Doubts still remain over Casey Kopua's fitness
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain Casey Kopua is unsure whether she will take the court in this weekend's pre-season tournament in Melbourne, as her slow recovery from ankle surgery continues.
Having been a passenger for the Silver Ferns' tour of Britain last month, Kopua is under a strict rehab programme and is taking a cautious approach ahead of an important year with the Commonwealth Games looming.
There were some promising signs for the 28-year-old in the three quarters of a training match she played on Tuesday, which was her first game-time since the Fast5 tournament in November.
Although Kopua's co-ordination was "all over the place", the ankle "was absolutely fine" but it is a wait-and-see approach for the Summer Shootout event, in which the Magic play seven matches consisting of two 15-minute halves.
"We're not sure and at this stage we just take it day by day," Kopua said. "It's recovered well and there's been no issues but I don't want to say yes and I don't want to say no.
"But I do feel refreshed and ready to go. Mentally, I'm very motivated at the moment to lead the team and also to get myself in the best condition possible for my team."
Coach Julie Fitzgerald said if Kopua got on court it would be for very limited times, and she would be grateful if she got out there at all.
Nevertheless, Kopua flew with the team to Melbourne yesterday, with the skipper to play a big part off the court anyway, as she looks to mould together a raw team.
"The more time I spend with Casey, the more impressed I am with her leadership style and the way she drives the young ones around and the contributions she makes to our team. So just having Casey there is very valuable to us," Fitzgerald said.
The new coach is not pinning her hopes on Kopua starting the competition (against the Mainland Tactix in Christchurch on March 1) in tip-top shape either.
"The reality is, I don't think Casey will come out in the first game and perform to her optimal level but I do think she'll certainly be able to perform adequately for us under the circumstances. I would never suggest that she's going to have the best game of the season in the first game; it'll obviously take her a little while to catch up to her very best.
"I think it's the life of an injured player."
This weekend's tournament features all 10 of the trans-Tasman league teams, with the Magic taking on the Melbourne Vixens in a behind-closed-doors game this afternoon, before their four matches tomorrow and two on Sunday.
The draw is designed to take into account who teams have already played pre-season, so the Magic don't face the Central Pulse - as the two sides met in two matches in New Plymouth recently - while the Australian team they miss out on playing is the defending champion Adelaide Thunderbirds.
It is the matches against the Aussie sides which Fitzgerald is looking to expose her more inexperienced players to.
"I think you need that resilience.
"The Australian players will be on top of you the whole time and possibly a little bit more physical, constantly. And that's something for the younger ones to get used to."
Barring Kopua, there are no injury worries among the other 12, with all to get game-time, as Fitzgerald looks for what combinations work best.
Ideally, by the end of the weekend she will have a settled top seven but she admitted the tournament might throw up more questions than answers.
What she does want to see is an improvement on the outings against the Pulse a fortnight ago, where she was disappointed with how much and how easily the ball was given away.
Another important task for Fitzgerald is to keep a close eye on the other nine sides to see what style they are developing and what players they are introducing.
While it is in the back of her mind not to show all her cards at this early stage, she noted the Magic team was a very new one so just had to concentrate a lot on themselves and get their game in order.