Rapid elevation stuns Steel rookie Karaka

Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012
Phoenix Karaka
PULLING WEIGHT: Southern Steel rookie Phoenix Karaka works out on a rowing machine yesterday, before tackling the real thing on the Oreti River. The Steel are holding a three-day training camp in Invercargill.

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A trans-Tasman netball league contract came along much quicker than Southern Steel rookie Phoenix Karaka ever anticipated.

Twelve months ago, Karaka had just finished her secondary school studies at Auckland Girls' Grammar.

Next year, she will be playing in the world's premier club netball competition for the first time and living the life of a professional sportswoman.

The New Zealand under-21 international represented Auckland-Waitakere in this year's national provincial championship, but never expected to play in the trans-Tasman netball league this early in her career.

When Steel coach Janine Southby rang Karaka to offer her a place for next season, she was ecstatic, and could barely believe it.

"When she called me, I was like ‘Is this a joke?' I was stoked because I didn't think I'd be in a franchise this early. I was expecting maybe next season," Karaka said.

"Fitness-wise, I didn't think I was ready. Janine believes I have the skills and I've got to start believing I do. The fitness will come."

She said both the Canterbury Tactix and Northern Mystics contacted her, after she had already signed with Steel, inquiring about her availability for next season.

The chance to be mentored by New Zealand-under-21 coach Southby had been instrumental in her decision to move to the southern franchise.

The Steel kicked off their preseason preparations yesterday, starting a three-day training camp in Invercargill.

The players braved cold and blustery conditions learning how to row on the Oreti River as part of a team-building exercise.

Karaka, who only turned 19 last month, will be the baby of the Steel side. She is 12 years younger than veterans Jodi Brown and Phillipa Finch.

The 1.84m Karaka has switched between the shooting circle and defensive end during her young netball career, but has been selected as a defender for the Steel.

New Zealand under-21 captain Storm Purvis, off-season recruit Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick and former Mystics and Pulse player Rachel Rasmussen will start ahead of the youngster. Karaka said she wanted to make the most of any opportunities she received on court and to make an impression on the coaching staff during preseason and warmup games.

"Just making the court would be a big goal for me [in 2013]," Karaka said. "I'm looking forward to hopefully getting game time like Storm did last year."

Shifting from Auckland to Inverargill would be a huge transition, but she was excited about her "first big move from home".

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Karaka has played alongside Rasmussen in Auckland, and was also looking forward to working with her New Zealand under-21 team-mates Purvis, Tone-Fitzpatrick, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, and Stacey Peeters at the Steel. 

- Southland

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