THE FORMER CAPTAIN: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
The 47-cap international struggled with her omission from the Silver Ferns for Birmingham, but Ameliaranne Ekenasio says she’s “made peace with that now”.
“I just have to trust my journey. Maybe it just wasn’t my time,” the former New Zealand captain says.
And yet she played with strength and confidence for NZ A in last week’s Cadbury Series, particularly at goal shoot – a role she’s not accustomed to playing. Her accuracy was consistently between 80-90 percent.
“I’m feeling a little bit more myself, but knowing that I’m still building. I’d love with everything I am to be at the Games, but to be in a better shape. I don’t know if I’m actually up to it yet,” says Ekenasio, a non-travelling reserve for the Commonwealth Games.
After being beaten 67-48 by the Ferns in the opening match of last week’s Cadbury Series, Ekenasio was heartened by what she saw of her opponents.
“I have 100 percent faith in Noels [coach Dame Noeline Taurua] and her plan. We still have a really strong leadership group in there, and they’re still trialling things as well. It’s not perfect now, but we wouldn’t want to see that either,” she says.
Ekenasio says the NZ A side gave the Ferns a good shake-up in training camp before coming into the series.
“We matched up really well against them in training, and maybe a little naïvely we thought it would be similar here. But we saw a really big shift in their structures and presence on court in this series. And I expect to see more shifts at the Games,” she says.
“I didn’t love being beaten, but it made me really proud of the Ferns.”
THE CENTURION: Leana de Bruin
De Bruin reminded us why she’s such a legend of the game – at 45, playing in a mixed gender team for the first time in her career. And she loved it.
“The men bring such a different game,” the two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist says. “Adjusting to that was at times hard but it makes people think a little differently. I’m definitely feeling it in my bones.
“It was interesting to find out the men don’t quite know the terminology we use. I scream ‘baseline’, and they asked ‘where’s the baseline?’ They just want to learn.”
The Silver Ferns are learning too, de Bruin reckons, and played their best game last Friday against her Mixed Invitational side (a game they won 68-59). She was particularly impressed by the fresh approach from midcourters Kate Heffernan and Whitney Souness.
“Whitney has really stepped up. In the past she came into this environment and you could tell she wasn’t comfortable. Now she’s running the attacking line with Gina [Crampton] really well,” she says.
“I was so impressed with the way they brought the ball down the court, and just the smarts they used. I think they’ll continue to grow as a team.
“Especially with Noels – she’s just so clever in how she can read the game and adjust. She makes you feel like you’re the most important person for the role at that time. She’ll back you 100 percent if you show your side of things.”
De Bruin is concerned, though, about the lack of experience in the Silver Ferns side, particularly at the shooting end of the court, without Ekenasio.
“They need a lot of experience at Commonwealth Games level,” she says. “It puts a lot of pressure on Grace [Nweke]… but she’s going to be amazing.”
Having watched Australia’s Super Netball, a league de Bruin has played in, she predicts Jamaica could create “a real upset”, with their defenders and dead-eyed shooter, Jhaniele Fowler, picking up valuable experience playing in the Australian game.
THE DIAMOND: Kelsey Browne
The 18-time Australian Diamond Kelsey Browne, fresh from a Super Netball season with the Collingwood Magpies, was impressed with Taurua’s final run-up to the Commonwealth Games with back-to-back games and wildly differing styles of netball.
“I think it’s a great concept…playing against the men and different styles of play, obviously with Shezzy [Laura Scherian] and I coming over. Stringing games together heading into a major tournament is so important – you’ve got to be able to find your legs and back it up, so this will help [the Ferns] incredibly,” Browne says.
“I don’t know how accessible the men’s team is in Australia. But I’m really impressed with what New Zealand’s done and I’d love to see Australia do something similar.”
While it took Browne a little while to find her feet in the Mixed International side, she believes they brought out the best in the Silver Ferns.
“I feel like over the week, they really developed and our game was probably some of the best netball I’ve seen them play. So I feel like they’re really starting to gel those combinations,” she says.
“I haven’t seen the Diamonds, Jamaica or England play for a really long time, so it’s going to be interesting to see what their preparations have looked like. But no doubt, this series is going to put the Silver Ferns in good stead.”
THE MEN’S CAPTAIN: Kruze Tangira
Probably the best male netballer New Zealand has seen since the men’s game was thrust into the public eye, Kruze Tangira called their series victory over the Silver Ferns “bittersweet”.
“Everyone knows how much we value the Silver Ferns, how we look up to them, they’ve been the pinnacle of netball for us in New Zealand,” the talented midcourter and NZ Men’s captain says.
“There was a lot of pressure on us because we’ve lost the last two years in a row to the Silver Ferns, so I’m really proud of our team that we could get over the line and by a fair margin as well.”
Tangira doesn’t think Taurua “sounds crazy” in her estimation that the Ferns are ahead of where they were at the same stage in their 2019 World Cup build-up.
“My eyes just lit up when she said that because I think Noeline doesn’t say things just to say things – she says them because she means them,” he says. “If that’s what she’s saying, I think we need to trust and believe in her.
“It drove me crazy the number of people who doubt her decisions in terms of the people who are in this team. But I think we saw this week just how skilled this team really is and we just need to back them and back her decisions.”
And Tangira is backing the Silver Ferns to make more gains over the next 10 days – and their unpredictability is in their favour.
“I actually thought they did really well this week. It’s a new team and to find those combinations and to find them quickly is not an easy thing to do.
“We saw that out on court and the new talent that are coming through, specifically Kate Heffernan and Whitney Souness – my goodness it’s so hard to play against them.
“I’m just excited for what this team can do; being unpredictable is a really good card to have and I think they have that in their back pocket at the moment.”