Ferns boost midcourt for series
Veteran Rasmussen omitted from squad to meet Diamonds
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, with veteran Grace Rasmussen — a regular starter for the Ferns over the past few seasons — edged out by dynamic youngster 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 out Rasmussen, 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.
“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 England series, 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 fourtest series, with Sinclair 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 interna- tional 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 yesterday’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.
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 under way in Auckland on October 5, before moving to Christchurch, and wraps up with the final two tests in Australia.
Whitney Souness edged out veteran Grace Rasmussen for the series against Australia.