The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel has retained its powerful midcourt trio for next year’s ANZ Premiership title defence.
Forming a vital nucleus, captain Wendy Frew and Silver Ferns Shannon Francois and Gina Crampton are the first roster signings announced by the southern franchise which won both the inaugural ANZ Premiership and Super Club titles recently.
Frew, who had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon a fortnight ago, said she was stoked the combination they have worked hard to establish would remain intact.
“Playing with Gina and Shannon is just an unreal experience. I love everything about their game and the way they lead on the court but also everything they do for this team off the court,” she said.
“I think we’ve got a great combination going there and it’s exciting to have the chance to keep building on that.”
Crampton echoed her comments.
“It’s cool that the three of us are back and I can’t think of anyone else I’d like to be playing alongside,” she said.
“It’s going to be important to have these connections going forward next year because we know all the other teams will be gunning for us.”
The absence of towering Jamaican shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid would force a revamp of the Steel’s attack but Crampton was unfazed.
“It’s going to be great to see how we go having someone so different under the post. It will definitely change our game plan a bit and produce a different brand of netball but that will hopefully keep the other teams guessing and add a few new tricks to our toolbox,” she said.
“It’s going to be exciting for us middies and shooters to create new combinations and prove we can still be successful,” she said.
Frew was eager for the Steel to embark on the title defence.
“To go back-to-back would be unreal and that has to be our aim. It will be an exciting experience to go in as defending champs for the first time and we know everyone will be out to get us which adds to the challenge,” she said.
While her 16th season in the elite ranks will take a mammoth recovery effort, Frew is a player renowned for her tenaciousness and unrivalled work ethic.
“Obviously this is a challenging time for me but I’m remaining positive about what lies ahead,” she said.
“My focus is on getting the rehab right and I will be doing everything possible to get back out there in the best shape I can be. I’ve just got to tick all the boxes and not get ahead of myself. Life is a bit slower for me than I’m used to at the moment but it’s about being smart and just doing what I’m told by the medical team.”
While the injury has put a devastating halt to Frew’s tilt at national selection, Crampton and Francois are presently in Auckland at Silver Fern trials, along with their premiership-wining Steel team-mates Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson. Abby Erwood, Jennifer O’Connell and Jamie Hume will are attending as training partners.
“It’s awesome to see so many of our Steel girls involved and they deserve to be there,” Crampton said.
“We certainly haven’t had the luxury of a break from training. We’ve gone from our normal competition in the ANZ Premiership into the tournament format of Super Club and now into national trials so it’s going to be a pretty tough week ahead.
“I’d like to be included in the squad as it prepares for the Commonwealth Games but you can’t count on anything going into trials. You can only put your best out there and hope it’s enough.”
The Ferns will contest the Netball Quad Series against the Australian Diamonds, England and South Africa at ILT Stadium Southland on September 3 and Francois was keen to feature in the ranks.