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One last shot for Anna Harrison?

After an elite netball career spanning nearly 20 years Anna Harrison has a serious shot at claiming her first premiership, but whatever happens she’s determined to enjoy every minute of the ride.

Anna Harrison (L) defends over Grace Nweke.
Photo: Photosport

The stealthlike defender debuted for the Otago Rebels in 2002 as a 19-year-old in the old national league.

So meteoric was her rise that the West Coast product was part of the Silver Ferns’ gold medal success at the 2003 Netball World Cup.

In 2006 she won a Commonwealth Games gold medal, something she repeated in 2010 when she returned to netball after a couple of years on the international beach volleyball circuit.

But the closest she’s come to winning a domestic title was in 2011 when the Northern Mystics lost to the Queensland Firebirds in the grand final of the old trans-Tasman competition.

The Stars, who sit second on the table are very much in the hunt for their first title, with four rounds to go.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited somewhat by the idea of finally winning a championship but that’s not the reason why I came back,” Harrison said.

“It would absolutely be icing on the cake but so far it’s been a really great experience getting back into it with the really young defence with the new team and franchise but it would be nice to get into a grand final.”

Harrison also spent two seasons with the Auckland Diamonds in the old domestic league and later joined the Northern Mystics in 2011, before retiring at the end of 2018.

Anna Harrison playing for the Otago Rebels in 2002.
Photo: Otago Daily Times

When Stars’ coach Kiri Wills asked Harrison if she would come out of retirement for this year’s ANZ Premiership season, the 38-year-old insisted that Wills run it by the team.

“You don’t want to go into an environment where anyone’s sort of got hesitations around bringing a player in, let alone one that’s been out of the game so I guess I just wanted to make sure that players were on board …I wanted to make sure that people wanted me there.”

One Stars’ player who must be pinching herself playing alongside Harrison is young defender Elle Temu, who has flourished with regular court time in her first year at the South Auckland franchise.

“At training the other day Elle Temu showed me a photo she had with me 10 years ago, she was a young buck in the crowd so it sort of really hit home how long I have been around.

“I’m definitely getting more sort of multiple-generation photos after games of mothers who liked me and now their daughters like me so yeah it’s been a long time …at the moment I’m just enjoying another run out there.”

Harrison has been in fine form this year, and currently sits fourth for deflections and third for intercepts but confirmed in May she wouldn’t be making herself available for the Silver Ferns.

Harrison cut her teeth with the Otago Rebels under legendary coach Dame Lois Muir, when players like former Silver Ferns’ Adine Wilson, Anna Stanley, and Linda Vagana were on the scene.

Ten years ago young fan Elle Temu had a photo with her idol Anna Harrison – now they play together.
Photo: Supplied – Stars Facebook page

She has played with and against some of the biggest names in the sport and retired from internationals in 2017.

This year she resumed an old rivalry with Australian Diamonds’ legend Caitlin Bassett, who’s playing for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

“It’s a bit surreal at times, one more go against Caitlin, there’s lots of players who are fun to play against again.”

Near the end of her career, the Adelaide Thunderbirds tried to recruit the experienced Harrison.

“I couldn’t tell you what year it was. I always liked the idea of going to Aussie and playing and experiencing how they run their teams and their performance environment but I had the kids at that stage so it wasn’t an option for me.”

Caitlin Bassett of Australia catches the ball under pressure from Anna Harrison in 2016.
Photo: Photosport

Defensive trailblazer

The Stars will meet the Northern Mystics this Sunday, hoping to reverse the result last weekend which saw the Mystics leapfrog them into first place on the ladder.

A big challenge for the Stars’ defenders is trying to limit the damage of prolific shooter Grace Nweke, who scored a whopping 55 goals against them last weekend.

“She’s one of those shooters you just can’t wait for it to get there and Jhaniele Fowler was another example for the Steel. She’s a player that you’re not trying to get ball off her you’re trying to get ball further up the court and at the moment it’s breaking that connection between Peta Toeava and Grace, which is pretty strong.”

Harrison said explosive wing attack Peta Toeava, a former team-mate, had been even more effective this year.

“With good composure making good choices at the right time, In the past she would have been guilty of sort of letting that amazing ball go when it wasn’t quite on but I definitely think she’s been a little bit more calculated with the ball.”

The Stars’ defenders will have to use all their tricks, including lifts over the shot, which Harrison introduced to the sport in 2012.

The Harrison hoist

But Harrison said it was difficult to use on Nweke.

“It’s really hard to lift when a shooter shoots close to the hoop so there’s no room to go up and if you do go up you can’t touch the net so we’ve talked about that I’m sure many teams have but any shooter that shoots right under the post is really hard to jump.”

Not long after she sprung the ‘Harrison hoist’ on the game, World Netball changed the rules so players can’t touch the ball on a goal attempt once it’s on the downward trajectory.

It was something that disappointed Harrison, in a game that is largely weighted towards attacking players.

“I thought it was probably a little bit uncalled-for. It’s not something that you can pull off every time a shooter gets the ball, it added a little bit of excitement, a challenge. It made shooters have to think if the defender was going up and whether to off-load it.. I liked it but obviously the powers to be decided that it was not something that they wanted to see continue.”

Now most defenders will try and attack the ball at the release.

“It makes the timing so much harder but just trying to extend the three foot mark higher and probably more so trying to get a held ball.

“When I originally did the lift I attacked it at the rim so there was slightly more time on the ball. You can still do it but most shooters shoot quite high and it drops in so once the ball starts travelling down now you can’t attack it.”

Nweke is also shooting around 90 percent accuracy this season as are many top shooters in the game now.

Anna Harrison of the Stars defends over Aliyah Dunn.

So is the life of a defender harder now compared to when Harrison first started out?

“When shooters are shooting under the post there’s not as many opportunities to attack the ball.

“But I guess it’s just a challenge of attacking further up the court and being smarter with what you’re setting up and making sure that team-mates are all on board with how we want to play is probably the key, and know what style. Whether you’re playing man on or more off the body you have to connect that unit work.”

Harrison said her body was holding together pretty well but she had to be very in tune with it.

“And sleep is a massive part …there’s some weeks where I feel really good and then a kid gets sick and I have a few nights or even just one really bad night’s sleep and I just find it really hard to do the next day so making sure I don’t do too much.

“But overall I’m pretty happy. I’m pretty sensitive with how my body is feeling so as soon as I feel something I get on that pretty hard. People probably think I’m super sensitive but when you get to my age and you know your body as well as I do you don’t want to mess around with niggles, you want to get on top of them straight away.

“Netball’s definitely hard on the body …with the impact and the change of direction and the dynamic, contact with other players it definitely takes its toll.”

Harrison said she wanted to stay in the moment as the end of the season drew closer, not knowing yet if she has another one left in her.

“I’m aware that the season is coming up and it’s going to be a matter of making decisions soon of what the path holds but again I’m just going to stay in the present because whether it is the last time I play or it’s going to carry on that’s the most important thing is enjoying want I’m doing in the moment.”


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