NETBALL: Francois centre of attraction

Update: 7:05PM Chaperone. Back seat driver. Whatever you call Laura Langman, she’s going to spend the next few weeks perched pretty near Shannon Francois.

Change is afoot, in the Silver Ferns centre position. Langman’s occupied the spot virtually since time immemorial, playing the bulk of her 116 consecutive test matches there having first come to prominence at wing defence.

With Langman at centre Cullen will run at wing defence, with Francois and Grace Rasmussen vying for the wing attack berth.

“So normally it’s Laura back at wing D and me at centre,” Francois said ahead of Thursday night’s test match against Fiji in Porirua.

“Having Laura on court is definitely crucial and she brings a lot. She’s a huge defensive presence and, with her speed and fitness and everything, it’s key that she’s on court.”

Francois described Langman’s shoes as “huge” but, at least with the master alongside, the apprenticeship shouldn’t be so difficult.

Primarily a wing attack in the past, Francois saw this year’s trans-Tasman Netball League as an opportunity to establish herself as a centre. Having “another tool to add to my belt” has made the 24-year-old a more assured player, as have the attacking personnel she’ll be feeding to.

The selection of Malia Paseka and Bailey Mes as goal shoots, along with goal attacks Maria Tutaia and Jodi Brown, gives New Zealand a potentially dynamic and mobile circle and definitely one that the midcourters should enjoy playing with.

“It makes my job easy. Not easy, but it gives me a bit more confidence to know that if I do put a bit too much on the ball, that they’re going to get up there and get it.”

While netball is a fulltime gig for many of the Silver Ferns, the Invercargill-based Francois is on unpaid leave from her job as a pharmacist.

“So I’ve got about a month of that [leave] so it’s going to be a while between pay cheques,” she said.

She wouldn’t miss this opportunity for quids, though, and sees Thursday’s clash with Fiji at Te Rauparaha Arena and subsequent tests against South Africa in Hamilton on Sunday and Auckland on Tuesday, as an opportunity to cement herself at centre.

The Silver Ferns trained twice on Wednesday, with defender Leana de Bruin the one player on light duties. She injured the little finger on her left hand during the national trials and there’s no point in aggravating that.

New Zealand have won all eight of their previous meetings with Fiji, including January’s 81-28 and 76-34 victories in Suva.

AT A GLANCE

What: New Zealand v Fiji

Where and when: Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua

New Zealand (from): Casey Kopua (c), Katrina Grant, Leana de Bruin, Phoenix Karaka, Katrina Grant, Kayla Cullen, Laura Langman, Shannon Francois, Grace Rasmussen, Maria Tutaia, Jodi Brown, Malia Paseka, Bailey Mes

Fiji (from): Nina Crikisuva, Jane Costello, Sera Dakuitoga, Episake Kahatoka, Maria Lutua, Taraima Mitchell, Alisi Naqiri, Kelera Nawai, Merea Rabuka Neiliko, Afa Rusevakula, Alesi Waqa, Matila Waqanidrola