With the news this week that the Constellation Cup is set to make a (very welcome) return in October, suggestions for Stacey Marinkovich’s starting seven have been popping up on Twitter thick and fast, as have the questions that plagued the last Constellation Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand in March this year. Will the Diamonds do the rolling captain thing again? Will there be room for veteran shooter Caitlin Bassett in the squad?
For me, the most pressing issue that the announcement brings up comes from the other side of the Tasman in the form of the Ferns shooting circle. Who is going to fill the goal attack role in the black dress come October?
Let’s start at the beginning. Silver Ferns Captain and super-star goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio won’t be taking to the court as she is expecting her second child, which leaves a gap that the Ferns have struggled to fill consistently. Ekenasio provided both volume and accuracy for the Kiwis, so what are the options?
Looking back to March, Dame Noeline Taurua selected four shooters in the squad, Captain Ekenasio, incumbent goal shooter Maia Wilson, Monica Falkner and Bailey Mes.
Falkner, who is currently plying her trade at the Stars, has been nursing a knee injury for a number of weeks and hasn’t had much court time so far this season. It will be interesting to see if this increases over the next few weeks and whether it goes on to affect her fitness when it comes to October’s squad.
Bailey Mes, who lines up for the Mystics each week alongside the league’s highest goal scorer Grace Nweke, hasn’t had great volume over the course of the ANZ Premiership season, shooting at just 59% and playing more of a third feeder role.
The concern for the Ferns here is finding not only a shooter that can deliver on volume of shots, but also achieve a high shooting percentage.
Another option for Taurua is Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who seems to be getting her mojo back at the Tactix this season. Part of Taurua’s 2019 World Cup winning squad, Selby-Rickit has been working her way back from the injury that kept her out of the series earlier this year, producing some fantastic netball for the Christchurch side, but again, she isn’t putting out a consistent performance every week. It’s also worth considering Selby-Rickit’s connection with Gina Crampton, who is likely to be the Ferns’ starting wing attack, thanks to the years they spent playing together for the Southern Steel.
Looking at the Sliver Ferns development squad, there’s a wealth of shooting talent coming through the ranks. It’s only a matter of time before Grace Nweke is announced in the starting squad but this further compounds the Ferns shooting problem; Nweke, Ellie Bird and Aliyah Dunn are all goal shooters and, perhaps with the exception of Dunn, they are unlikely to make the move out to goal attack. They also lack that international experience, so it will certainly be interesting to keep an eye on who moves through the ranks over the next couple of years and when they are given the opportunity.
That leaves Jamie Hume who is having a great season with the Stars, and would play alongside her Stars teammates in Wilson, Faulkner and Crampton in wing attack. Again though, what Hume offers in movement and mobility, she lacks in consistency.
Looking at the ANZ Premiership this season, the names that stand out in goal attack are the youngsters who are yet to make the Ferns squad. Tiana Metuarau has been impressing down at the Steel, her connection with English Rose George Fisher growing every week. Metuarau is such an intelligent goal attack, and also makes the top 10 list in the ANZ Premiership for both feeds and centre pass receives.
Khiarna Williams, another youngster, has been one of the shining stars at the WBOP Magic and has had the highest shooting percentage of any goal attack in the league this season at 85%, the next on the list is Metuarau at 82% and Te Amo Amaru-Tibble, who was brought in to replace Ekenasio at the Pulse, at 81%. From there, the only Silver Ferns goal attack on the list is development squad member Hume, who has been shooting at 74%. Then there’s Whitney Souness. It would be remiss of me to not to mention her brief stints in goal attack for the Pulse this season, and although it doesn’t seem like it would be her first choice of position, I wonder if it’s something Taurua might consider on an international level?
I know it’s not quite as easy as plucking players from their club environments and expecting them to have a good game at international level. Connections, confidence and experience are not things that can be expected to be perfect from day one, but with Ekenasio out, it’s certainly planted a seed of doubt as to whether they can deliver the same performances they put out in March. The second test against Australia, when Ekenasio was out nursing a calf injury, was the only test the Ferns lost.
Whilst writing this, I saw that Bridget Tunnicliffe had written a piece for RNZ following an interview with Dame Noeline Taurua where she speculated that Wilson may even be an option in the goal attack role. There’s no doubt that Wilson’s fitness has improved, and her style of play is much more mobile compared to a few years ago, so I would certainly be excited to see her velcro that GA bib to her chest.
‘Who plays goal shooter then?!’ we all simultaneously cry! Nweke? Dunn? Seeing Maia Wilson line up at goal attack with Grace Nweke in goal shooter does seem like a mouthwatering prospect. There are so many fantastic options out there, I just hope that they can find those connections in time for October.