Steel plan to lift game after worst-ever season

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2012

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Southern Steel boss David Bannister says the franchise will be careful with their off-season spending as they look to improve their playing squad for 2013.

Steel opted for a largely Southland/Otago-based roster this season in a bid to build for the future and cut costs after a horror 2011 financial year, in which it had a consolidated deficit of $230,751 announced between Netball Southland and Southern TeamCo.

The team endured their worst season in the five-year history of the trans-Tasman netball league this season, winning just two of their 13 games, and will need to make some changes to their squad if they are to improve next year.

Bannister said the franchise wanted to continue to select players, who resided in the Steel region, but he acknowledged they needed to bolster their squad with some out-of-town talent.

"It will be a fine balance," he said when asked about off-season recruitment plans. "We have a responsibility to grow and develop our own players. We want young girls in the south part of the South Island to strive to be Steel players. It's going to be a combination of both."

This year, 10 of Steel's original 12 contracted players lived in either Southland or Otago. Bannister said their long-term focus was to concentrate on players, who were committed to the area and were around for the long haul.

"We have a fiscal responsibility to the netball community and the greater community of Southland and Otago to ensure we are in this competition for good and not looking at a short-term fix."

Steel slashed more than $130,000 from their budget for the 2012 season and Bannister said they expected to record a small profit.

The franchise will begin their season later this week, with Rugby Southland general manager and former Netball Queensland high-performance manager Brian Hopley helping out.

One topic likely to be discussed will be whether Steel need to have all of their players based in the same centre for training purposes.

Most of the Steel team was living in Dunedin this year and the rest of the squad in Invercargill, which involved plenty of commuting for players and coaches, and also limited the amount of time they could spend together as a group.

In the long run, Steel may need to make the tough call and have all players based in the same city.

Netball New Zealand will vote on a proposed zone model in September, which would replace the present regional system with five zones, each aligned with a franchise.

If the zone system gets the green light, the Netball Southland, Netball Otago and Steel boards would be disbanded in favour of a new board, which would have the final say on where the franchise should be based.

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"The zone board, moving forward, will have some crucial decisions to make about how we look," Bannister said.

He praised the efforts of first-year Steel coaches Natalie Avellino and Janine Southby, who walked into a difficult situation, but had done an excellent job with the younger players in the team.

ANZ Championship rookies Shannon Francois and Storm Purvis were virtual no-names at the start of the campaign, but had both developed into starting players.

"For the two of them, who are extremely passionate and knowledgeable, it's been tough on them. We all like to win. I know the ladies have learned a lot. It was tough on our two co-coaches this year ... With what they were given, they've done well."

Steel made a bright start to this year's ANZ Championship, winning two of their opening three games, but finished the year by losing 10 consecutive games.

Bannister acknowledged it had been a frustrating season for the squad, but said things could have been very different had the side been able to convert several close losses into wins.

With six members of this year's team aged under 23, he was optimistic about Steel's future, and believed the players would be better for the difficult times they had experienced this year.

"You can't buy experience. You have to go out and earn it, and that's what these young players have done.

"I definitely think we're taking steps to move forward.

Despite Steel's poor record on the court, the team had still received pleasing support, with attendance levels on a par with last year. Steel had 14,777 fans attend their seven home games.

- The Southland Times

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