Tania Hoffman believes the return of Suzy Drane – and an iconic Olympic venue – can inspire the Celtic Dragons to their first victory of the Vitality Netball Superleague tonight.
The Dragons are at the Copper Box Arena to face London Pulse where they aim to follow-up last week’s encouraging season opener against Team Bath by ruining the new franchise’s big opening home night.
For Dragons coach Hoffman, this is the type of fixture the team should be capable of winning and the return of Wales captain Drane has improved the odds of a morale-boosting away victory.
The Dragons’ most experienced player missed last week’s 58-41 defeat as she was overseas and Hoffman says: “To have Suzy Drane back is fantastic.
“She’s got so much experience. She also has great speed and depth passing. And Suzy is still one of the quicker ones on this team.
“But she also lets the ball do the work and sees space. I think also, she has a great understanding with Chelsea Lewis, which will hold us in good stead.”
The return of Drane means a positional switch with Kyra Jones going back to centre and Nia Jones returning to wing defence.
Now 32, Drane continues to be a mainstay for both the Dragons and Wales, despite her commitments as a lecturer in sport development and management at Cardiff Met.
At least the new partnership between the Dragons and the university means the squad’s training base is now on her doorstep and she believes those facilities as well as the new coaching set-up has breathed new optimism into the team this season.
“All of our training feels like it has a purpose and there is excitement,” she says. “We aim to take that excitement on to the court in London.
“We finished bottom last year so we needed to make sure there were differences this season. The sport is now drawing in investment and sponsorship and the game is growing.
“I am biased because I came through Cardiff Met as an undergraduate, did my post-grad here and now work here. But the link-up is great because the professionalism here is clear for all to see, with the analysis, the facilities and everything else.
“It’s great for Cardiff Met, too, as we are not just developing 15 players, we are providing future coaches and expertise.”
Those fresh elements – on and off the court and including new signings – were not enough to enable the Dragons to shock Bath last week, but Hoffman considers newcomers Pulse to be within a group of teams the Dragons should feel they belong in.
Pulse won narrowly against Severn Stars on their debut last week and both those teams should be in the Dragons’ sights, according to the New Zealander.
Hoffman adds: “London Pulse is a game we need to target. They are a good team, but if we play well I feel we can come away with a positive result.
“We are similar to those two teams and a few others. On their day, anyone can win these fixtures between us.
“Apart from our start, I was happy with the performance and especially the way we responded in the second-half.
“I was particularly pleased that we didn’t drop our heads and potentially let a 13-point deficit grow to one of 30 points. But there were also some really nice aspects of play – we got our centre passes away and got turnover ball.
“But when we get turnover ball, we need to make sure we go down the other end and shoot the goals.”
The Copper Box should hold no fears or surprises for the Dragons who played pre-season friendlies at the venue against both Pulse and the Stars.
Drane adds: “It’s a great venue and they may be a new franchise, but the players there we have seen before at other teams. There might be slightly different combinations, but we know the strengths.”