She may have been somewhat of an unknown when the Southern Steel player roster was revealed earlier this year but Julianna Naoupu has signalled her intent to make a name for herself on court.
Naoupu, 18, made a brief ANZ Championship debut in round one, coming on in the dying minutes of Steel's loss to the New South Wales Swifts when Megan Dehn was forced from the court with an injury.
That night she recorded a 100 percent shooting record — slotting one goal from her one attempt.
While she couldn't quite mirror that figure in her first ANZ Championship start of the season in Monday night's 52-50 win against Central Pulse, she still put in a solid 87 percent accuracy effort, slotting 13 goals from 15 attempts.
Naoupu started the game at goal attack, teaming with former Australian shooter Dehn in the circle, and despite facing an international defender — English representative Sonia Mkoloma — it didn't take long for her to settle into play, shooting Steel's first four goals.
"It was good getting out on court and just being able to get out there and show what I've got, but there's obviously still a lot more I can (work on)," she said after Monday night's game.
"I was a wee bit nervous, but you just have to get in there and shoot them (the goals)." Steel coach Robyn Broughton had been pleased with the way Naoupu started Monday night's physical encounter, despite the young shooter leaving the court half way through the third quarter with a niggling ankle and being replaced by Dehn.
"Getting Julianna out there against a well-known UK international, that was a big call, but I thought she stood up to it very well," Broughton said.
Naoupu came south this year after a year with the Canterbury Flames (now Tactix). With Steel, she's got the chance to learn much from experienced goal shooter Daneka Wipiiti, who again impressed in Monday night's game recording an 85 percent shooting average and shooting the bulk of the team's goals (23 from 27 attempts) despite only coming on at halftime.
Wipiiti had sustained an ankle injury during Thursday night's training.
However, it was nothing the team was concerned about and was being managed appropriately.
Whether Naoupu gets another starting chance against her former franchise when Steel heads to Christchurch to face the Tactix on Monday is yet to be seen, but if she proved anything on Monday night against Pulse, it's that she can shoot and will certainly be a player to watch.
- © Fairfax NZ News