Central Pulse frontrunners to sign Wilkins
Star shooter Donna Wilkins is yet to make a decision about where she will play her netball next season.
The former Silver Fern wore the Southern Steel colours for the first time since 2009 this season and was one of the premier shooters in the competition.
Wilkins made an impressive return to the court after giving birth to her third child, daughter Mia, in January. She was a shining light in a struggling Steel outfit, and finished as the third most accurate shooter in the trans-Tasman netball league, with 314 goals from 348 attempts (90 per cent).
Steel face a battle to hold on to Wilkins for 2013, with the Robyn Broughton-coached Central Pulse believed to be actively seeking her signature.
The Southland Times understands that Steel have offered Wilkins a contract of more than $100,000 for next season, but the Pulse have trumped that, and loom as frontrunners to sign her.
Wilkins did not want to comment on her plans for next year but confirmed she had not signed a contract with any team yet.
"I'm closer to firming up a decision. I pretty much know what I'm going to do, but I haven't signed anything," she said.
When asked whether she was weighing up a decision between the Pulse and Steel, she gave an interesting response.
"It's not necessarily between the Pulse and Steel. Obviously, I've played with the Tactix as well. There's a few options for me."
A move to the Wellington-based Pulse would hold appeal for Wilkins. She would be able to link up with close friend and former coach Broughton, who she played under at Southern Sting, and Steel in 2009.
Wilkins was an integral figure in the Sting side, who won seven titles in the former New Zealand domestic competition.
Steel chief executive David Bannister said the franchise had presented Wilkins a contract offer and had not given up on retaining the experienced shooter.
"We're definitely talking to Donna. We've been in contact with her as recent as [Wednesday].
"She knows she's a big part of [the franchise] here. There's a lot of tough decisions people have to make. We're one of five franchises trying to secure the services of players."
New Zealand franchises were still waiting for the new collective agreement to be signed off before they can officially announce player signings. The salary cap is expected to be increased from $300,000 to $380,000, but it will be a "hard cap", where all payments and incentives will be included under that figure. Teams will again be able to contract 12 players, with the option of two additional development players.
Bannister was pleased with where Steel were at with their off-season recruiting, and said they had "player agreements" in place with several members of this year's team.
"We have signed players. We've signed some current players and signed some new ones.
"There's a couple of key signings, we're still negotiating with. We're well and truly down the path of contracting players."
At this stage, former Silver Fern Sheryl Scanlan is the only player definitely not returning next year. Scanlan announced her retirement at the end of this season and has moved to Brisbane with her family.
The Times understands that young shooter Ashleigh Smith, who did not see any game time this year, and Otago-based defender Louise Thayer, were likely to be other casualties.
Australian import Demelza McCloud was non-committal when asked about her future with the franchise yesterday.
The lanky defender has been playing for Otago in this year's national provincial championship, but Steel may decide they need to fill their import position in another area of the court, or go after someone with greater star power.
New Zealand franchises typically wait until they have secured their Kiwi talent before confirming their import player.
"I haven't made any decisions on things yet," McCloud said.
"It's hard when you're the import; they've got to sort out what the rest are doing."
The trans-Tasman netball league season is set to begin in late March. Steel will play four of their six home games at the Invercargill velodrome, with the other two games in Dunedin.
- The Southland Times