The Silver Ferns selectors have named a midcourt-heavy line-up for next month's Constellation Cup series against Australia as they seek solutions for a lack of depth at centre.
The bolstered midcourt group contains one notable omission, however, with veteran Grace Rasmussen - a regular starter for the Ferns over the past few seasons, edged out by dynamic young star Whitney Souness.
With the versatile Kayla Cullen able to provide cover in the defensive circle, the selectors have effectively named five midcourters in the group - Cullen, Souness, Gina Crampton, Shannon Francois and Sam Sinclair.
New Zealand coach Janine Southby admitted it was a tough call to leave Rasmussen out, particularly when the 49-test Silver Fern's experience and nous proved valuable in the tense final quarter of the Ferns 62-55 win over England in the series decider on Wednesday night.
Southby said it was Souness' ability to play both wing attack and centre, and a desire to give her further time to develop in the test arena that saw the 21-year-old included in Constellation Cup side.
"With Whitney we feel we need more time to see her. We liked what we saw from her in the Quad Series and we feel that we need to have another look at that because at this point we don't have a lot of depth in the centre position," said Southby.
"We're really keen to ensure we're up to three-deep across each position. We feel like we're getting that in other positions and we've been able to focus on them, centre hasn't been that focused, so over the coming series we need to have a really good look at that."
With centre options thin on the ground, Francois faced a heavy workload over the Quad Series and Taini Jamison tests against England, playing all but three minutes of the six tests. The only player to rack up more minutes was captain Katrina Grant.
Souness won't be the only centre option Ferns management will be hoping to have a look at over the four-test Constellation Cup series, with Sam Sinclair another player in the mix.
"Whitney trialled well at centre and she has had a few trials games there and there's definitely a lot of promise there, but it's a big ask for someone to come into the international zone against Australia, so we're really mindful of that and we've also got
Sam Sinclair who is able to come in at centre as she has done at ANZ level."
The other main casualties in today's team naming were defenders Jane Watson and Phoenix Karaka. Watson rocketed through the national ranks last season to become a regular starter at goal keep, but the rise of youngster Kelly Jury and resurgence of enforcer Temalisi Fakahokotau left no room for the Steel defender, who was named MVP in this year's ANZ Premiership.
The athletic Karaka has been a member of the national side since 2015, but over that time has been unable to secure regular court time.
After selecting a mix of 17 players across the first two series of the year, with the young shooter Monica Falkner the only player of that group not to take the court across the six tests, Southby said the job of condensing the squad into their strongest 12 was extremely tough.
"The downside of building depth and getting players to a position where there's real competition is that there is a human factor and you know there's a lot of players out there now who are hurting because they haven't been included," she said.
Southby said there will be opportunities for the excluded players to force their way into the line-up ahead of the Commonwealth Games. The return leg of the Quad Series in South Africa and England is scheduled for January, while Netball New Zealand is in the process of lining up a series against one of the competing Commonwealth Games teams in the weeks leading up to the Gold Coast tournament.
The Constellation Cup gets underway in Auckland on October 5, before moving to Christchurch, and wraps up with the final two tests in Australia.
Silver Ferns team for Constellation Cup:
Katrina Grant (c), Maria Tutaia (vc), Gina Crampton, Kayla Cullen, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Shannon Francois, Kelly Jury, Bailey Mes, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Sam Sinclair, Whitney Souness, Maia Wilson.