Cover photo: May Bailey
The Silver Ferns remain upbeat despite the devastating loss of Grace Nweke to injury yesterday. Their star goal shooter left the court during the third quarter of their match against Singapore, and it was confirmed between 9 and 10pm the same evening that she had a partial tear of her patellar tendon in her knee.
Under new tournament rules, replacements are allowed for, and reserve Tiana Metuarau was informed at the same time that she’d be stepping into the team. The majority of the athletes didn’t receive the disappointing news until this morning.
Metuarau entered today’s match against Wales late in the third quarter, finishing with 4/5 (80%), six centre pass receives, seven goal assists, and one gain.
Speaking post match, the young goal attack said, “I almost feel guilty (about how it’s unfolded), but she’s my good friend and it would be a disservice to fall down now and feel sorry for myself and feel like I didn’t deserve to be here.
“I know for her sake and her calibre and the things she brings to the team, I need to be able to stand on my own two feet, and not necessarily fill her shoes, but bring what I bring to the team.
“I gave her this little stuffed octopus which I brought, a pink little fluffy thing from the two dollar shop, and it has a hole in it, which is a little bit, not ideal. But she said it was cute.”
Metuarau went on to say that she felt grateful for the opportunity, given that she hasn’t played for the Silver Ferns for a while.
“This campaign has been about gratitude and taking this opportunity with two hands, and I’d like to think that I did alright.”
Metuarau is yet to speak to her mum, legendary Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu, who is out in Cape Town.
Experienced Silver Ferns defender Karin Burger said the news was a double blow on top of what the group believed to be a sub par performance. “We had a good talking to from ourselves and the coaches, and we were going to fix that.
“So getting the bad news on top of that wasn’t the best thing, but we’ve brought it all together, we knew we had to carry the Mana of the Fern and represent our country regardless.
“We played out there for her, and also to welcome Tiana in like she deserves to be.”
The Silver Ferns have fully integrated their three reserves into their preparation for the World Cup, something Burger described as important. “We let her know she’s here for a reason and she can perform which she did today.”
Captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio said it was an emotional time for the group, with lots of tears. “It’s about supporting GG, being around her, being there for her, how we can support her, and supporting Tiana as well.
Speaking at a post match press conference, coach Dame Noeline Taurua didn’t believe it was a blow for the team. She said, “If anything it’s forced the issue to start to consolidate faster.
“It’s probably the best quarter, or the best half we’ve just had, without disrespecting GG as well.
“We’ve always known in the team that we can’t rely on one person, we have to make sure we have players that can play multiple positions but also players that can do their own job.
“I’m a bit of a spiritual person, and sometimes I feel a pathway has been set and it’s up to us as to which path we want to take, irrelevant of whether we win or lose, we are proud of what we do. That’s always been our mantra.”
Taurua described the “talk” that the team had about their previous day’s performance. “We’ve had a big day with the emotions and where we think we are as a team.
“The talk was about areas we knew we needed to do better, coming out of the last game. We are very open about our values and where that sits as a team.”
The wider Silver Ferns group will support Nweke as she starts the difficult process of physical and emotional recovery. Taurua said, “She’s back in the hotel. Unsurprisingly a 21 year old when things don’t quite work out it’s devastating for her. To be honest, she’ll probably take at least four or five days to understand in herself and her thinking what the next steps are going to be. We’re are pretty much, ‘Whatever you need, wherever you want to go, we’ll take you.
“There’s a lot of love in there, but also she knows, it’s quite a delicate position because she knows she can’t be crying all the time because the team needs her too. We are taking it one day at time.”
The Silver Ferns medical staff will look after Nweke over coming days, but Taurua said they will support what Nweke wants to do. “Our next thing is after this is we play England, we play Constellation Cup. But if she wants to go home (from the World Cup), we will put her on the plane home.”
There isn’t news yet of how long Nweke’s recovery is expected to take, and whether or not surgery may be required.
As the first team ever able to replace a player under new World Cup rules, Taurua said of the policy, “Praise be! It’s been really good.
“We’ve been very fortunate that we were able to bring three reserves with us. I know other teams haven’t had that luxury.
“Our three reserves have been part of the team, so hopefully it has been seamless when they do come in, but in this instance we are really happy to have Tiana.”
The Silver Ferns will play South Africa after a day off, and Taurua joked that she doesn’t particularly enjoy coming up against coach Norma Plummer, “She scares the sh*t out of me!
“She’s awesome, she’s one of the best and I have so much respect for her.”