It's a gigantic leap from NPC netball to the toughest club competition in the world, but Southern Steel rookie Hayley Saunders isn't fazed – in fact, she's enjoying the ride.
Saunders got a first-hand glimpse of what ANZ Championship netball will be like when she got court time against the Canterbury Tactix and New South Wales state side Eastwood Ryde, at Steel's first preseason hitout for the year in Christchurch at the weekend.
The energetic midcourter was mainly used at centre by Steel coach Robyn Broughton, but got some minutes in her favoured wing defence role and said it was a good indicator of how tough the ANZ Championship is going to be.
"Even just in general play it was way more of a step up. It was way quicker," Saunders said. "They've always said ANZ (Championship) is a massive step up from NPC, and this is definitely a huge step up."
Steel won all four of their matches in Christchurch, and Saunders said the team was pretty happy with how they functioned for so early in the season.
This is Saunders' first season as a semi-professional netballer in the ANZ Championship and she said she was slowly adjusting to her new lifestyle, which includes training and strength and conditioning sessions virtually every day.
"This is the hardest I've ever trained. It takes a bit of a toll on the body, but I'm feeling pretty good.
"I enjoy the conditioning part of it. The training part is enjoyable, but painful."
The 20-year-old Gore local has gradually worked her way into the ANZ Championship after finishing school three years ago.
She was part of Southland's Lois Muir Challenge and NPC sides two years ago and was one of the standout midcourters for Otago in last year's NPC.
Despite her strong play and being selected in the New Zealand under-21 squad last year, Saunders said she was still completely blown away when she was offered a Steel spot for this season. "It was a complete shock," she said, laughing.
"It didn't cross my mind at all."
Saunders will probably be used as more of a backup player in the midcourt this season for Steel, behind Silver Ferns Liana Barrett-Chase and Wendy Frew, but she was just happy being part of an ANZ Championship squad and would aim to take any opportunity she got.
"I reckon everyone has to do their time on the bench, so I'm not going to get down about ... In preseason, when I get a chance, I need to make the most of those opportunities and play hard."
- The Southland Times