Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Kayla Cullen staying put in defensive end for Northern Stars

Kayla Cullen didn't know which bib she would be wearing from one week to the next at the Northern Mystics last season. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.
Kayla Cullen didn't know which bib she would be wearing from one week to the next at the Northern Mystics last season. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.

Kayla Cullen plans to shake off the "utility" tag in the new ANZ Premiership era.

After playing five different positions across the season for the Northern Mystics in last year's transtasman league, Cullen will be staying put in one area of the court for expansion side the Northern Stars.

Stars coach Julie Hoornweg wants Cullen to concentrate on the goal defence and wing defence positions this season - news that came as a relief to the 35-test Silver Fern.

"Last year I was moved around so much and it kind of confused me and it is really hard to develop your game when you're not getting solid court time in one position," said Cullen.

"Most weeks I wouldn't even know where I would be playing, so it is good to have more clarity around that. It is kind of a weight off my shoulders that I can just concentrate on one job."

Listen: Kayla Cullen on the Radio Sport Breakfast

It was in the GD bib that Cullen first announced her arrival as one of the country's most exciting talents, earning the rookie of the year plaudits in the 2011 transtasman league.

Over later seasons Cullen was gradually moved down the court, with coaches at both international and domestic level keen to see the athletic star's speed, agility and attacking instincts put to use in the midcourt. She was never really given the time to settle into the centre-wing attack roles, with the temptation to move Cullen back into the defensive end when the Mystics needed someone to make an impact too great.

Given Cullen has excelled in the wing defence position for the Silver Ferns over the past two seasons, conventional wisdom now is the WD-GD slide is where she fits best.

While she is returning to where she started out, Cullen said she is still finding her feet back in the defensive circle.

"Goal defence is doing my head in at the moment - it's a lot harder than I remember. But it's a good challenge and it is fun to be back in the defensive circle."

As one of the most experienced players on the Stars' roster this season, Cullen has found herself taking on another new role - that of a leader.

The new start-up franchise, which is based in South Auckland, boasts a largely young and untested line-up and Cullen said she is enjoying shouldering some of leadership responsibilities alongside skipper Leana de Bruin and veteran midcourter Courtney Tairi.

"This is probably the first year that I've actually found myself taking on a leadership role and being more proactive about things. In the past I've probably sat back a bit more and let the older girls do it, but this year I've been having a lot more input," she said.

"It's probably about time that I did step up and taking on some of that responsibility."

The Stars open their ANZ Premiership campaign against competition favourites, the Southern Steel, in this weekend's Super Sunday round in Hamilton.

- NZ Herald

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