Experienced English test mid-courter Jade Clarke has been brought into the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic netball squad to replace injured Australian Peta Scholz.
But she was not necessarily the first choice and she will have to play her way into the starting seven from the bench, beginning with Monday night's away game against the unbeaten New South Wales Swifts.
Clarke, 26, has played 49 tests for England since her debut in 2002 and is in Australia for England's tour of that country, which starts next week.
"She's very tight, man-to-man (marker), a very hard worker who does a job," Magic coach Noeline Taurua said.
Taurua would have preferred a local replacement, because of the time usually taken for a player from another country to adjust to the different style of play in this country.
"So my preference was to actually look within New Zealand first and the type of player I was looking for was somebody who had played at the ANZ (Championship) level before or had international experience and there are not very many around."
It is understood at least two New Zealand players were approached and trialled but it had not worked out in the end.
Taurua said England coach Sue Hawkins had seen value in getting Clarke game time in the championship and had been very supportive of her recruitment.
Clarke will be on the bench in Sydney on Monday night, then return to New Zealand with the Magic and be available for the remaining round-robin matches against the Central Pulse and Adelaide Thunderbirds in New Zealand.
It has still to be determined whether she will need to return to Australia during that time to play games for England.
"That's something we're still working through but we've got the full support of Sue and we can work around that."
Clarke will be a back-up wing defence, centre and wing attack, giving Taurua plenty of options.
Against the competition leaders on Monday, captain Laura Langman will definitely start at centre with Jess Tuki and youngster Eli Shadrock vying for the initial wing defence role.
The coach switched Irene van Dyk to goal attack during last Monday's narrow home loss to the Queensland Firebirds in Rotorua when desperate measures were called for. But Taurua said that was more a case of "changing things up for the moment" when they found themselves seven goals down rather than an indication of a permanent move.
"I'd like to think we'll go in (against the Swifts) as stable as possible."
The same applied at the defensive end of the court and midcourt.
"I'm starting to get pretty settled as to where we're currently at and that is with Casey (Williams) and Jodi (Tod) going back into the circle.
"I've come in for a bit of flak for that but we needed the time to work through all the other combinations and people we had on the bench. So we've gone full circle and I know what we've got in terms of other people who could take the court."
Analysis this week showed there was little between the Magic and Firebirds, both on defence and attack, with the Magic having two more attempts at goal but the Firebirds shooting 92 per cent (only four misses) to the Magic's 86 per cent.
While that would suggest the Magic did not do a lot wrong, Taurua said the Firebirds had twice been able to get a roll on and jump out to seven-goal leads.
"I think a lot has been focused on our defence end but we're actually competing and getting ball back but when we do have ball we're turning it over at critical times or missing a shot at critical times and that's preventing us pushing through and gaining dominance.
"And even our structure at the attacking end was goddam ugly as well, which put us under a huge amount of pressure. So for this week what we've done for the majority of the time is focus on the attack right through and being more dominant with what we're doing."
That means harder, more aggressive lines taken by players off the ball in either driving harder towards the pass or in taking different angles to get free of the tight Australian marking. "Adding a bit more snap, a bit more passion and really upping the tempo from what we actually put out on Monday against the Firebirds."
The Magic know they have to arrest a two-match losing slump to get their bid to reach the ANZ Championships semifinals back on track. With three games left to play, Taurua said they had been careful to maintain morale this week.
Now they face their first trip to Australia since the season opener against the Vixens in Melbourne, flying to Sydney tomorrow, but it seems trans-Tasman travel is not an issue with the Magic these days.
"It's probably taken us two years to get through that but at the moment (the travel is) nothing. We're going to Oz and it seems sometimes it's the same distance as travelling to Invercargill," Taurua said.
- Waikato Times
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