New faces, new name
The Canterbury Flames have been extinguished. The Christchurch-based netball franchise has poured cold water on its former brand and opted for a name change to the Tactix.
Franchise officials yesterday confirmed their 12-strong squad for the trans-Tasman ANZ championship, including a clutch of familiar and fresh faces.
As expected, Silver Fern Jodi Brown (nee Te Huna) returns to the region for the first time since 2004, but not as a Canterbury Flame -- she now plays for the Canterbury Tactix.
Netball fans had been expecting the Flames name to be retained.
However chief executive Jason Watkins said the franchise found itself in a "situation" where it was ready to take a different approach, with new sponsor Skope also coming on board.
"It's a new competition and a new era for netball," he said. "We were keen to give the team a fresh and professional look."
Along with the off-court makeover, a new on-court look was confirmed, with four new players coming to the region and some familiar faces also returning.
Brown has brought three southerners further north with her from the now defunct Otago Rebels.
Former Flame Anna Thompson returns along with midcourter Phillipa Finch and former Australian defender Demelza Fellowes.
Both Fellowes and Finch will be playing for the Canterbury franchise for the first time, as will defensive recruit Victoria Smith and new shooter Hayley Stockman.
Smith has played for the Queensland team but more recently aligned herself with the Shakers before trying to break into the Magic set-up, while Stockman makes the move from the Flyers. Rookie Canterbury shooter Ellen Halpenny will also step up to the franchise league for the first time, while last year's Flame members, Jo McCaw and Bessie Manu, are back in the line-up for another campaign.
The Tactix will be led by experienced Silver Fern Julie Seymour, with fellow Fern Maree Bowden acting as vice-captain.
Coach Helen Mahon-Stroud feels she has a squad with strengths across the court despite some already writing the Canterbury franchise off as a competition cellar dweller.
"I've read some interesting things based on how we'll go," Mahon-Stroud said. "I'm an unknown coach but I don't think it's a bad thing to be unknown.
"While some may be basing their assumptions on the teams on paper, it comes down to more than that."
However, the loss of former Flame and Silver Ferns wider training group player Jade Topia to the Northern Mystics was a blow for the Tactix.
It would have been a major string to Canterbury's shooting circle, having already signed Brown.
"That's sport," Mahon-Stroud said.
"Players come and players go for different reasons."
But the Tactix coach felt they had a stable of shooters who could counter Topia's departure, including Stockman, who was a "high accuracy" shooter, and Thompson, who she regarded as a "Belinda Colling-type player", covering both wing and goal attack.
Versatility was a key component in finalising her squad, due to the new demands on players with a championship extended to 17 weeks of play, as was factoring in the Australian playing style, Mahon-Stroud said.
"It was something that was considered."
Both Fellowes and Smith have played in Australia's old domestic league, the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, and Mahon-Stroud said that knowledge would be useful to have.
"Before we were preparing to play against New Zealand teams and that New Zealand style," she said.
"This is a whole new concept with facing that Australian game style, which will be new to some players."
The Tactix will head to Sydney for a pre-season tournament from March 7 to 9, where all 10 teams -- five from New Zealand and five from Australia -- are expected to take part.
Canterbury's first championship match is against the Mystics in Auckland on April 6.