Victorious Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua is finally heading home, with an idea of how she wants to see the world netball champions attack the next four years
Noeline Taurua is packing up, and bringing another chapter in her netball career to a close.
Well, to be completely honest, her husband Ed is doing the physical packing in their house, while Taurua is tying up loose ends on Australia’s Sunshine Coast so her family can return home to New Zealand after three years away.
“I’m not a person who packs, I’m a person who throws away,” she laughs. “Unless it has value or an emotional attachment, it’s gone!”
There are a few things she’s collected during her stay that she should keep. Like the clutch of medals she’s won in taking the Sunshine Coast Lightning to all three Super Netball finals (and winning two titles), and leading the Silver Ferns to a miraculous World Cup triumph.
Those three momentous years make her the most successful – and no doubt, the most sought-after – netball coach on the planet right now.
But 51-year-old Taurua still isn’t completely sure what the next chapter in her life holds.
For now, she’s still the New Zealand coach, taking the Silver Ferns to the Netball Nations Cup in England in January. After that she’ll settle her kids into their new schools, spend time with her whanau, and then make the decision on whether to carry on coaching the world champions.
“It’s coming,” she says of her decision. “I’ve just been prepping for January, and for once, there’s been no pressure on me to get a team out, performing on court. So, I’ve had time to sit back and reflect, and see where all the pieces of my life are starting to fall.
“Once I get home it will be easier for me. I’ll have a better understanding of what I can do; if I can contribute to New Zealand moving forward. But I am heading in the right direction.”
And there are the odd glimmers that maybe Taurua will stay in the post.
She speaks readily about the future and her hopes for the Silver Ferns, with her own ideas on how they should approach the next four years.
She wants the team to focus on a pinnacle event every year – like wresting the Constellation Cup off the Australians in 2020 – rather than get too caught up in a four-yearly cycle. To continue the momentum, rather than regarding it as a rebuilding phase.
Taurua wants to “shift the thinking” – something she’s already proved to be exceptionally good at.
“How I would like to take it, or where I think it should go, is year-by-year,” she says. “If you do the grind every year, by the time you get to year three and four, you should be in a better position anyway.”
More on that later. What happens in the meantime is pretty straightforward. Within days of arriving home to their house at Pukehina Beach in the Bay of Plenty, Taurua will fly to Nelson for Super Club.
The six-day tournament, starting December 8, features all six of the ANZ Premiership teams playing Australian club Collingwood Magpies and England’s Wasps.
It’s the first time that Taurua has seen all of New Zealand’s top netball talent in one place, which essentially makes it one huge Silver Ferns trial.
Almost all of the world champions will be there, bar Laura Langman, Maria Folau and Jane Watson. Langman has already returned to the Sunshine Coast for another season with the Lightning, Folau hasn’t signed with any club for next season, and Watson is nursing a wonky ankle.
“I’m looking forward to getting my feet back on home soil, getting amongst it again,” says Taurua, who handed over the reins of the Lightning to new head coach Kylee Byrne at the end of September.
All of the ANZ Premiership sides have been back in training, and the Silver Ferns have returned from their annual leave following the Constellation Cup. They were given specific performance plans after last month’s two-all draw with Australia to work on leading into Super Club.
“We were very clear about the areas they need to improve on in their game. I expect to see glimpses of the areas I want them to work on – skill-set, strategy or development,” Taurua says.
Some, she says, are managing injuries: “They’ve just come out of a hard two years, so we’re very mindful of that.”
But there are checkpoints set up between now and January to keep tabs on their progress.
Next week, they will be doing the yo-yo – the dreaded, exhausting shuttle run fitness test (“Poor buggers,” Taurua says almost under her breath).
“It means I will get a good handle on those who are available. For those who don’t pass the yo-yo but shine at Super Club, they can give it another crack. We need to keep our net wide, to make sure we give a lot of people opportunities.”
Fitness was a major factor in the Silver Ferns’ World Cup victory, and that ethos hasn’t changed for Taurua.
“Overall that really showed at the worlds, and then in the Constellation Cup. Our ability to perform at a high level, but also to increase our workload as the game went on into the third and fourth quarters, showed everyone why our fitness base needed to be at international standard,” she says.
“Now the players are becoming accustomed to when you represent your country, that’s the expectation. It shouldn’t be anything less. We are in the business of being high performance athletes.”
The week in Nelson is by no means just about the Silver Ferns. Taurua, assistant coach Debbie Fuller and the national selectors want to look at the entire tier of players at elite domestic level. “I’m really open to the other athletes – you need to be open to see what else we have in New Zealand,” says Taurua.
She will also sit down with the ANZ Premiership coaches, now that there’s time to build stronger connections with them for the coming season.
The last year has passed like a whirlwind for Taurua – remember it was only September 2018 that she took on the Silver Ferns role – so she’s relieved the tension has eased.
“For me, the pressures certainly aren’t the same now,” she says. “In saying that, coming out of the worlds, the expectation on the Silver Ferns has definitely increased, and the profile of our sport has definitely gone to another level.
“With that comes our own ability to be able to deliver, even without the same pressure. And to get ready for the future, which is another step in the planning.”
That’s where her idea of what should happen to the Silver Ferns in the next four years comes in.
Traditionally after a World Cup, the Silver Ferns would start rebuilding for the next four-year-cycle – which this time includes the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and 2023 World Cup in South Africa.
“But if you focus on year-by-year, as you build you should be better when you hit worlds or Commonwealth Games,” she says.
“Taking the Constellation Cup off Australia is a challenge in itself. You’re playing against the world’s best, not in a one-off, but four in a row. It’s a different beast, a different level of intensity where we can work on having consistent performances.
“Yes it was two-all [this year] and we lost, but there were so many positive signs. We actually competed, which was a massive shift. So if we do the hard grind in the first year, it’s going to come out better for us, and we will reap the rewards in the pinnacle events.”
Back to the packing boxes, and Taurua’s family aren’t quite ready to completely bid farewell to the Sunshine Coast. They might even buy a house there.
“I didn’t know the place existed before we came here. But we’ve really enjoyed it; we like the lifestyle and it suits us,” she says.
“But the kids are really looking forward to coming home, and I am too. The timing of everything is perfect. I’m the luckiest person with the easiest job in the world.”
There are plenty hoping that is one thing she doesn’t toss away, for at least another four years, anyway.
* Sky Sport will show every game of Super Club, from December 8-13, live on Sky Sport 3.