WITH Round 10 of the ANZ Premiership season cancelled due to a change in COVID-19 restrictions, Draft Central casts an eye over each side’s most developed players for 2020 ahead of the finals. It has been an unconventional season to say the least with the ANZ Premiership season brought to a halt back March due to the pandemic and teams forced to fly in and out of Auckland to comply with the restrictions in place. But that did not stop each team from performing on the big stage, with the development of a couple of key youngsters front and centre.
NORTHERN MYSTICS – Grace Nweke
Without Silver Ferns goal attack Bailey Mes, the load landed on Grace Nweke and the teenager did not disappoint. The goal shooter was formidable under the post and constantly double teamed in the goal circle thanks to her prowess and ability to score with such ease. She leads all comers when it comes to goals with a whopping 471 at an impressive 89 per cent showcasing her complete and utter dominance. Nweke was the lynchpin for the Mystics in attack, using her height, read of the play, long arms and physicality to win majority of the passes that came her way. Her ability to work within the confined space and strong connection with Peta Toeava were simply unstoppable with the two able to sync up and score within seconds. Starring last season, there were plenty of questions about whether or not she would be able to back up this season, but it is fair to say that the 18-year-old went above and beyond. Her confidence grew throughout the season and allowed Saviour Tui, Asher Grapes and Filda Vui to ply their trade out the front.
NORTHERN STARS – Mila Reuelu-Buchanan
Northern Stars centre, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan has really come into her own in 2020 earning herself back-to-back appearances in Draft Central’s Team of the Week thanks to her dynamic movement. Her vision has developed tenfold in the latter half of the year, able to sight Maia Wilson with ease under the post and become a commanding figure in attack. Reuelu-Buchanan has been key for the Stars through the centre court, often organising traffic with her well-directed passes and applying strong hands over pressure to try and slow down her opposition. The 22-year-old stepped up in the absence of Temepara Bailey who retired last year, getting down to business each and every time she takes the court. She consistently showcases her high endurance to run out full games in the centre position and not tire while combining well with Grace Kara and Jamie Hume on the front line. Her adaptability to cater for the frequent changes in wing defence with Lisa Mather and Fa’amu Ioane rotating through was also on show.
WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC – Kelsey McPhee
Although it was a challenging season for the Magic, Kelsey McPhee proved to be a shining light for Waikato Bay of Plenty with the goal shooter increasing her accuracy and volume to post. Shaky on the shot at times, McPhee displayed her strength to reel in the rebound and block out defenders to give her side a second chance on the shot. Carrying a knee injury later in the season the shooter rose above highlighting her grit and determination. Her ability to shake up her game play was also crucial for the Magic as she got on the move more frequently to drive out of the circle and allow either Abigail Latu-Meafou or Khiarna Williams to float in while her strong holds also allowed the Magic to score quickly. Her 1-2 connection with Whitney Souness was also solid as the two combined on circle edge and from distance credit to her aerial presence.
CENTRAL PULSE – Maddy Gordon
It became apparent in the Pulse’s Round 9 loss to the Tactix just how influential Maddy Gordon is with the pocket rocket able to set the court alight with her turn of pace and slick hands. Relishing the extra court time in 2020 Gordon has taken everything in her stride, hitting the circle edge with speed and precision to deliver the ball on a silver platter to Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio. She is crafty with ball in hand and at times can fly under the radar given the amount of big names across the court but has made a name for herself this season with her constant give and go. Strong in attack her defensive pressure is also a key asset of her game able to win back through the centre third with her three-foot marking and deceptive leap. Her connection with Claire Kersten has developed at a rate of knots throughout the season allowing the two to swing the ball across the court with ease to create space and keep the defenders head on a swivel.
MAINLAND TACTIX – Kimiora Poi
Kimiora Poi is another centre court player who has been in ripping form throughout 2020 and put her hand up for Silver Ferns contention thanks to her strong drives and endurance. She has been a key cog through the midcourt for the Tactix, using her zippy speed to cut through the defence and claim possession. She is quick off the mark and is patient with ball in hand, not afraid to work the ball to circle edge or deliver from distance into the goalers. Her high release on the pass allows Ellie Bird to grab the ball at its peak and keep defenders at bay while her short and sharp interactions with Te Paea Selby-Rickit is a testament to her ability to read the play and play accordingly. Poi is constantly on the move, rotating around the circle edge and setting up clever triangle plays with the goalers and Erikana Pedersen to keep the defenders guessing.
SOUTHERN STEEL – Kate Heffernan
A relatively unknown quantity heading into the season, Kate Heffernan took the competition by storm in 2020 and all but cemented her spot as the starting wing defence for the Steel. She is electric across the court credit to her impressive closing speed to create doubt in the receivers mind and force turnovers. her long wingspan is a crucial to the Steel in defence able to apply strong hands over pressure to block her oppositions vision into the circle and make life hard for them around circle edge. Heffernan is also strong in transition constantly reoffering on the transverse line to reset play or drive through the centre third to punch through and open up space. Her connection with the experienced Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and youngster Taneisha Fifita in defence and combine with Shannon Saunders through the midcourt allows her to play with confidence and back herself to go out hunting for an intercept.