High hopes for Cen­tral women

Manawatu Standard - - Sport - GE­ORGE HEAGNEY

Si­mon Lees is back in charge of the Cen­tral women’s foot­ball team and he is am­bi­tious as ever.

Cen­tral start the na­tional women’s league this week­end and Lees, re­turn­ing to coach the side for the first time since 2013, is pos­i­tive about the team’s chances.

In his last start as coach Cen­tral fin­ished fourth and weren’t far off qual­i­fy­ing for the play­offs, so af­ter the side has fin­ished sixth out of seven teams the past two sea­sons, Lees was keen to do bet­ter.

They have had three pre-sea­son games - a draw with Cap­i­tal, a loss to Waikato-bay of Plenty and a win over Cap­i­tal, so most of the squad has played a lot of min­utes re­cently.

Lees said the squad, which is spread from Hawke’s Bay to New Taranaki have been com­mit­ted to train­ing and play­ers have been trav­el­ling ev­ery week and they are all buy­ing into what they’re try­ing to do.

‘‘Ev­ery time you can look at the other re­gions and say who they’ve got and all those sorts of things, but the work ethic and the abil­ity we’ve got in this group, I ex­pect re­ally big things,’’ he said. ’’The ex­pec­ta­tion helps the play­ers.’’

Lees should be able to get the best out of the squad largely made up of play­ers from the Palmer­ston North Marist club side.

There are no se­nior in­ter­na­tion­als in the team, but they have a hand­ful of New Zealand age-group play­ers and na­tional fut­sal play­ers.

Their big­gest gain is prob­a­bly ex­pe­ri­enced mid­fielder Leah Gal­lie, who will cap­tain the side, but they have also picked up ex­pe­ri­enced strik­ers Meisha Boone and Alee­sha Hey­wood.

One loss is at­tack­ing mid­fielder TJ Lyne-lewis, who is out with in­jury and she has been re­placed by for­mer Black Sticks hockey goal­keeper Ge­or­gia Bar­nett.

De­fend­ers and New Zealand age-group play­ers Am­ber Phillips and Sarah Mor­ton should play a big role for Cen­tral this year, as well as Mor­ton’s sis­ter Rose.

Tilly James and Han­nah Robert will be threats on at­tack too.

Cen­tral start off against North­ern on the North Shore on Sun­day and North­ern are likely to have Manawatu¯ ex­pats Jane Bar­nett, Cather­ine Pretty and Jess Ou­laghan.

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