Not every mother would feel confident allowing her schoolgirl daughter to play at the top echelon of New Zealand netball. But when Wai Taumaunu saw the calibre of women who would take her daughter Tiana under their wing, she could hardly say no.
It helps, too, that Taumaunu, one of our greatest Silver Ferns defenders, is on the sidelines to keep an eye out, as one of the outstanding quartet of coaches helping 16-year-old shooter Tiana Metuarau and the Central Pulse in the first year of the ANZ Premiership.
“Wai was a bit reluctant at first, given Tiana’s age and that she’s still at high school. But with all of us here to support her, you couldn’t get a better scenario,” head coach Yvette McCausland-Durie says.
It’s a coaching combo that other Kiwi sports teams would dream of: four women who have all excelled in international netball, including the most capped player of all time, Irene van Dyk, and Silver Ferns midcourt legend Sandra Edge.
It began with a simple once-a-week commitment: McCausland-Durie would bring van Dyk, Edge and Taumaunu into the Pulse training sessions for half an hour’s intense work with players divvied up into their strength areas – shooting, midcourt and defence.
“Fundamentally, we all got involved because we wanted to support the Pulse going forward,” says Taumaunu, the former captain and coach of the Silver Ferns, who is now the High Performance Director for Netball Central. “Then Yvette put us into a more formalised structure. It’s quite fun for us to all be working together. But the most important thing is that the players are getting something out of it.”
Edge, another former New Zealand captain who ruled the midcourt internationally from 1985 through to 1995, is now assistant coach of the Pulse in the debut season of the new league.
She was drawn to the team by “good timing and good people”. Her two sons, with former All Whites captain Rodger Gray, are now at university, and she has built up her coaching credentials over the last six years living in the capital, and working in coaching development. Last year she guided Wellington to the national under-19 title.
“We’ve all been heads down, bums up in the sport for a few years now,” Edge says. “Yvette wants the best for her players and she’s giving them this amazing access to experts, like Wai and Irene.”
Since retiring from the Pulse playing line-up in 2015, van Dyk has been sitting her coaching exams, and for the first time this year she’s coaching a team at Wellington High School – taking Edge’s advice and choosing a school that didn’t have a strong netball background, but where she could “establish a netball culture and make a difference”. She’s also leading the junior Future Ferns programmes in the lower half of the North Island, teaching five to 10 year olds the basics of the game.
McCausland-Durie has her own impressive CV – she’s a former Silver Ferns squad member, who coached the New Zealand under-21s to a silver medal at the 2009 World Youth Cup, and was assistant coach of the Silver Ferns last year. She also has a Masters of Education and is part of the leadership team at Manukura, a Maori secondary school in Palmerston North.
“When I got the Pulse coaching role back in August, I thought really hard about how we could create a high-performance environment and give the players real learning. The key was providing variation with a coaching group, and I found that with those three great players who were all living in Wellington,” McCausland-Durie says.
“Irene brings her enthusiasm and energy, and the most recent experience of playing top level netball. Sandy can bring people together and she likes to see players excel at the basics. And Wai’s experience and overall knowledge of the game is critical; she can pinpoint where you can have the greatest impact – what matters, and what doesn’t.”
It can’t be simple for Taumaunu to be both coaching adviser and the mother of one of the most exciting prospects in New Zealand netball. Tiana Metuarau was included in the Pulse team of 10 when Silver Fern shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio announced that she was pregnant with her first child.
“It wasn’t our intention that Tiana would play at that level this year,” Taumaunu says. “But she was keen to give it a go, and we made up a plan around schoolwork, which remains the most important thing. Only time will tell whether we can manage that well.
“But I have huge trust that Yvette and Sandra will manage her as well as possible, and I’m seeing the older players looking after her too. She’s very lucky to be in an environment with Irene coaching, and Ameliaranne and Cat [Tuivaiti] supporting her. Not many shooters in the country have that opportunity, and so it’s something she should be grateful for. You couldn’t write about it for a young shooter, really.”
Metuarau, in Year 12 at Wellington East Girls’ College, made a big impact in her first game of the season nine days ago, playing with a confidence, poise and shooting accuracy that belied her 16 years.
“She has fabulous court sense, and netball craft well beyond her years,” Edge says. “She’s also has a quite delightful personality and is great fun to have in the team.”
Her mother, however, reveals that Metuarau was “really nervous” before the one-goal win over the SkyCity Mystics. “I was just pleased she got through it,” Taumaunu says.
“We’re not the only team taking a chance on some youngsters, and I think that’s really important for New Zealand netball. It’s one of the reasons I’m pleased we’ve developed this new concept for the game, because I wasn’t really sure where we would go for young players if we were too scared to put them on the court. It was time for something to happen.”
In recent years, the Pulse were touted as the “dark horses” of the transTasman ANZ Championships, but this year the team led by Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant are considered genuine title contenders. Their second game, against the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic in Rotorua on Wednesday night, will be a good indicator of whether they can live up to their fans’ high expectations.