That’s a wrap

Twelve months ago we spoke to the three coaches of our local professional sporting franchises – the Stags, Steel and Sharks.

They expressed plenty of hope, as you tend to do with the summer in full swing and the season still some months away.

Of those three coaches – David Henderson, Natalie Avellino and Richard Dickel – two have fallen by the wayside after difficult seasons.

Avellino will be Janine Southby’s assistant in 2013 after sharing the duties with her this year, while Dickel was ousted in favour of Paul Henare after his first losing season in charge of the fledgling franchise.

Steel started in outstanding fashion with a win over a Magic side that would eventually go on to win the trans-Tasman competition, but there wasn’t much to write about after that – other than the form of Donna Wilkins.

The Stags had an awful start, not helped by injuries to key players, but managed to recover sufficiently to make the semifinals – the top four of a seven-team competition – and a play-off game against Counties Manukau.

Of course, that game will be remembered for that scary incident involving Hoani Macdonald that almost cost the father of two, who gets married in a few days’ time, his life. Thankfully, Macdonald is still with us and we may even see him in the Stags coaching box in the future.

You can argue that the Sharks never really got going, and Dickel eventually became the scapegoat.

The New Zealand NBL is not a strong competition; certainly it’s weaker than netball’s trans-Tasman series of the NPC, so the expectations have to be higher.

But 2013 will be an interesting year for all three franchises.

The Stags showed glimpses this season that the young players within the squad are ready to make an impression.

Robbie Robinson, Marty McKenzie and Cardiff Vaega could form the backbone of an exciting backline, while Junior Ngaluafe has promise.

Steel, often through lack of choice, have banked on youth.

It’s a game plan that could pay dividends in two or three seasons’ time, but professional sport does not offer that sort of luxury, and Steel will have to get some results this year.

Incoming chief executive Sue Clarke has some interesting challenges ahead of her.

The franchise is split geographically, with the head coach and most of the players based in Dunedin, while the team’s fan, administration and sponsor base is in Invercargill.

Marrying together two disparate cities more than two hours apart is no easy thing, but Steel will never be a consistently well-performed team off the court unless the front office is strong.

After giving Steel a year to bed themselves in under a new coaching regime this year, the franchise can expect to face a bit more heat from us in 2013.

Unfortunately for both Steel and the Sharks, we face the prospect of another season in the velodrome as the interminable wait for the new stadium to be completed continues. The only positive about the velodrome as a centre court is the fact that without it, we’d have nothing.

The Sharks head into the post-Dickel era with some excitement.

The nature of the NBL means there’s no reason the Sharks shouldn’t look to dominate it the way Sting did in netball through the first decade of this century.

That is Paul Henare’s challenge: we wish him the best of luck.

While the Sharks, Steel and Sting will have heightened expectations around them in 2013, that pales into insignificance with what we should expect from the Highlanders starting in late February.

After some aggressive offseason recruitment, they will start their campaign with a team that rivals the franchise’s best, and anything other than a playoff finish would be considered a failure.

This week also marked the end of another era, with Brendon Egan leaving The Southland Times after three years.

This year’s winner of the Bell Journalism Prize, something we’ve been fortunate to dominate in the Times’ sport department over the years, Egan is heading off to get a taste of the world before settling back into his home town of Christchurch and a job as a sports writer at The Press.

Egan’s arrival coincided with the orange blossoming of the Sharks and he provided quality coverage of the team during their first three seasons.

It’s been great to have Egan in the office, particularly with Southland winning the Ranfurly Shield off his beloved Canterbury twice during that time.


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