Netball: Southern side getting the hang of development league

The national league is a learning curve for everyone, but the tournament's southern side is so far making a good fist of it.

The development league, which is in its first year, effectively mirrors the New Zealand conference of the ANZ Championship. Five regional teams play the other four teams twice each during a round-robin.

Thirteen matches will be televised and played immediately after ANZ Championship matches across the country, while the other seven will be staged as separate events.

The tournament will conclude with a final at Trusts Arena in Auckland on June 26.

The South side is made up of players based in Dunedin, Balclutha and Invercargill and, while that has presented a challenge for coach Lauren Piebenga, the side has enjoyed a promising start to the season.

It beat North 46-43 in Invercargill two weeks ago and narrowly went down 39-38 to Mainland in the same city last weekend.

While the matches themselves had been challenging, it was the increased publicity and exposure which was taking the most getting used to, Piebenga said.

‘‘It's a good step up for the girls in terms of playing in a semi-professional-type league.

‘‘It's quite a different league. It's televised, players are called on to the court, there's a real professional feel around it.

‘‘That can be something a player needs to learn to deal with as well.''

The 12-strong squad was made up of mostly locally-grown players. Manawatu-born Dani Gray and Rachel Horrocks were the only exceptions.

However, it was those players' third year at the University of Otago and they had played age-group representative netball in the region in that time.

The squad trained together twice a week and attended strength and conditioning sessions in either Dunedin or Invercargill three times a week.

The side was slowly starting to gel into a cohesive unit, Piebenga said.

‘‘We're definitely making good gains in terms of what we're doing within the whole programme.

‘‘The players are getting comfortable enough in the environment to have confidence with each other on the court.''

The side included Southern Steel-contracted players Abby Erwood and Jamie Hume, while Steel players Brooke Leaver and Stacey Peeters were also eligible but had not been released to play by the franchise so far.

National league matches were played after ANZ Championship matches, rather than before, so eligible players who had played a limited part for major teams could be considered for their development sides afterwards.

Players who had played 24 or fewer quarters in the ANZ Championship before this year's league were eligible to play for development sides. They could only be used in national league matches if they had been included in the side's team list submitted two days before a match.

South's next game is against Waikato-Bay of Plenty after the Steel's match against the West Coast Fever in Invercargill on Saturday night.

Despite a promising start, South had made too soft many turnovers in its first two matches and had been working on cleaning up that area this week, Piebenga said.

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