Scanlan, George good friends, but not on court
Veteran Southern Steel defender Sheryl Scanlan reckons Mystics captain Temepara George and she are two of the last survivors from the now-defunct Caltex Cup.
For many years Scanlan and George played together as Silver Ferns, but both started out their careers back in Auckland, with club side ASB Collegiate.
When the Caltex Cup disbanded in 1997 in favour of the Coca-Cola Cup provincial-based franchise competition, (later National Bank Cup), the duo went on to play with Northern Force.
They were team-mates again in the first year of the ANZ Championship in 2008 with the Mystics, and five years into netball's new professional competition are both still running around.
The close friends will be on opposing sides of the court tomorrow when Steel host the Mystics in Dunedin and 34-year-old Scanlan said she was still amazed by the skills, fitness and form of George, who shows no sign of slowing down at 36.
"We've played our netball together for a very long time and and it will be great to catch up with her after the game. There will certainly be no friends on court, but definitely after," Scanlan said, laughing.
"We've come through the ranks together and come right through, right from age-group together. I think she's got 10 more years ahead of her. She's playing fantastic netball. She gets better as every year goes by."
Scanlan has started at goal defence in four of Steel's opening five games and said she was ecstatic to be back playing again after a rough past few seasons, where she had minimal court time because of calf muscle injuries in both legs.
The 61-cap Silver Fern is very much in the twilight of her career these days, and if this is to be her final season of elite netball, she wants to make it a memorable one in a new-look Steel squad.
"I'm just happy to be available for every game. The last couple of years, I've been held back by injury. The body has been feeling good," Scanlan said. "I think it's a good mix of youth and experience (in the Steel squad). The young ones have definitely come a long way. I look at them from January up to now and they've certainly learned a lot and stepped up."
Scanlan's vast experience and leadership ability were key reasons she was snapped up by Steel for another campaign this season.
She and former Australian international Demelza McCloud have been working hard during preseason and training with young Steel defenders Storm Purvis and Louise Thayer, who represent the future of the franchise.
Nineteen-year-old Purvis has been one of the success stories of the season for Steel, with the young gun making a major impression when she has been brought onto the court, and Scanlan was delighted with her progress.
"Storm is playing fantastically. She's fresh out of school and in her first year in ANZ ... She's been playing fantastic netball and has got a huge future ahead of her."
Steel have made a pleasing start to the season, winning two of their first five games, but face a critical period during the next couple of weeks with three home games in a row.
Scanlan admitted it was imperative Steel picked up some victories in front of their home supporters and said it all should start with a strong showing against the Mystics tomorrow.
The Auckland-based side will be hungry to return to winning ways after a 13-goal loss to the Firebirds in Australia last weekend and will be a difficult proposition for the Ascot Park Hotel-sponsored Steel, with international players scattered across every third of the court.
"It's really important for us to perform, not just because we're at home, but because we've set standards for ourselves, and we haven't quite reached our peak yet," Scanlan said.
"The Mystics have been very strong defensively. They're strong hunters on defence. We need to work hard together to try and force that. We expect them to come out firing. Hopefully, we'll be able to match them on the day."
Southern Steel: Jodi Brown (c), Donna Wilkins, Courtney Tairi, Shannon Francois, Phillipa Finch, Sheryl Scanlan, Demelza McCloud, Hayley Saunders, Storm Purvis, Louise Thayer, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Ashleigh Smith Northern
Mystics: Cathrine Latu, Maria Tutaia, Grace Rasmussen, Temepara George, Charlotte Kight, Kayla Cullen, Anna Harrison, Rachel Rasmussen, Jessica Moulds, Jade Clarke, Portia Woodman, Bailey Mes.
- The Southland Times