Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant is tipping returning veteran Anna Harrison to have a major impact on the upcoming Constellation Cup series.
The first of four transtasman tests is played tonight in Sydney, with Harrison back in the team after sitting out the quad series and the three clashes against Jamaica last month.
If Harrison plays, it will be her first outing in the black dress since the 2014 Commonwealth Games, after taking time out for the birth of her second child. She enjoyed a strong ANZ Championship season this year with the Mystics, before a calf muscle injury took her out of international contention again.
"It is great to have Anna back," said Grant. "She is such a different player to anyone else around, especially in our squad. She is very rangy, tall and she is a thinker."
As Grant points out, Harrison offers a "point of difference" at the defensive end for the Ferns. In recent years New Zealand have struggled to counteract towering Diamonds shooter Caitlin Bassett, who has become a dominant force at this level. With her height (1.87m) and unparalleled vertical leap, Harrison is one who could put Bassett off her stride.
The 33-year-old Harrison also brings vital experience at the back of the court, with the absence of Leana de Bruin (retired), Casey Kopua (pregnant) and Kayla Cullen (injured). While Harrison is set to play, Maria Tutaia is an unlikely starter tonight but remains an outside chance for the second match in Tasmania on Wednesday.
The Ferns are a decent chance tonight. It wasn't so long ago that taking on Australia without both Irene van Dyk and Tutaia was considered an impossible mission, but the new generation of Ferns showed great potential in the 60-55 loss in Melbourne last month. They hauled in a big deficit to take the lead late in the final quarter, only to watch Australia slip away after brief lapses in concentration.
"We can attack them all over the court," said Grant. "We have players who have points to prove. We can come through and exploit any one of them, we just need to make sure we are all firing at the same time. [And] we need to play 60-minute netball. It's cliched, but that is what you have to do.
"There was a three or four-minute lull by us which let them get away with it [in Melbourne]. We can't afford to do that again."
The Ferns haven't held the Constellation Cup since 2012 but were very close last year as Australia retained the trophy on a goals countback and Grant feels momentum is building.
"Last year was tough for us, losing the World Cup and very narrowly missing out on the Constellation Cup," she said. "I think it's time for us to make our mark, to come through, with the new generation of players that are coming in. It's the first of a four-year cycle and, if we can get some success first up, that would really help us."