Manawatu Standard

Same but different as Pulse seek title hat-trick

- Phillip Rollo

She’s been thrown a few curve balls before a game has even been played but new Central Pulse coach Gail Parata is still aiming high in her first season at the helm of the two-time defending ANZ Premiershi­p champions – just don’t mention the word ‘‘threepeat’’.

The former Scotland national team coach is trying to temper expectatio­ns following a raft of personnel changes, but was also reluctant to ride on the coattails of Yvette Mccausland-durie’s success, after the Pulse won the previous two premiershi­p finals and qualified for the past four.

‘‘We’re going out there to win a title, but because it’s a different group of players, different combinatio­ns on court. It’s kind of like the Pulse 2021 team going out for a title versuswhat other people are calling a potential three-peat,’’ Parata said.

‘‘If Yvette was still coaching you could probably call it a threepeat, but because I’m a new coach ... and the other big thing is we’re taking the pressure off the players. They are still understand­ing how to workwith each other because of the new combinatio­ns, and that’s the important thing.’’

Only fivemember­s of the Pulse’s premiershi­p-winning squad from 2020 have returned, severely weakening their playing roster, while the availabili­ty of Silver Ferns captain Ameliarann­e Ekenasio remains unclear.

Ekenasio is on leave due to medical reasons and will miss the opening game against the Northern Stars in Palmerston North tomorrow.

While her ongoing absencewil­l hurt the Pulse’s attack, it’s at the other end of the court where they have been hit the hardest. Club captain Katrina Rore is pregnant and won’t feature in 2021 while Karin Burger, who would have likely played at goal defence to cover Rore’s unavailabi­lity, has transferre­d to Mainland Tactix.

The signing of Burger has immediatel­ymade the Tactix the team to beat this season after losing last year’s final, but the Pulse have offset her departure by luring Silver Fernswing attack Whitney Souness back from a brief stint withwaikat­o-bay of

Plentymagi­c.kelly Jury will play goal defence and is highly motivated to play herway back into national team contention after missing out on selection due to fitness concerns.

Parata believed there was still enough qualitywit­hin the squad to challenge for a third consecutiv­e title.

‘‘Kelly could play herself into the Silver Ferns tomorrow with the fitness she’s at at the moment,’’ Parata said.

‘‘Even though we’ve lost people like that [Rore and Burger] and they are big players that have gone, we also have had Kelera Nawai come to us. From when I first saw her in November to where she is now is night and day, and then we’ve got a rising star in Parris Mason.’’

Sounesswil­l form an all-silver Ferns midcourt with interim captain Claire Kersten and Maddy Gordon, giving the Pulse the best engine room in the competitio­n, although the 1.74m-tall Souness has even been tried at goal attack during pre-season, providing a left-field solution to the unavailabi­lity of Ekenasio.

‘‘Look, I would have no hesitation in putting her in there,’’ Parata said. ‘‘What it does for her own developmen­t is that it gives her another option and versatilit­y for the Silver Ferns if they needed a back-up.’’

Given their high-profile absences, Parata believed the gap had closed between them and the chasing pack, but she was still optimistic about the Pulse’s chances going all theway in 2021.

‘‘I do think it’ll be tighter, but I hope they’re not tight against us,’’ she said. ‘‘This is a proud region – yeah there’s been lots of changes and challenges but I think we have a team that can lift the title again.’’

TAB title odds:


Coach: Gail Parata


Shooters: Aliyah Dunn, Ameliarann­e Ekenasio, Te Amo Amaru-tibble.

Midcourt: Whitney Souness, Claire Kersten, Maddy Gordon, Paris Lokotui

Defenders: Parris Mason, Kelly Jury, Kelera Nawai (FIJ)

In: Souness (Magic), Lokotui, Mason, Nawai, Amaru-tibble

Out: Burger (Tactix), Temu (Stars), Tiana Metuarau (Steel), Renee Savai’inaea (Steel), Katrina Rore (pregnancy)

Verdict: The winds of change have swept through Pulse HQ for the twotime defending champions. Gail Parata replaces Yvette Mccausland­Durie as coach and there are a raft of personnel changes. The Pulse boast arguably the best midcourt in the competitio­n and have a strong shooting end, but how they function defensivel­y will shape their season. Missing former captain and Ferns centurion Katrina Rore (pregnancy) and Karin Burger (moved to the Tactix) will be tough to overcome and the Pulse will need 24-test Fern Kelly Jury to shine, alongside Kelera Nawai and Parris Mason. Silver Ferns captain Ameliarann­e Ekenasio will miss the start of the season (on medical leave for fatigue).

TAB title odds: $3.25


Coach: Marianne Delaney-hoshek


Shooters: Ellie Bird, Te Paea SelbyRicki­t, Jess Prosser

Midcourt: Erikana Pedersen, Kimiora Poi, Charlotte Elley, Samon Nathan

Defenders: Karin Burger, Jane Watson, Sophia Fenwick

In: Burger (Pulse)

Out: Fakahokota­u (Magic)

Verdict: After years of turmoil, the Tactix are finally on the upward trajectory. They enjoyed their best season in team history last year, winning nine games and qualifying for their first grand final, where they lost to the Pulse. With nine of their 10 contracted players back from last season and the addition of Ferns defender Karin Burger, the Tactix are deserved title favourites. If they can avoid injury, deal with newfound expectatio­n and play at a high level consistent­ly, they will be right in the hunt for the title come the business end of the competitio­n.

TAB title odds: $3


Coach: Reinga Bloxham


Shooters: George Fisher (ENG), Tiana Metuarau, Kiana Pelasio

Midcourt: Shannon Saunders, Ali Wilshier, Kate Heffernan, Renee Savai’inaea

Defenders: Te Huinga Reo SelbyRicki­t, Taneisha Fifita, Sarahphein­na Woulf

In: Fisher (England), Metuarau (Pulse), Pelasio (wider training squad), Savai’inaea (Pulse), Wilshier, Woulf

Out: Crampton (Stars), Kendall Corkery, Abby Erwood, Georgia Heffernan (ACL injury) Kalifa Mccollin, Jennifer O’connell (ACL, MCL injuries)

Verdict: Winners of the first two ANZ Premiershi­p titles in 2017 and 2018, the Steel are in rebuild mode with a vastly changed squad from last season. They don’t have the star power from those title-winning years, but do still have club cornerston­es Shannon Saunders and Te Huinga Reo Selby-rickit. The Steel wisely targeted players from other teams not getting court time with goal attack Tiana Metuarau set to profit, having moved from the Pulse. Losing Silver Ferns wing attack Crampton to the Stars after nine seasons with the team leaves a gaping hole. Always tough to beat at home, the new-look Steel face a difficult task to crack the top three finals this season.

 ?? ROBYN EDIE/STUFF ?? Outgoing coach Yvette Mccausland-durie was the centre of celebratio­ns when the Central Pulse became national champions again last year. could take time to gel, but the Magic will command respect and should be in the reckoning for the finals.
ROBYN EDIE/STUFF Outgoing coach Yvette Mccausland-durie was the centre of celebratio­ns when the Central Pulse became national champions again last year. could take time to gel, but the Magic will command respect and should be in the reckoning for the finals. $5
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