25 Mar 2017

Stars shining in South Auckland

11:26 am on 25 March 2017

For years South Auckland has been crying out for a professional netball team and now they have one.

Northern Stars captain Leana de Bruin (L) alongside her coach Julie Hoornweg.

Northern Stars captain Leana de Bruin (L) alongside her coach Julie Hoornweg. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Northern Stars are the new kids on the block in this year's domestic netball competition - the ANZ Premiership.

With over 17,000 registered netballers playing throughout the region, South Auckland is one of the biggest and most culturally diverse netball zones in the country.

And of all people coaching them, it's an Australian at the helm.

Julie Hoornweg is regarded as one of the world's best netball coaches, she's guided the Melbourne Vixens to a trans-Tasman title, been named Australian coach of the year twice, and had two successful stints as the coach of the Fijian national team.

She's now chancing her arm in South Auckland, home to the one of the world's largest multi-cultural communities.

The team itself is a reflection of that community, captain Leana de Bruin was born in South Africa, shooter Maia Wilson and defender Kayla Cullen are of Maori descent, Malia Vaka has Tongan heritage and import Afa Rusivakula is from Fiji.

Hoornweg said it's important to her and the franchise to build their culture around its diversity.

"It just gives you your own identity, it enriches your lives, it gives you some structure and some discipline.

"I love all that, loved being in Fiji, love being over here, unfortunately in Australia we don't quite have that same culture and that sense of who we are," Hoornweg said.

Kayla Cullen will be in the thick of it at the
Northern Mystics.

Kayla Cullen has moved south from the Northern Mystics to join the Stars in 2017. Photo: Photosport

Netball New Zealand is fully funding the Stars in their first year in the competition, a clear sign it believes there's value in developing a professional team in South Auckland.

Counties Manukau Sport chief executive Russell Preston said the Stars inclusion in the competition is fantastic, though a long time coming.

He said giving youngsters closer access to professional athletes is exactly what South Auckland needs but he believes it benefits Netball New Zealand even more.

"That's what those players need when they take the next step up into the international netball.

"If they're continuously put under pressure locally, the transition into international competition, the gap doesn't become so wide."

The Stars will by no means be easy beats in the competition, boasting four past and present Silver Ferns in their 10-woman playing roster.

New Silver Ferns shooter Malia Paseka.

Silver Fern shooter Malia Vaka has also joined the Stars. Photo: Photosport

But as much as it's about competitiveness, Hoornweg is intent on developing a team South Aucklanders can be proud of off the court.

"Some of our elite netballers are just fantastic women in terms of their daily lives and positions they hold so it just prepares you for a fantastic life.

"If we can give some of the young girls from this region a pathway or some role models to look up to, fantastic. And we also want them participating, so if they see them and want to paly the game even better," Hoornweg said.

Malia Vaka, a born and bred South Aucklander spent her teenage years living in Australia, so she's used to her coach's accent, but even she says some of Hoornweg's Aussie sayings have caught her off guard.

"She uses her Aussie words out on the court and we're always like "ah can you explain that?"

"She uses bork, so borking but we call it fake, so we kind of correct her and she changes it which is pretty good."

The players won't mind changing some of Hoornweg's sayings, as long as it brings them her proven success.