Same but different as Pulse seek title hat-trick
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.