Games spots up for grabs

Andrew Voerman



Stuff NZ Newspapers


A dozen of New Zealand’s best netballers will pull on the black dress at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July. But six months out from that event in England, the makeup of Dame Noeline Taurua’s squad is far from set in stone. Since the 2019 Netball World Cup, she has given test caps to 26 different players, 24 of whom remain active in the game. Another two have made it as far as the bench in a test, making for a total of 28 – quite a lot when you consider there are just 42 starters in any given round of the ANZ Premiership. Taurua has 14 players with her in England this month for the Northern Quad Series, which starts with a trans-Tasman clash against the Aust- ralian Diamonds tomorrow [first centre pass 5.15am NZ time]. That group includes three players who are yet to play for her – defender Kayla Johnson, back in the Silver Ferns for the first time since before the 2018 Commonwealth Games; midcourter Mila Reuelu-Buchanan; and shooter Filda Vui. The bottom line is that Taurua will have explored her options by the time the coming ANZ Premiership season ends in June, and she has to decide who to take back to England in July, where the aim will be the country’s first gold medal since 2010. What exactly she will do with the players at her disposal in the Quad Series remains to be seen. A full-strength starting seven would likely include Maia Wilson and Tiana Metuarau in the shooting circle; captain Gina Crampton, Claire Kersten, and Sam Winders in midcourt; and Karin Burger and Sulu Fitzpatrick in defence. But this will be Taurua’s last chance to explore how other options fare at international level, which means, as always, it will be a balancing act, especially as the Silver Ferns have four games in the space of five days at London’s Copper Box Arena. ‘‘One of the things that we do have to work through once we get over there, is where are the bodies and management around the bodies,’’ she said before departure. ‘‘That’s probably something that we’re clear about and to some degree that may shape what I can and can’t do in regard to players getting out on court. ‘‘My aim is to get everybody out there. ‘‘I need to be able to get everybody out there to see what they can and can’t do, but there’s also their level of readiness coming out of Christmas break, and I’m mindful of that. ‘‘If I can get everyone out on court, I’ll be really happy, and obviously performance is paramount.’’ Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Katrina Rore are two players not on tour who will be in selection conversations once the ANZ Premiership gets underway, and they return to action after being out of action while pregnant. Ekenasio was the captain when the Silver Ferns beat Australia in the Constellation Cup last March and should slot straight back in at goal attack But Rore hasn’t played since the Constellation Cup at the end of 2019 and has kept her international intentions to herself for now. Taurua said she was looking forward to seeing them both back on court and understood they were both tracking well in their return to play programmes. However their absences – as well as that of Jane Watson, Ekenasio’s understudy as captain, who is expecting her first child later this year – have left the team shorn of experience. With Ekenasio, Rore, and Watson absent, and Maria Folau, Casey Kopua, and Laura Langman all retired, current captain Crampton is the only member of the starting seven from the 2019 World Cup final on the current tour. She stepped into that role for the first time against England in the Taini Jamison Trophy last September, but only played the first match as the Ferns lost the series 2-1, a historic result on New Zealand soil for the visitors that sets the stage nicely for their rematch on Monday [first centre pass 5.15am NZ time]. Taurua said Crampton’s experience and leadership had shone through when the team came together for trials in Wellington in December, and she was excited about her growing into the role on this tour. ‘‘We definitely saw her full worth and value in the camp, where she took the court and pretty much led from the front, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do in the international scene. ‘‘One thing that I would like to think that we do quite well is that we have quite a few leaders in the mix, but with Gina leading from the front, her ability to manage people is definitely of value. ‘‘She’ll be amping, and she’ll be ready to go, if the December camp is an example of what she can do.’’