Exactly a year since the Silver Ferns won the Netball World Cup, Suzanne McFadden asks their sage coach what victory has done for the sport – and where it leads next.
In this very moment, when it feels like the world may be falling apart, Dame Noeline Taurua feels like it’s all coming together.
“I’m a big believer in ‘the universe will provide’,” she says. “It always does. And it is.
“It’s really weird. I would never have thought a year ago this is where I would be. And that I’d be enjoying being here and what I’m doing. And I’m really grateful for that.
“When I look at Australia and England and where they are – England not playing and Australia trying to get their Super Netball up and running. It’s not that we’re lucky, because we’re putting the work into it. But we are in a really good position.”
It’s still far removed from a year ago today, when the Silver Ferns – under Taurua’s extraordinary guidance – beat their most fierce rivals, the Australian Diamonds, by one goal to win the Netball World Cup. It was a campaign victory against all odds.
Now, a year on, Taurua finds herself doing things she’d never expected. Like living back in New Zealand, and spending her weekends sitting on the coaching bench of every team in the revived ANZ Premiership. Then sharing the secrets of her World Cup success with 100 coaches – from here and a few from overseas – in a “virtual roadshow”.
For a very hands-on person like Taurua, this is a relief. The Covid-19 pandemic could have left her with little to do but Zoom.
“It would do my head in, to be honest, if I wasn’t involved with some team for seven months. I don’t know what I would have done,” she laughs. “You have to keep your hand in – if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
In the 12 months since that victory, a lot has happened to the Ferns and to netball in New Zealand. Much of it planned, some of it unexpected, and some unprecedented.
Taurua believes the World Cup victory has played its part in that. It’s instilled confidence and positivity in netball here, she says, and that momentum is helping the sport navigate through the side effects of a pandemic.
Since that momentous victory in Liverpool on July 22, 2019:
- The honours kept coming. The Silver Ferns arrived home to a heroes’ welcome on the steps of Parliament, and swept the board at the Halberg Awards. Taurua was made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours, and captain Laura Langman an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
- The Ferns kept winning. Without their four most-senior players – the now-retired Casey Kopua and Maria Folau, and the resting Langman and Katrina Rore – New Zealand were unbeaten in the Nations Cup in England. It revealed New Zealand’s depth of players and allowed Ameliaranne Ekenasio to prove herself as a Silver Ferns captain.
- But it wasn’t all victorious. They were again denied the one trophy missing from their cabinet of riches, the Constellation Cup, after drawing 2-2 with Australia. It’s been eight years since New Zealand clutched that trophy – and it’s become Taurua’s immediate goal to win it back.
- Taurua was convinced to continue as the Silver Ferns coach (till February 2021, so far), and ended her three-year tenure with the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
- Covid-19 altered the course of the Silver Ferns and the netball community. Tournaments – from the international Quad Series to age-group nationals – have been scrapped; the Constellation Cup will be the only true international before the end of the year, if it goes ahead as planned.
- Heartland netball has suffered. Mainland Netball went into receivership during lockdown. Clubs have managed to keep their heads above water with the help of government funding, and community netball is back (where some Australian states are just starting).
- New Zealand remains the only netball nation to have a national league in play, and now the second-tier Beko League will return to the court next month.
Taurua, back at home in the Bay of Plenty, is confident the Silver Ferns will come out of this odd time in a position of strength.
“Looking at our campaign plan, there have been interruptions,” she says. “We’re still ticking away with our strategic pillars – our drivers – but our ‘how’ has had to change. We’ve had to adapt to our situation – whether that’s financial or around the borders or whatever.
“But I still feel we will come out strong over these next two years and meet the objectives we set before Covid. We’ll just do it in a different way.”
Taurua is working with every intention that the four-test Constellation Cup will go ahead this year – likely in late November-early December. She will name up to 18 players in the Silver Ferns squad in a month’s time, after the ANZ Premiership final.
There will be camps in September and October, and a Cadbury Series – likely pitting the Ferns against the New Zealand Men, a national All Stars team and the New Zealand U21s – at the start of November. It will serve as a lead-in to the Australian encounters, and with border restrictions and quarantine periods, it could be that all four tests are played here.
In the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, Taurua shifted the traditional thinking around the Silver Ferns’ programme. She has broken down the planning in the four-year World Cup cycle so each year has its own pinnacle event – owning the Constellation Cup in 2020 and ’21, winning the Commonwealth Games in 2022, and retaining the World Cup in 2023.
Over the next two years, she wants to broaden the team’s base, and give as many players as possible the opportunity to wear the Silver Fern.
“We really want to grow the depth of our players, and of our coaches,” Taurua says. “I was out there working with players and coaches in their own franchise and regions, but because of Covid, we’ve had to readjust.”
That’s evolved into the inventive move of sitting Taurua and her assistant coach Debbie Fuller on the sidelines at ANZ Premiership games, offering their wisdom to franchise coaches – and gaining from it as well.
“It’s turned into a really good upside for me,” Taurua says. “Getting to know more about players and coaches, and getting that inside scoop on how people work, has been such a positive in many ways.
“The players are with franchises for such a big part of the year that a lot of their growth and development has to happen there. It’s their time to shine in a different team. At that time, we take a step back and be supportive. But if we can help franchises by being more hands-on, when the players get into the international space, they will be better off for it.”
Taurua is also doing her bit for netball in the regions by “Sharing the Love of PURE”.
PURE, of course, was the acronym for the Silver Ferns’ vision to win the World Cup – Play to win, United, Ruthless, Explosive.
What was planned as a nationwide roadshow has been adapted into a series of online workshops for local representative coaches (“and a couple from Australia, England and Singapore”), where Taurua gives an insight into how she planned and executed the Silver Ferns’ stunning turnaround – from fourth in the world to world champions.
On Friday nights, she’s courtside at the Auckland Netball Centre, giving a live online rundown of the action in a national league game.
“It’s a doozy,” Taurua says. “It’s all the little things that make a difference; the kind of things you learn on the job, that you can’t learn from a book.”
Taurua genuinely cares about what happens to netball at the grassroots. “Over the next year, I hope the regions get financially stable and are successful in their own right. I think that’s really important to how our sport survives post-Covid,” she says
She’s impressed with the way Netball NZ worked quickly to get club netball and the ANZ Premiership playing again after a three-month absence, and would like to think the World Cup victory has had some part to play in that.
“I think it’s instilled confidence in what we do, and how we do it. How we’ve come together to get the ANZ up and running so soon is an example of how we’re all on this momentum of positivity,” she says.
“It’s been a win-win situation – not only for the Silver Ferns but hopefully each region. I think everybody has shared the reward in their own environment. Everyone has skin in this.”
And she goes back to her “universe will provide” principle. “I really believe that if you have positivity around you – that you’re clear in the direction you’re heading, clear about working with others and very clear about what you want to achieve in a certain period of time – then even if the original plan doesn’t work out, it will end up coming out all right.
“There’s a feeling right now of being quite grateful for what we have. But also, how far we’ve come so far. It’s really cool to be a part of.”