Central Pulse set to race as Wilkins brings steel

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 12/02/2013
Donna Wilkins
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
BALANCING ACT: Donna Wilkins walks the highwire in Adrenalin Forest in Porirua as part of a Pulse team-building exercise. "I want to have a shot at winning this championship," she says.

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When Donna Wilkins signed for the Central Pulse the popular theory was that the franchise wasn't just getting an elite player, but someone who personified everything coach Robyn Broughton stood for.

If Broughton couldn't be out there telling all the players exactly what to do, then her friend and former star turn at the Southern Sting and Steel would represent the next-best thing this season.

"Oh really? I don't know about that. Who's been saying that?," Wilkins demanded to know during the Pulse's weekend training camp.

A few people, actually, including those running the Pulse franchise.

"Mmm, well, yes and no, maybe. Obviously I've had a number of years with Robyn as coach. I had 10 years with the Sting and then I had a few years, including one as assistant coach to Robyn, at the Steel so I've had a lot of involvement with Robyn and we're really good friends.

"Even last season [when Wilkins was still at the Steel] we'd always be catching up and talking on the phone so, yeah, she's influenced my career but I wouldn't say I was the on-court Robyn and I've actually never seen what Robyn's like on court."

At 34, and a mother of three, Wilkins might not leap out as the type a franchise might choose to invigorate their programme. But when they're as blunt, competitive and as good as she still is, then the signing is inspired.

Statistically Wilkins was the best goal attack in last year's trans-Tasman netball league, even if she got little satisfaction from it.

"Not really, because we lost and we kept losing. I was quite happy with where I was at and, yeah, I might have led the stats but at the end of the day stats don't win you games.

"I'm about winning so although I might have had a great individual performance every now and again, we still weren't getting over the line and I needed to do more."

Wilkins will commute to Wellington from she and husband Mike's farm, set between Invercargill and Queenstown, and won't be there for a holiday.

"I'm getting older now and I want to have a shot at winning this championship," she said.

"I started with Robyn many moons ago, and I've won many championships with Robyn and she's got a great ability to mould a team together and I think you saw glimpses of that last year with the Pulse. If I want to win a championship I'd like to do it again with Robyn."

Broughton herself isn't talking titles. But she happily acknowledges this year's Pulse team should be better than the one she guided to a seventh-placed finish in her first season as coach.

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Bar Liana Leota, who arrives from England later this month, all the players congregated for last weekend's camp, including new mum Joline Henry.

"Last year was like a grounding and I'm much more confident in the players now and that's all of them. I'm on good terms with their netball and I understand their off-court stuff too," Broughton said.

"I came in pretty cold last year and a lot of people don't take change as easily as others. But this year the franchise have brought in Donna, because they could see that need too, and Liana Leota will make huge difference."

Provided Henry can return to something like her customary excellence, then Broughton believes the Pulse won't lack for leadership or ability.

"But a team of champions doesn't necessarily make a champion team. It still needs the teamwork and the unity and the feeling of feeling worthwhile, in terms of your own self-worth, and that's off-court stuff as well as on-court."

Broughton had yearned for some more "hard heads" and once Leota got here the coach said she'd have a senior group who would set new standards for the franchise.

"They don't keep their mouth shut and they're not slow to say something to me either," a beaming Broughton said.

- The Dominion Post

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