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2024 Preview: Familiar faces back to bolster Steel

2024 Preview: Familiar faces back to bolster Steel

There’s been a major re-shuffle in the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel ranks for 2024 including a raft of returning players, all with an intimate knowledge of how things work in the south.

Experiencing further setbacks in her comeback from a serious knee injury, the return of England international George Fisher remains up in the air, leaving just four players back on deck from last season’s campaign.

However, re-joining the ranks are seasoned midcourter Shannon Saunders, back after the birth of her first child, former defenders Taneisha Fifita, returning after 18 months of missionary work overseas, and Abby Erwood, and former training partner Grace Namana. With Fisher’s involvement in doubt, former shooter Jen O’Connell has also been added to the mix.

We know quite a bit about them, they know a bit about us, so there’s that familiarity which is very helpful,” Steel coach Reinga Bloxham said.

They’re also a little bit older in the sense that they’re not straight out of school, they do understand the demands of the environment. Their professional habits are really solid in that they understand the expectations, so they’ve just been able to get in there, get their hands dirty and get into their work straight away which has been awesome.”

The only real new face for the Steel is South African import defender Jeante Strydom, who has been biding her time for such an opportunity.

It’s definitely been a cultural change for her but she has just grasped the opportunity with both hands,” Bloxham said.

She’s an absolute sponge and just wants to immerse herself, be involved, is loving being in a high performance environment, is enjoying being in a new place (Invercargill) where she’s going on little adventures and getting to know the community.

But I think with her, it’s really all about the netball and that’s the thing that’s really motivated her to be here and she’s here for the absolute right reasons. When I think about Steel players of the past and some of their traits and personalities, she just fits that mould so nicely.

She’s a real grinder, a real hard worker. She comes in with no ego but she wants to do her absolute best to help contribute to the overall team and the environment. So, it’s been great having her here.”

The Steel endured a horror run with injuries in 2023, losing three of their contracted players before the season had even started, so having a full complement of players for this year’s competition start is top of Bloxham’s wish list.

We’ve talked a lot about last season, but actually last season is in the past now,. We’ve got a different team, we’ve got different expectations and I think we’ve got a really good mix of youth, of experience and we’ve definitely got a lot of potential, so I can’t wait to see how that emerges through the competition.”

Kate Heffernan will captain the Steel this season with the experienced Saunders adding valuable support as vice-captain.