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2011 saw a tightening of the import rules for the ANZ Championship. Instead of the confusion and unevenness of previous seasons, from 2011, the rule was definite – each team could have one player classified as an import and no more. This meant some high-profile moves, most especially Geva Mentor moving to Vixens, as Thunderbirds preferred to keep Jamaican shooter Carla Borrego.
With a World Championships in Singapore in mind, the competition was condensed into 12 weeks with teams playing double-header weekends. 2011 was also the year that Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Apart from the tragic loss of life and the devastation caused to the city, the quake also badly disrupted Tactix’s season with two of their home games having to be played at the opposition’s venue.
After finishing just outside the finals in the previous two seasons, the Queensland Firebirds put it all together in 2011 and went through the entire season undefeated. Even losing their captain Lauren Nourse to injury, didn’t halt their run. Laura Geitz took over the reins and led the team to victory over Northern Mystics in the grand final. Another high-profile player to succumb to injury was Sharelle McMahon. Both she and Nourse had to miss the World Championships.
2011 ANZ CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS
NOURSE, Lauren (capt)
* LETTON, April (Injury Replacement Player)
Coach: Roselee Jencke
New South Wales Swifts
COX, Catherine (capt)
Coach: Julie Fitzgerald
CHATFIELD, Bianca (co-capt)
MCMAHON, Sharelle (co-capt)
* EAGLAND, Shannon (Injury Replacement Player)
* PUOPOLO, Stephanie (Injury Replacement Player)
Coach: Julie Hoornweg
VON BERTOUCH, Natalie (capt)
Coach: Jane Woodlands-Thompson
West Coast Fever
CURRAN, Johannah (capt)
Coach: Jane Searle
GEORGE, Temepara (capt)
Coach: Debbie Fuller
Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
LANGMAN, Laura (capt)
VAN DYK, Irene
Coach: Noeline Taurua
AMARU-TIBBLE, Te Amo
GRANT, Katrina (capt)
Coach: Yvette McCausland-Durie
BOWDEN, Maree (capt)
Coach: Helen Mahon-Stroud
DE BRUIN, Leana
FREW, Wendy (co-capt)
LEOTA, Liana (co-capt)
SELBY-RICKIT, Te Huinga Reo
SELBY-RICKIT, Te Paea
Coach: Robyn Broughton
Gerrard hails return to Swifts
The New South Wales Swifts have confirmed the return of drawcard Mo’onia Gerrard for the 2011 Trans-Tasman Championship season and the ferocious defender is excited to back in her “Manly hood”. Gerrard said she was glad to be back in her home state with her family, including partner, New South Wales Waratahs rugby player Dave Dennis. “It’s an exciting time for me, I guess, to back at home amongst familiar faces and scenery – that’s pretty exciting for me,” the netball pin-up said.
As well as her sporting endeavours, entrepreneurial pursuits have also brought Gerrard back to Sydney. “On top of that I have a small (children’s clothing) business… one of the main reasons I wanted to come back,” the 29-year-old said. Gerrard played with the Swifts from 2003-07 and it is no coincidence they won three premierships in that time. She then left Sydney for Adelaide in 2007 and was integral the Thunderbirds’ upset of the Swifts in this year’s preliminary final on the way to securing the title. The Swifts had won every game in 2010 until losing to the Thunderbirds.
Gerrard said she was unperturbed about playing with or against old team-mates, saying on the court it was business as usual. “I’ve been with other teams since ’08… so whoever I’m playing with doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. Swifts coach Julie Fitzgerald said she was excited to have Gerrard back in her home state. “Mo’onia has been one of the larger than life figures in the Netball New South Wales community and it’s a delight to have her back playing for the Swifts,” Fitzgerald said. With the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this October, the modest Gerrard is downplaying her certain call up for the Diamonds. “I’m hoping to get into the twelves,” she said. “Hopefully I will be hearing my name being called out.”
Wilkins reignites career with Canterbury Tactix
Former international Donna Wilkins will return to top-level netball after signing to play for Canterbury Tactix in next year’s transtasman league. The 32-year-old goal shoot last played in the league for Southern Steel last year before sitting out this season and giving birth last month to her second child. A veteran of 64 tests, Wilkins first appeared at provincial level for Canterbury 16 years ago.
A dual international, she also represented her country at basketball, appearing at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and 2006 Commonwealth Games, as well as playing for the Connecticut Suns in the WNBA in the United States in 2006. “It’s nice to come back to Canterbury to where my netball career started,” Wilkins said. “I’m very keen to play in a team where I believe I can make a difference while sharing my knowledge with such talented young players.”
Wilkins, who lives on a farm in northern Southland, said there would be plenty of babysitters in Christchurch. “I have a strong base of family and friends in the city, which is awesome.” Tactix coach Helen Mahon-Stroud said Wilkins would have a significant influence on her team. “While her presence on the court will be invaluable, I think her influence outside match day will be equally important.”
Mystics pull off a coup with newest recruit
The Northern Mystics have sprung a late surprise in their line-up for next season, with former Australian shooter Megan Dehn set to be named in the Auckland squad when the teams are released today. Dehn, who has played for the Southern Steel for the past three seasons, had hoped to return to Invercargill next year but a failed citizenship bid ended her chances. The Steel had signed Natasha Chokljat from the Melbourne Vixens and under the rules could not have two ineligible players on their books.
The crafty Australian shooter was going through the process of getting citizenship, but failed to meet the residency requirements. Sensing an opening, the Mystics pounced and were able to secure the veteran for what is expected to be her final season in the transtasman league. Dehn said after failing to secure her residency she was considering retiring, but a strong sales pitch from Mystics captain Temepara George convinced her to make the move to Auckland for one last hurrah. “Temepara had a good chat with me and she can be very persuasive.”
Dehn formed a friendship with George when the pair played together in the now defunct Northern Force franchise in the old domestic league. “I started my career over there in Auckland, so it’ll be nice to finish off with them. “Because I worked over there for that year and a half I was there, I have quite a lot of friends in Auckland, so it’s kind of not an issue to move away from home, it’s somewhere I have a lot of ties to already.”
While the inclusion of Dehn is a huge shot in the arm for the Mystics campaign, Silver Ferns management might not be quite so overjoyed with the announcement. With the 36-year-old able to cover both shooting positions as well as wing attack, any court time she receives will come at the expense of test incumbents Maria Tutaia and Grace Rasmussen, or Fern-in-waiting Cathrine Latu. But Mystics coach Debbie Fuller stressed Dehn is there to provide back-up from the bench and to offer versatility – similar to the role Jenny-May Coffin, now the Mystics assistant coach, provided last season.
“It is a really tough competition, so you need to assemble a deep squad. Having somebody like Megan who is experienced and offers a different approach to the attacking game I think will provide an element of unpredictability for our team,” said Fuller. The final place in the Mystics squad will be filled by Auckland Waitakere midcourter Kayla McAlister, younger sister of All Black Luke. McAlister, who as a teenager played for the Western Flyers in the National Bank Cup, has been a training partner with the Mystics for the past year.
The Vixens have also pulled off a big coup at the 11th hour, signing England defender and star of the Adelaide Thunderbirds for the past three seasons, Geva Mentor. The new eligibility rules prevented the Thunderbirds from keeping both Jamaican shooter Carla Borrego and Mentor on their books. Joining Mentor in returning to the league is her defensive partner in the national side, Sonia Mkoloma (NSW Swifts) – a move that could signal the end of their international careers.
In a statement released yesterday, England Netball confirmed the star duo’s decision means they will be ineligible for selection in next year’s world championships in Singapore. England Netball claims the national squad collectively agreed two years ago that they would all remain in Britain in 2011 to play in the Superleague to prioritise England’s preparations.