Presenting with a new-look team in 2018, Central remain intent on preserving their successful strike rate when the third edition of the Beko Netball League gets under way this weekend.
Central finished with an unblemished record last season after securing the runners-up spot in 2016, but who come into Sunday’s season-opener against Mainland, in Porirua, with a vastly different-looking team.
``With a new group, moulding them into a competitive unit is one of the challenges that I have and it’s an exciting one,’’ new coach Pelesa Semu said.
A former national league player and Samoa international, Semu has forged a successful coaching record at school, club, age-group and NPC level over the past 10 years and is excited to be building on the Zone’s strong depth of young talent.
Just two mainstay players are returning from last year’s winning Central team – shooter Jermaine Howard-Vallance and defender Danielle Tafili while Layce Walker, Monalisa Groom and Colleen Faleafaga have been part of previous campaigns. This year’s team also features two secondary school players in Saviour Tui and Paris Lokotui.
A long pre-season, which began with identifying a squad of 30 players in September who were put on specialised training programmes, culminated with selection trials in March, the end result for Semu has left a strong pool of budding young talent at her disposal.
That was all finally put to the test during a pre-season tournament in Auckland, held in late April where Central emerged unbeaten against fellow Beko competitors Waikato Bay of Plenty and the two Northern teams, Comets and Marvels.
``That was really timely in helping us get a gauge of how we were placed just ahead of the season and in terms of the type of competition we would be facing,’’ Semu said.
``It was all really positive with lots of learnings while providing a good reference to selections and how certain players responded. It was a good start but the big challenge is always to keep them grounded as it was more focussed on the outcomes we wanted to achieve.’’
Central has a squad of 15 from which a match-day 10 is selected.
``There’s a group of the Pulse players who are still eligible to play in the Beko League, so the beauty of our programme is that we are fully aligned with the Pulse programme,’’ Semu said.
Both teams work closely together around players who need game time and eligible Pulse players (up to three ANZ Premiership players who have not played more than 36 quarters in the former tans-Tasman competition/ANZP prior to the current season) frequently come into the Beko set-up on match day.
For Mainland, Gemma Hazeldine and Nicola Mackle add a vital core of experience to the ranks for last year’s beaten finalists, the pair being former franchise players.
``They’ve got some seasoned campaigners in there and some great young talent coming through so they’re probably similar to us in that regard,’’ Semu said.
``While winning is a key focus, we also want to solidify combinations, ensure we get away to a good start and keep learning and growing as we go.’’