One face will be particularly familiar to Marlborough netball fans when the Good Oil Tactix take on Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse at Stadium 2000 on Sunday.
Jess Prosser, who will suit up for the Tactix in her ANZ Premiership debut season, spent two years in Marlborough and knows the region and the match venue well.
In 2016, the 1.83m goal shoot or goal attack burst onto the Marlborough scene after previously being a standout at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch.
Playing for Harlequins, she was an integral feature of their premier title-winning combination. The following year she moved to the Tokomaru club and was again part of a title-winning team. In 2017 she was named the province’s Netballer of the Year.
Jess moved back to Christchurch for the 2018 season and was named in the Mainland team which competed in the second-tier Beko League.
After impressing in that competition through 2018-19 she was selected in the Tactix squad for the forthcoming season, a season which opens with Sunday’s first competition game, beginning at 4.10pm.
The 23-year-old is relishing being part of the Tactix environment and excited to have a chance to show her skills in familiar surroundings on Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to it … Blenheim is something of a second home after I spent a couple of years there.
“The team are also excited because it has been a while since the team played in Blenheim … plus it‘s our first game up, and against the Pulse who we just played in a pre-season tournament at Otaki. We lost by one so that has given us confidence leading into the first week that [a win] is doable.
“[The Pulse] are very physical but we have been training to combat that. We have a lot of versatility in the team, a lot of people can play in several positions so [selection] can depend on who are playing.”
Jess says training and competing at a higher level has seen her undergo some physical changes since her time in the top of the south.
“My base fitness and strength has definitely changed … from having those two years in the Beko League and then making kind of a seamless transition into the Tactix … people say they can see a difference.”
She feels her time in Marlborough played a big part in shaping her career so far.
“Everyone’s journey is different and it hasn’t come easy, I have had to work for it. Probably the best thing [I did] was coming to Blenheim and having a couple of years kind of like finding myself … then coming home and putting in the hard work … mentally and physically.”
While Jess will be desperate to get some game time on Sunday she has some formidable rivals for the shooting bibs in the shape of Silver Fern Te Paea Selby-Rickit and the towering Ellie Bird.
“I expect to be on the bench, with a Silver Fern in front of me, but it is awesome to train alongside those top players and I am learning so much.”
The Tactix will again be led by Silver Ferns defender Jane Watson with support from vice-captain and midcourter Erikana Pedersen, who makes her return after injuring her ACL in the opening game of 2019. Head coach is Marianne Delaney-Hoshek.
Reigning champions The Pulse will bring an experienced, polished squad to Blenheim.
Consistency of selection was a key feature of their 2020 side, following the re-signing of accomplished shooting trio Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Tiana Metuarau and Aliyah Dunn.
The versatile and potent shooting mix will reunite for a third successive campaign having set an impressive foundation for the defending champions.
There will also be familiarity at the other end of the court, with Pulse stalwart Katrina Rore confirming her return for an 11th successive campaign with the Wellington-based franchise.
Pulse squad: Karin Burger, Aliyah Dunn, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Maddy Gordon, Kelly Jury, Claire Kersten, Tiana Metuarau, Katrina Rore, Renee Savai’inaea, Elle Temu.
Tactix squad: Ellie Bird, Charlotte Elley, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Sophia Fenwick, Samon Nathan, Erikana Pedersen, Kimiora Poi, Jess Prosser, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Jane Watson.