A “new vitality” is the point of difference coach Julie Hoornweg hopes the Northern Stars will bring to the 2017 ANZ Premiership.
The new team, which has its roots in south-east Auckland, boasts a wealth of netballers who Hoornweg describes as having the “wow factor”. It also features the re-emergence of two Silver Ferns legends.
Leana de Bruin, who stepped down from international Netball this year after almost two decades and 138 Test Caps to her name, will bring her devastating defensive and leadership experience to the Stars line-up.
And Temepara Bailey, the former Silver Ferns vice-captain who played 89 Tests for New Zealand, will return to the game in a new role - as assistant coach to Hoornweg.
Among the “Stars” who will join de Bruin on court are current Silver Fern squad members Kayla Cullen and Maia Wilson, as well as Malia Paseka, Sulu Fitzpatrick and Courtney Tairi, and Silver Ferns Development Squad members Holly Fowler and Fa’amu Ioane. Strong midcourter Emma Iversen, a former under-21 squad member, returns to Netball after a stint playing rugby.
The team’s import spot will be filled by versatile Fijian shooter Afa Rusivakula – “an exciting young talent who can play both goal shoot and goal attack, and has the ability to jump,” Hoornweg says.
Hoornweg, the experienced Australian coach who set up the Melbourne Vixens in the former trans-Tasman competition, says she hopes the Northern Stars will bring a variety of opportunities to players, coaches and a new community of fans.
“Our aim is that this team will bring a new vitality to Netball, and the opportunity for fans to see a bright, new shiny team. A team who are robust, athletic and exciting; who make you say ‘wow!’” she says.
“But we also want it to be a team that gives opportunity for netballers in this part of New Zealand.
“We want to create an identity here, and show young athletes there is a pathway to the top. We also want to build a community. And if we can create a cauldron of excitement and energy here, it will be absolutely fantastic.”
The Northern Stars have found a permanent home in Papakura, at the brand new High Wire Trust gymnasium complex.They will have full use of the indoor court, gymnasium and offices built by the High Wire Trust – a charitable trust which helps South Auckland teenagers to build confidence and self-esteem through physical pursuits.
Hoornweg is thrilled to be working with Bailey on the side-lines, and hopes to involve other local Netball coaches with the Northern Stars.“I’m very aware that I’m an Aussie taking a role a local coach could have taken, and I don’t want to bottleneck coaching here. It is one of my aims to share my knowledge and learnings of top-level Netball with others,” she says.
The name “Northern Stars” was inspired by Matariki, the small cluster of stars which appear low on the northeast horizon just before dawn in mid-winter. Also known as the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades in Greek legend, Matariki’s appearance heralds the start of the Maori New Year.
“That concept captured the spirit of the newest team in New Zealand’s domestic Netball competition – seven players ready to take on the challenge of a new season of competition,” says Bill Francis, the board chairman of the Northern Stars.
Matariki is incorporated into the team’s logo, which also features the Northern Stars’ colours of purple and silver.