Shooter Grace McLean is something of an old hand but is now keen to transfer all the ground work into nailing a permanent starting spot for Central Manawa in the National Netball League (NNL).

With the NNL, which sits directly below the ANZ Premiership in the performance pathway, cancelled last year due to Covid-19, the nation’s next tier of talent is relishing the opportunity of being back in action.

Manawa had a comfortable 54-40 win over Waikato Bay of Plenty to open their campaign and after blowing out the cobwebs, the defending champions are all set to raise the bar against the Northern Marvels in Wellington on Saturday.

``We were a little shaky at the start and it took us a while to really get into the swing of things but gosh, when we got our momentum, it was so cool to see what we could put out there,’’ McLean said.

``There’s good signs and we’ve got a lot more to show everyone. We’ve put a lot of work into it for a long time, even during lockdown (last year) and it’s just so good that the girls have stuck together. We’ve had a few new ones come in but we’ve got a good core group and it was just nice to be able to go out and show all the work we’ve been putting in.’’

First selected for the team in 2018, McLean, 21, has since completed a Bachelor of Architecture, the next two years being geared towards gaining her Masters which takes care of the study front, and on the netball front, it’s sealing a starting spot.

As a training partner with senior team Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse, McLean has gained valuable insights into life at the elite level, tasting action at the Super Club and pre-seasons tournaments while making a cameo debut in last season’s ANZ Premiership.

``Through the Pulse, we’ve had some of the best defenders in the country and being in that training environment for three years now, I’ve got to train up against some of the best like Katrina Rore, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Karin Burger and Kelly Jury, who have taught me so much and I’m so excited to be able to put that out on court with this group,’’ she said.

Primarily a goal shoot, McLean played a strong hand in Manawa’s opening game and is keen to further develop her skill set from goal attack. Into her fourth year and while it’s still early days, McLean is thriving and ready to deliver on her potential with a regular dose of court time.

``I think we’ve got one of the best environments we’ve had to date,’’ she said.

``It’s competitive week-in week-out fighting for spots but everyone just genuinely wants everyone else to do well and that’s so evident in the way we train……it’s a very supportive environment and exciting to see how much better we’re all going to get.

``Against the Marvels, we just want to make sure we keep playing our game. A lot of the teams are now playing more of a zone defence and we’re learning how to tackle that but we did okay with that last week.’’