NETBALL was replaced by dancing at the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel offices on Friday following confirmation star shooting recruit George Fisher will finally be allowed into New Zealand.
Immigration New Zealand approved Fisher’s visa application, allowing her to travel from England to her new base in Invercargill.
The news was met with joy on both sides of the globe.
“There was dancing and singing in the office when the approval came through. And that was just me on my own,” Southern Steel chief executive Lana Winders said.
“Then I called (head coach) Reinga and the celebrations continued. There’s just an enormous amount of relief off our shoulders for the team, for all the hard work and for the wonderful people who came to our aid with their letters of support.”
Initiated in October last year, securing the visa had proved challenging.
“We expected greater rigour to be required by immigration due to the impact of Covid-19 and that was certainly the case. Our first two applications and an appeal were declined as Immigration NZ pushed us to prove this role was a ‘critical’ one to our organisation,” Winders said.
“We secured the support of Malcolm Pacific Immigration to assist us with the application process and from that point we are able to assemble all of the necessary information in a systematic way with the confidence of the expertise they brought. George would not be coming if we hadn’t got them involved, or the support of Netball NZ and letters of support we gathered.
“We can’t wait to see George in the flesh. The wait has been hard for her too, but she has been incredibly patient.”
Fisher was thrilled when told she would soon be joining her new team-mates.
“A little bit of worry crept in at one stage but not for too long. It was an amazing feeling to have the visa come through,” she said.
The 1.88m shooter was not fazed by the looming two-week stint in quarantine, starting on March 13.
“I’m so pleased that I’m actually going that none of it really matters in my mind,” she said.
Moving to the other side of the world was a tad daunting.
“I’ve never lived outside of Hertfordshire in my 22 years of life so we’ll see how I fare adulting and living on my own,” Fisher said.
“New Zealand seems like a beautiful and really chilled place whereas England is an absolute rat race in comparison.”
While England spent winter in strict lockdown due to Covid-19, elite athletes were permitted to train in a limited capacity.
“It definitely has had its challenges. It’s difficult because we have been in proper lockdown for so long. It has ade me appreciate so much more and being able to play on court again will feel like a luxury.”
The Steel team had been in regular contact since launching its pre-season campaign.
“I’m hoping to literally just slot in and hit the ground running. It seems like they are having so much fun and are a really chill team. I’m looking forward to getting to know them all,” Fisher said.
Head coach Reinga Bloxham was “absolutely over the moon” the squad would soon be complete.
“The smile didn’t leave my face,” she said.
“We will now integrate George into the Steel environment with open arms and we’re planning on heading away overnight to build connections off court and all get to know each other.
“Having just three weeks to get her gelled into the team will be a challenge but we’ve had to do this in the past. It’s about using time carefully and making sure we maximise those weeks to help build the on and off court connections.”
- The Southern Steel’s 2021 ANZ Premiership quest starts on April 18, hosting The Good Oil Tactix at ILT Stadium Southland.