ANZ Premiership champions Central Pulse set to lose goal keep Sulu Fitzpatrick

Sulu Fitzpatrick, centre, celebrates after winning the ANZ Premiership final.
Sulu Fitzpatrick, centre, celebrates after winning the ANZ Premiership final.

A Silver Fern who played a crucial role in Central Pulse's ANZ Premiership triumph is set to depart the franchise.

While Netball Central CEO Fran Scholey said the Pulse will be looking to retain as many of their title-winning squad as possible, Stuff understands that starting goal keep Sulu Fitzpatrick has notified the franchise that she is returning to Auckland to be closer to her family.

The mother of two has commuted between Auckland and Wellington throughout the past two seasons but has been granted an early release from her multi-year contract in the wake of Monday's historic 52-48 victory over the Northern Stars. It is expected that she will play for either the Stars or Northern Mystics next season.

Sulu Fitzpatrick takes a heavy tumble during Monday's final.
Sulu Fitzpatrick takes a heavy tumble during Monday's final.

"We want to retain as many of those players as possible but we understand and acknowledge that they will go for additional opportunities, whether that is due to game time, financial reasons or lifestyle," Scholey said.

From rock bottom to champion
Pulse's haka their secret weapon
Pulse finally champions
Dunn 'at peace' with omission

"We've been working on that succession plan for awhile. We've always got to be smart in a sense of always looking ahead. Knowing that we were going into the final and having a week off, we've been looking prior to that to make sure we have a plan in place for 2020 and 2021."

Losing Fitzpatrick is a blow for the Pulse. The three-cap New Zealand international has been a consistently high performer over the past two seasons, forming a strong defensive partnership with captain Katrina Rore.

The Pulse had the best defensive record in the competition this season, conceding just 45.1 goals per game, and Fitzpatrick played a major part in that. 

Despite missing the cut for the Netball World Cup, she was one of the Pulse's best players in Monday's final, snatching a team-high two interceptions and five deflections.

Last season she opened up to Stuff about the difficulty of living away from her two children throughout the netball season.

"I wasn't sure at first because the biggest thing was my kids," Fitzpatrick said.

"But because I had strong support from my family, my friends and my partner it allowed me to come down without worrying about the kids and being in two minds. I have been able to be 100 per cent here when I'm in Wellington and 100 per cent at home when I'm in Auckland.

"The way I saw it was that if they were willing to support me this year then I would give it everything and see if I'm in the mix in terms of national [honours] and all of that."

On Friday the six franchises will confirm internally which players they have re-signed and which players they have released, allowing rival teams to start negotiating with the free agents.

Ruling out a move for an import, Scholey said the Pulse will be looking to concentrate their recruitment on players from within the Central Zone but the door remained open for former players to return.

"We've always wanted a homegrown Pulse team and that's what we strive for," she said. 

"We acknowledge that we only have 10 contracts to offer any season and if our players play elsewhere then that's awesome because it means they're getting game time and development.

"But do we want them to come back and play for us? Of course we do. If there's ever an opportunity then yeah we do want to reach out to those players and say 'look we've got a position and we want you back within our zone.'"

Although they had just one player on a multi-year contract this season, Scholey also revealed that the Pulse were hoping to lock their best players down to long-term deals.