Burdon: Another pick 'n' mix Silver Ferns squad

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014
Irene van Dyk
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SHARP SHOOTER: Irene van Dyk is a big loss for NZ ahead of the Commonwealth games, according to Belinda Colling.

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OPINION: It's always the bit-part players that cause the most debate.

Never mind that they'll rarely play, especially against decent opposition. The identity of the ones that round out a squad have an unhappy knack of providing the surprise element and the mumbles and grumbles. So it is with the Silver Ferns.

Twelve players will be confirmed in New Zealand's Commonwealth Games squad this afternoon. Nine will have had a nerve-less time of it at yesterday's cluster camp, particularly those from the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic, who weren't required to front and, presumably, just got a thumbs up or down.

Of their number, captain Casey Kopua and defensive circle partner Leana de Bruin have known for years they're going to Glasgow.

Katrina Grant will be another defender and, presumably, Anna Harrison too. Harrison's been playing as a wing defence of late and her ability to play goal defence as well gives her a utility value.

Laura Langman and Joline Henry are first-choice players in the midcourt, with Maria Tutaia, Cathrine Latu and Jodi Brown destined to occupy three of the shooting berths. Then the lolly scramble starts.

The plain fact is that no-one has done anything to demand inclusion as the fourth shooter or secure the two remaining midcourt spots. The lucky trio will get talked up and we'll be told that the stats taken by Netball New Zealand, which differ from the ones the rest of us get to see, reveal that players x, y and z are coming off exceptional trans-Tasman Netball League seasons.

The truth is they'll have been picked on hope.

Irene van Dyk's retirement gives Latu a mortgage on the goal shoot's bib, but also underlines the lack of depth behind her. Bailey Mes is, arguably, the best of the rest, but has been playing wing attack for the Mystics and hasn't shot a goal since round 10.

That ability to play wing attack could prove pivotal to her selection prospects, given that's the Silver Ferns' weakest position. Without a stand-out candidate, coach Waimarama Taumaunu might decide the more the merrier.

The Magic's Ellen Halpenny is the most credible shooting alternative, but hasn't played goal shoot in some time, lacks size and still has to answer some questions about her mental toughness.

The best wing attack is Liana Leota. It's not even close. But she's played 60 minutes just once this season and her selection would be a gamble.

There are some good athletes and nice players among the midcourt candidates. However, none are as sure and inventive in their feeding as Leota, and Australia have badly exposed New Zealand's lack of production from that spot in the almost-three years since Leota last played.

That makes her selection a punt worth taking. Then, surely, it's a contest between Shannon Francois and Millie Lees.

Taumaunu likes both and could even leave Leota out entirely and plump for this pair. Both have good engines and, at her best, Lees is the better feeder, but her form hasn't been spectacular.

The coach will have put plenty of time into her selections, but wing attack is the most important and will have proved most difficult. Taumaunu has to get it right.

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AT A GLANCE

Possible Silver Ferns squad Casey Kopua (c), Leana de Bruin, Katrina Grant, Anna Harrison, Joline Henry, Laura Langman, Liana Leota, Millie Lees, Maria Tutaia, Cathrine Latu, Jodi Brown, Bailey Mes. 

- The Dominion Post

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