Jamaican import steels for cool days down south

ATHLETIC IMPORT: Jhaniele Fowler in action during match between Jamaica and England at the Fast5 Netball World Series.
ATHLETIC IMPORT: Jhaniele Fowler in action during match between Jamaica and England at the Fast5 Netball World Series.

Giant Jamaican shooter Jhaniele Fowler will be packing her thermals and winter woollies when she swaps the sun-kissed beaches of Montego Bay for chilly Invercargill next year.

Yesterday, Fowler was named Southern Steel's new import player, and the 14th and final player in their squad for the 2013 Trans Tasman Netball League.

She will be the fifth Jamaican international to play in the world's premier regional netball competition, since it was first established in 2008.

The other players have been Romelda Aiken (Firebirds), Carla Borrego (Thunderbirds), Althea Byfield (Pulse/Mystics), and Kasey Evering (Tactix).

The 23-year-old Fowler will move to Invercargill in early January to get ready for the start of the new season, which begins for the Steel against the Firebirds in Brisbane on March 24.

Fowler had already researched Invercargill on the internet and was confident she could acclimatise to the colder weather and new lifestyle, away from family and friends.

"I checked it out on the internet.

[Invercargill] is really beautiful and not very populated and quiet.

"That's my kind of place. I like quiet places. I think I'll get along really well. I'm sure I'll be able to adjust. It's nothing a little sweater or some coats can't handle."

At 1.98 metres tall, Fowler will be the tallest player in next year's competition and will provide Steel with a towering presence and an ideal target in the shooting circle.

She is 2cm taller than Jamaican team-mate and star Firebirds' shooter Aiken, who has played in all five previous seasons of the netball league.

Fowler said she had spoken to Aiken about what to expect, and could not wait to play professional netball and test herself against the finest defenders in the world.

"I've always wanted to [play in the Trans Tasman Netball League] and now it has happened.

"[Aiken] has told me it is very intense and not what I'm used to when I play back home. I'm looking out for the intensity of the game."

Fowler has been a member of the Jamaican Sunshine Girls for the past four years and was one of their leading performers at the Fast5 World Series in Auckland during the weekend. She was the most prolific shooter at the competition, with 101 goals, and also slotted a game-winning long bomb to help beat Malawi 32-31.

She will have some big shoes to fill at the shooting end at the Steel next year, replacing former Silver Fern Donna Wilkins, who has defected to the Central Pulse.

Fowler was not concerned, however, and believed she could make an instant impression in her first season in the league.

"I don't feel any extra pressure.

"I'm always willing to take on any challenges I get. I've been one of the backbones for my national team and I've stood up to that challenge very well, so I'm up for it."

Steel coach Janine Southby said Fowler had been on the team's radar since early in the off-season.

Southby had been in regular email contact with Fowler during the past two months and was delighted to secure her signature.

"Her height is a huge asset and she's reasonably athletic as well.

"Over the weekend [at Fast5], she showed she can be very accurate," Southby said.

"Obviously, you want [an import] who is going to have an impact and I do think she's going to have an impact."

The Steel will have a relatively new look to their squad next season, with other off-season additions including experienced defender Rachel Rasmussen, Otago shooter Kate Shearer and New Zealand under-21 internationals Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick, Phoenix Karaka, and Stacey Peeters.

Former Steel co-captain Wendy Frew is returning after missing this year's competition through pregnancy.

The Southland Times