line-up.

Mes, who only cemented her role as the Ferns' starting goal shoot last season, will likely partner with four-test rookie Ameliaranne Ekenasio (nee Wells) in Saturday's opening match-up against England. Their back-up on the bench? Uncapped youngsters Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Maia Wilson.

Southby said while her shooting end lack experience, they have all been selected in the Ferns for a reason.

"The big thing for them is to remember they have their roles to play and they have real strengths and they need to play to them. In the latter part of training last week Bailey was looking really comfortable at goal shoot and we have got a couple of options at goal attack we're just looking at," said Southby.

Queensland-born Ekenasio, who made her debut for the Silver Ferns in 2014 following a shock elevation to the national team, admits she is feeling the pressure to step up at goal attack in the absence of Tutaia.

The 25-year-old found herself in a similar position with the Pulse in this year's ANZ Championship after the Wellington-based side lost veteran shooter and key playmaker Jodi Brown to a career-ending knee injury in the preseason.

Ekenasio said that experience helped her realise the trying to absorb all the responsibility on her own is counterproductive.

"I guess there is a little pressure in there, but we want to absorb it as a whole team rather than dumping it on one or two players. We're all ready to step up and give it our all though," she said.

There will be new combinations at the other end of the court as well, with absence of Casey Kopua (maternity leave) and Leana de Bruin (retired) opening the door for a fresh pairing to make their mark in the defensive circle.

The favoured combination will likely be captain Katrina Grant - provided she can bounce back from an illness which kept her out of training today - and Anna Harrison, who returns to the national side after taking time out for the birth of her second child.

Despite having limited time to prepare her new-look side for the upcoming series, Southby is confident she can solidify her gameplan before Saturday's tricky first-up outing against the English.

"At this point in time there's lots of clarity that needs to happen, and the girls need to ask questions and get that understanding so that they can actually go out there and do it," she said.

The Quad Series will get underway with a double-header at Auckland's Vector Arena, with the world champion Australian side taking on South Africa before the Silver Ferns take the court against England.

- NZ Herald

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