Having fashioned an enviable record, the highly successful Central Manawa will be in everyone’s sights when the fourth season of the Beko Netball League gets underway this weekend.
Contesting the opening match of this year’s competition against the Northern Comets in Ōtaki on Saturday, Manawa will be playing under a new name, voted on by the public, but will be counting on past experiences to once again set the tone.
Manawa have contested all three Grand Finals to date, winning the last two while finishing runners-up in the first edition in 2016, and expect nothing less than being a key target for opposing teams.
``For us it will just be business as usual, do the job, work really hard, and just fine-tune everything week-in week-out, that’s our challenge,’’ Manawa coach Pelesa Semu said.
``Development is what this competition is about. We expect to be targeted, pressure is a part of it and how the players cope and develop the tools and strategies to counter what’s thrown at them.’’
Manawa completed their formal preparation with a pre-season hit-out hosted by the Highwire Charitable Trust in Papakura a fortnight ago with wins against Waikato Bay of Plenty and the Comets and a loss to the Northern Marvels.
``We are now in week six of our training programme,’’ Semu said. ``We’ve had a good lead-in, it’s not been too long and it’s not been too short and I think six weeks has been just the right amount of time for us coming into the first round of the competition.
``I think we’re probably all a bit anxious but we are keen to get out there and get started.’’
After fielding a very young and inexperienced team in 2018, Semu, a former Samoa international, has more depth of talent at her disposal coming into her second year at the helm, a 16-strong squad going through their paces at training each week in a bid to make the game-day 10.
For the first time, the Northern teams will include secondary school players in their teams in 2019, in contrast to Manawa where schoolgirls have featured since the inception of the competition.
This year they have three in shooters Rochelle Fourie and Saviour Tui along with defender Paris Lokotui. Manawa will also be able to call on rising talent Maddy Gordon (midcourter) and defender Elle Temu, who have made the jump up to Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse ranks after showcasing their credentials at Beko level last year.
They remain eligible to feature at Beko level due to their limited engagement at the elite level.
``That’s the beauty of this team,’’ Semu said. ``We’ve retained 50 percent of the players from last year which is a positive aspect of the programme in that they know what to expect and then we’ve got some players coming back from (long term) injuries who are now featuring in selections.
``There’s a good mix in this squad and competition for spots which is what you want and the experience levels are probably a little higher than last year.’’