Teammates fly flag for North Otago

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This year’s Southern Steel team has a strong North Otago connection.

Former Waitaki Girls’ High School pupil Jennifer O’Connell, who debuted for the Steel in 2017, has this year been joined by her former school teammate Taneisha Fifita, who has taken up her first ANZ Premiership contract with the Steel after two seasons as a training partner.

“I think it’s absolutely fabulous. We went to school together and I think it’s such a massive reflection of the work that [former Waitaki Girls’ netball coach] Georgie [Salter] did,” O’Connell said.

Salter’s legacy was living on and their success proved that living in a small town, like Oamaru, did not hold you back, she said.

“People are so willing to help in Oamaru. There is a real community thing about it.”

After one game in March, in which the Steel lost 48-54 to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, the ANZ Premiership resumes on June 19 and the Steel takes on the Mainland Tactix the following day.

All games will be played at the Auckland Netball Centre, with the Steel travelling each week.

O’Connell was looking forward to the new 10-week season.

“I just can’t wait to get back. I’m so excited.”

The 22-year-old goal shoot had kept fit during the lockdown, despite not being able to train with the team.

“It was hard in terms of motivation and not having someone to pass a ball to.

“It was, ultimately, the thought of being out on court that kept me going. I came back the same fitness if not a little better, so that was really rewarding.

“I binged on the Netflix, did a lot of baking and [went for] a lot of walks around the block.”

For Fifita, it was a strange start to her first full season with the Steel.

“Full-time is kind of different, but being a training partner first was good to get used to it,” the 19-year-old defender said.

Having O’Connell in the side had also helped her adapt.

Travelling to Auckland each week sounded daunting, but players from Oamaru were used to travelling, she said.

“It kind of reminds me of having to travel from Oamaru to Dunedin and all the other places when I was playing Beko.

“I think I’ll be fine.”

Fifita moved to Invercargill with her family after finishing school last year, which had helped her settle in, she said.

“The atmosphere in the stadium in Invercargill is amazing.

“I’m doing really good. I still miss everyone in Oamaru, the teachers, coaches and all the players who were part of my journey.

“I hope to see everyone soon and I hope everyone is doing well during this time.”