Te Paea Selby-Rickit
Dame Noeline Taurua
The time has arrived. So much has gone into getting this show underway and now the Taini Jamison Trophy series between New Zealand and England is upon us. The preparation of both sides has been less than perfect, but in these Covid-affected times, any international netball we get to see should be treasured. At this stage, there is no certainty that the Constellation Cup will go ahead, so for now, let’s look forward to this three test series between the Silver Ferns and Roses.
With four Auckland-based players granted a late exemption to join their teammates in Christchurch, the Ferns will now be at full strength. Or at least as full strength as they can be, given that captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio is on maternity leave and vice-captain Jane Watson is recovering from foot surgery.
Two of the four players granted exemptions were Gina Crampton and Sulu Fitzpatrick. In the absence of Ekenasio and Watson, they have been announced as the new Ferns captain and vice-captain respectively. It is a big moment, especially for Crampton. While both players may be new to leadership roles at this level, they have shown their credentials in club netball.
The Silver Ferns last played test netball in March of this year, when they put in a strong performance on this court to defeat the Australian Diamonds three to one and win the Constellation Cup for the first time in nine years. This continued their strong recent record against the top-ranked nation.
The last time they played the Roses was just under 11 months ago. On that occasion, New Zealand was able to beat an understrength and underdone England team in all three tests, but not as convincingly as perhaps the margins of 13, 7 and 15 would suggest. In all three tests, England were more than competitive for most of the 60 minutes but were just let down by a bad patch here and there which the Ferns capitalised on.
New Zealand has won the last five clashes between these two teams, but England won the four before that. In all, there have been 100 tests played between these two countries, with New Zealand winning 88, England 10 and two tests drawn.
Taini Jamison Trophy 2020
Test 1 – New Zealand 58 def England 45
Test 2 – New Zealand 54 def England 47
Test 3 – New Zealand 62 def England 47
Although missing four big name Australian-based players, this England team does appear stronger than that of last year. On paper at least. Geva Mentor, Layla Guscoth and Beth Cobden are big inclusions, and unlike last year, the players who’ve come from the Vitality Netball Superleague have had a full season of netball under their belts. This Roses team will present quite a few problems.
The Silver Ferns team has been chosen on form, with some players performing to such a high level during this year’s ANZ Premiership that they simply couldn’t be denied. There are four new faces and another who’s been recalled after a small taste of international netball previously.
One of the new selections is young Mystics shooter Grace Nweke. She was a dominant force under the ring this year with over 200 goals more than the next most prolific shooter. The question now is just how much court time she will get. Will she have to wait and bide her time, or will she be given a chance early on? It could all depend on the form of Maia Wilson.
Wilson has been a genuine star in her short international career so far, and no doubt she would have been pencilled in as the first-choice goal shooter for this series. That was until she suffered a difficult run of poor form at the end of the ANZ Premiership season. In the final three rounds, Wilson’s shooting accuracy fell away dramatically, and with it went her confidence.
If anyone can help Wilson regain confidence and form, it is surely Dame Noeline Taurua. Hopefully, being back in the Silver Ferns environment where she has performed so well previously, will bring back the solidity in her game. If not, Nweke is ready for her chance.
It could be a genuine highlight of the series if Nweke debuts against champion Roses goal keeper Mentor. It’s just over 20 years since a very young Mentor made her own test debut in NZ against the legendary Irene van Dyk.
Two other shooters have also been given their first Silver Ferns squad call up. Tiana Metuarau and Jamie Hume will be competing with Te Paea Selby-Rickit for the goal attack bib. Metuarau had a brilliant season for Steel, combining beautifully with English import George Fisher, who will be an important member of the opposition in this series.
Playing for Stars in the ANZ Premiership, Hume has been one of the big improvers this year. In the past, she has shown glimpses but this year she fulfilled her potential and played with much greater consistency. When Wilson was having her struggles at the tail-end of the season, it was Hume who took greater responsibility to lead the attack, and she did it well.
The one new face in the midcourt is Kate Heffernan, the daughter of Annette Heffernan who played nine tests for New Zealand in the 1980s. After playing predominantly in the wing defence position previously, Heffernan moved to centre for Steel this year and shone. She plays a solid game with few mistakes and looks like a readymade Silver Fern.
Returning after a brief taste of international netball in 2018, is Peta Toeava. She was simply outstanding at wing attack this season for Mystics, regularly racking up huge numbers of assists and feeding with pinpoint accuracy. Her combination with Nweke was a genuine highlight. It will be interesting to see if the two of them are given an opportunity together at any time here.
Youngster Maddy Gordon has maintained her position in the squad, while the midcourt is rounded out with the big game experience of Crampton, Claire Kersten, Shannon Saunders and Sam Winders. As she has been given the captaincy, it’s fair to assume that Crampton will get first crack at wing attack, while the other three are all solid options for centre. Winders and Kersten can also slot into the wing defence position. It’s a strong midcourt.
There are no new faces in the defence end, but the unavailability of Watson does raise some issues. New vice-captain Fitzpatrick will take Watson’s place and be joined in the circle by Karin Burger to make a formidable defensive combination. Much will be resting on their shoulders however, as Kelly Jury is the only other defender left from the original squad.
Fitzpatrick led the Mystics extremely well this year and dominated with her ability to pressure opponents into mistakes and to do it cleanly. Meanwhile, Burger has been a total revelation at goal defence, after playing much of her club netball at wing defence previously. She picked up intercepts at will and was a constant menace to the attack end of opposition teams. The 192cm tall Jury, better known as a goal keeper, has spent time at goal defence this year. Her height and reach make her an imposing presence in the circle.
When it looked like the four Auckland-based Ferns may not be joining their teammates, three players were called into the squad as potential replacements. Defenders Georgia Tong and Paris Lokotui, and midcourter Kimiora Poi, have joined the rest of the squad and will continue to train with them for the duration of the series. They are available for selection if needed.
There will be numerous mouth-watering clashes in this series. England will be a strong opponent, making it a tough battle for New Zealand. It is another important step for them on the road to next year’s Commonwealth Games, and in Birmingham, they will be looking to redeem themselves after the horrors of 2018 when they failed to pick up a medal, while England famously claimed the gold.
The Silver Ferns’ preparation for this series has been far from ideal. Certainly, it hasn’t been as good as England’s. Taurua is even publicly downplaying her team’s chances. But don’t take too much notice of that. She will have her team as fit and as well tuned as she can get them. Now it’s just up to the players on the day. Expect them to lift.
Silver Ferns v England Roses
7:30pm NZ, 5:30pm AEST, 8:30am UK
NZL + UK fans watch LIVE on Sky Sport (delayed TVNZ 2)