With the pre-season done, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse are set to test those building blocks in their 2023 ANZ Premiership netball league opener against Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Palmerston North on Sunday.
As defending champions, they have their own expectations heading into the season, the tag often proving a distraction but one which sits comfortably in the Pulse environment.
``It does carry a weight because you really want to be there again,’’ Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie said.
``That doesn’t change for any team, they’ll all want to be in a Grand Final. And we use that as fuel to go, `we remember what that feels like, we remember how we got there and it wasn’t easy, but we know that we can do it again’.
``So, it’s about using it in a way that’s giving you confidence and moving forward rather than feeling like a burden.’’
There’s a sense of the unknown for all teams heading into the opening round and it’s no different for the Pulse, who line up with the youngest team in this year’s league, some old hands mixing with a crop of fresh-faced youngsters.
``You see them in training, and you’re like `okay, I feel like we’ve covered everything off’, but unless you go out against an opposition in real time and get tested, you don’t know where your gaps and your strengths are,’’ McCausland-Durie said.
``The thing I’m most pleased about is we’ve got clarity. We’ve got a group who are really committed and looking forward to the challenge and for me, they’re really collective in the way that they’re working.
``This first game will give us a good sense of where we’re at. And that will probably happen for most of Round 1. Everybody will be playing for the first time and there’s some quite steep changes and learnings that go on.’’
After a long pre-season, which began in November, McCausland-Durie is satisfied with the results, the players and coach now ready to get cracking.
``Fitness is always a massive one for me because you don’t get time during the season to shift that, so I’m always really focussed on how much we can get in but at the same time, I think what has been good for us is just that ability to connect lots of new people and lots of new combinations,’’ she said. ``And that takes time, so I’m grateful for the time that we’ve had.’’
As for performance, there has been a lot of discussion around consistency which thus far has bounced between moments of brilliance only to be followed by dips in execution. Building incrementally on consistent delivery across a game is a key focus for the season.
Shooter Tiana Metuarau and last season’s ANZ Premiership Player of the Year, defender Kelly Jury will once again unite as co-captains of the Pulse for 2023.
``They offer points of difference and that hasn’t changed,’’ McCausland-Durie said.
``I think we’re leader-full this year in that there’s been lots of people who are willing to step up and what I also spoke to the group about is, that you can’t be a leader if people aren’t willing to follow you. The group really trust them and are willing to follow them and that’s very important.’’
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