Silver Ferns coach keen to grow defensive depth after retirements
Long considered a position of strength, Silver Ferns coach Janine Southby has defensive concerns less than a year out from the Commonwealth Games.
With former skipper Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin both retiring from international netball within the past nine months, New Zealand have lost a combined 205 caps worth of experience in the black dress.
The Silver Ferns still have one of the world's premier defenders in captain Katrina Grant and 88-cap veteran Anna Harrison, but at 34 she is closer to the end of her career than the start.
There are a solid group of defenders vying for spots in the first-choice squad, including Jane Watson, Kelly Jury and Phoenix Karaka. Kayla Cullen, who has predominantly played wing defence for the Silver Ferns, is also capable of operating at goal defence.
Underneath that tier, players like Storm Purvis, Zoe Walker, Temalisi Fakahokotau and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit are searching for week-to-week consistency and trying to prove they're capable of higher honours.
Southby acknowledged they needed to grow their defensive stocks over the next two years leading into the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool.
"Across the court, we've got some depth issues. Our circle defenders is a classic example.
"We've had a couple of retirements in that area in the last year or two. We've got some young players coming through in that [under] 21s group, but they probably haven't had enough time at ANZ [Premiership] at this point in time."
Despite the unavailability of netball great Laura Langman, Southby was encouraged with the level of midcourt talent.
Langman, who played 141 consecutive matches for New Zealand between 2005-16, is barred from representing the Silver Ferns because she is competing for the Sunshine Coast Lightning in Australia's domestic league.
"I think we've got some really talented young midcourters starting to put their hand up and playing really well across all positions. Whether they can step up to the international arena is a question to be answered."
Cathrine Tuivaiti's re-emergence at the Pulse has been heartening, putting pressure on Maia Wilson for the back-up goal shoot berth behind first choice Bailey Mes. Maria Tutaia and Te Paea Selby-Rickit are certainties at goal attack.
Tuivaiti last played internationally in 2014 and Southby said "the door is still open for anyone".
Shooters must demonstrate they have variety in their game.
"We want shooters, who can shoot from anywhere in the circle and are confident to do that. We want them to be able to take strong ball. We want all our players conditioned to the best they can be."
Nine rounds into the inaugural ANZ Premiership, Southby conceded there had been teething problems with the new competition, but said it was "a good place to start".
Blowout scorelines had been a worry with 15 of the 27 games decided by 10 goals or more. Just eight matches have seen the losing team gain a bonus point for a loss within five goals.
High turnover rates have frustrated Southby, but said that was partly due to so many new-look squads and fresh combinations.
"I certainly don't think it's where we really want to see it long-term. It's like any new business you start up, you wouldn't expect to be hitting all your targets in year one ...
"It might be a year or two before we see the major benefits. We've got to have faith that we are on the right track and that we've got the right systems."
The success of the new competition will ultimately be revealed later in the year when the Silver Ferns take on Australia in the Quad Series and Constellation Cup, and the pinnacle Commonwealth Games  and World Cup  events.
Southby spoke favourably about the impact players were making, who had previously featured in the second-tier Beko League, which was set up last year. Magic duo Ariana Cable-Dixon and Monica Falkner had been two fine illustrations.
"I've been really pleased with the young ones. There's a number of younger players that have come out of the Beko from last year and have continued to show the strong performances they put in last year."