George gets her her visa to enter NZ

Netball was replaced by dancing at the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel today following confirmation star shooting recruit George Fisher will finally be allowed into New Zealand.

Immigration New Zealand has approved Fisher’s visa application, paving the way for her to travel from England to her new base in Invercargill.

The news was met with joy on both sides of the globe.

“There was dancing and singing in the office when the approval came through. And that was just me on my own,” Steel CEO Lana Winders said.

“Then I called (head coach) Reinga and the celebrations continued. There’s just an enormous amount of relief off our shoulders for the team, for all the hard work and for the wonderful people who came to our aid with their letters of support.”

Initiated in October last year, securing the visa had proved a challenging process.

“We expected greater rigour to be required by immigration due to the impact of Covid-19 and that was certainly the case. Our first two applications and an appeal were declined as Immigration NZ pushed us to prove this role was a ‘critical’ one to our organisation,” Winders said.

“We secured the support of Malcolm Pacific Immigration to assist us with the application process and from that point we are able to assemble all of the necessary information in a systematic way with the confidence of the expertise they brought. George would not be coming if we hadn’t got them involved, or the support of Netball NZ and letters of support we gathered.

“We can’t wait to see George in the flesh. The wait has been hard for her too, but she has been incredibly patient.”

Fisher was thrilled when told she would soon be joining her new team-mates.

“A little bit of worry crept in at one stage but not for too long. It was an amazing feeling to have the visa come through,” she said.

The 1.88m shooter was not fazed by the looming two-week stint in quarantine, which will start on 13 March. After all, there’s an element of déjà vu from last year’s tour to New Zealand with the England Roses.

“I’m so pleased that I’m actually going that none of it really matters in my mind,” she said.

“I think it will be harder this time because I will be on my own instead of with my team-mates around me. But once you get through the first week, the second week flies by.

“I’m just going to busy myself with a lot of little things – colouring books, Netflix series, podcasts.”

Moving to the other side of the world was a tad daunting.

“I’ve never lived outside of Hertfordshire in my 22 years of life so we’ll see how I fare adulting and living on my own,” Fisher said.

“New Zealand seems like a beautiful and really chilled place whereas England is an absolute rat race in comparison.”

While England has spent winter in strict lockdown due to Covid, elite athletes were permitted to train in a limited capacity.

“It definitely has had its challenges. It’s difficult because we have been in proper lockdown for so long. It has made me appreciate so much more and being able to play on court again will feel like a luxury.”

The Steel team had been in regular contact since launching their pre-season campaign.

“I’m hoping to literally just slot in and hit the ground running. It seems like they are having so much fun and are a really chill team. I’m looking forward to getting to know them all,” Fisher said.

“The most important thing is forming those connections, doing the nitty-gritty and training together. I just want to get there now, meet the girls and start training so we can form those connections as a team and see how far we can take them.”

Being immersed in the New Zealand style of netball was a key factor in committing to the southern franchise.

“To be learning something completely new and have the chance to submerge myself in that style and flair is really exciting,” Fisher said.

“With players from so many countries now experiencing the game in different parts of the world, it really strengthens netball as a whole globally. They are all returning home to their national teams and sharing what they’ve learned which has closed the gap so much at Test level. The game is evolving and we all get to play a part in that.”

Head coach Reinga Bloxham was “absolutely over the moon” to hear her squad would soon be complete.

“The smile didn’t leave my face,” she said.

“We will now integrate George into the Steel environment with open arms and we’re planning on heading away overnight to build connections off court and all get to know each other. We have included her in team meetings and Zooms so she is in the loop.

“Having just three weeks to get her gelled into the team will be a challenge but we’ve had to do this in the past. It’s about using time carefully and making sure we maximise those weeks to help build the on and off court connections.”

The Steel’s 2021 ANZ Premiership quest starts on 18 April hosting The Good Oil Tactix at ILT Stadium Southland.