As the Silver Ferns strike first against world No.1 Australia in the Constellation Cup, one of the game’s greats tells Merryn Anderson how NZ are tracking to defend next year’s World Cup.
A dominant 56-48 win for the Silver Ferns in the first test of the Constellation Cup will help set the team up to retain the Netball World Cup next year, former Ferns captain Adine Wilson believes.
The Silver Ferns played some “sublime” netball, coach Noeline Taurua said, during their unexpected victory over the world No.1 Australian Diamonds in Auckland last night – the 20-9 lead they established in the first quarter the highest they’ve ever built against the Diamonds in a 60-minute match.
This series is a crucial stepping stone for the Silver Ferns on their way to the Netball World Cup in Cape Town in nine months’ time, and retaining the Constellation Cup in this four-test series would go a long way towards keeping the other prized trophy in Netball New Zealand’s cabinet.
Wilson, who won the World Cup almost 20 years ago, might also be heading to South Africa – this time in her role as a commentator with Sky, who’ve won the rights to broadcast the 2023 Netball World Cup.
Despite their bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August, Wilson believes the Ferns have what it takes to win in Cape Town.
“I think the Silver Ferns are tracking beautifully,” says Wilson, who earned 79 caps with the Ferns. “I always felt the Commonwealth Games were almost a year too early. We’re missing some key players through pregnancy, injury and fitness.”
Captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio missed the Birmingham Games, struggling to meet the fitness standards after having her second baby. But last night, playing her 50th test for the Silver Ferns, she led the New Zealand attack by example, shooting 16 from 19, alongside Grace Nweke’s superb contribution of 40 from 42.
Defenders Karin Burger and Jane Watson were also out of contention for the Commonwealth Games, but last night’s defensive pairing of Phoenix Karaka and Kelly Jury have certainly stepped up – Karaka was the match’s MVP and Jury finished with seven gains and four pick-ups.
The Ferns are also without a couple of midcourt veterans – in Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton – but Peta Toeava was stellar in their eight-goal win over the Commonwealth Games gold medallists, combining cleverly with centre Whitney Souness, and feeding Nweke with her usual flair. Toeava and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan are playing the two New Zealand games in this series, while Maddy Gordon and Kimiora Poi come in for the Australian leg, allowing more middies to stake their claim for the World Cup squad.
Those four midcourters have just 19 caps between them, but Wilson, one of the best midcourters in Silver Ferns history, isn’t concerned about the lack of experience.
“We’ve got players who are going to be coming back, and we’ve got youth coming through – and I think that blend is just going to gel right when we need it to at that pinnacle event,” she says.
“I feel really confident about what the Silver Ferns can produce in South Africa, I think Noeline [Taurua] and her team are just going to time their run right on the money.”
The Ferns came out to a flying start in game one of the four-game series, scoring 10 unanswered goals on their way to that record 20-9 lead at quarter time. And despite letting their lead slip slightly, none of the changes the Diamonds made seemed to throw the Ferns – who made just one switch, as Kayla Johnson came on when Karaka was called off with a bloodied knee.
Crampton, Watson and Burger are all likely to return before next July’s World Cup, so Taurua is sure to have a selection dilemma ahead of her.
Having played in three World Cups (1999, 2003 and 2007), Wilson would love to experience the pinnacle event again. And return to South Africa, where she toured with the Silver Ferns in 2000 – her only visit to the country.
“I think we were the first netball team to tour South Africa after Apartheid,” Wilson remembers, as Irene van Dyk returned to her homeland representing New Zealand. “That was one of my favourite tours ever. We had all the ceremony, we got to see a country that was so different to where I’d been before.”
The 2023 tournament will mark 20 years since Wilson and the Ferns won the World Cup in Jamaica.
Wilson remembers the tournament well, and not just the final match, where – despite Temepara Bailey being sent off – the Ferns beat Australia, 49-47.
But her fondest memories came off the court, with the team bonding in Kingston. Security was tight, so the players had to make their own fun, Wilson remembers.
“Honestly, the silly games we played to keep ourselves entertained at the hotel [like treasure hunts]; it was like we were 12-year-old girls,” she laughs.
New Zealand comfortably topped their pool, including a 107-17 win over the Cook Islands. Their closest competition in pool play was England, but the Ferns overcame them easily, 60-41, before dispatching Samoa and Jamaica to make the final.
Back in 2003, there were strong odds the Silver Ferns would meet the Diamonds in the final. At the Commonwealth Games, the Ferns lost to England and Jamaica in pool play; then Jamaica toppled Australia but couldn’t replicate that in the gold medal match.
“When I was playing, there were two teams at the top,” Wilson recalls. “Sometimes England would be strong, sometimes Jamaica, but it was typically New Zealand and Australia.
“Now, all four of those teams could win it on the day, and then you’ve got Malawi and Uganda tapping on your shoulder. I think netball’s in a good position – it’s certainly stronger as a whole than when I played.”
Wilson credits the establishment of the ANZ Championship in 2008 – and the subsequent domestic competitions in New Zealand, Australia and England – with strengthening global netball.
“All these countries who didn’t have a strong local competition have allowed their stars to play in other nations and it’s brought up the whole level of netball,” Wilson says.
“You see Kiwis play with Jamaicans or English players and it’s creating something different for the spectator. It keeps things fresh, keeps teams on their toes, but it’s also nice to see New Zealand still have their own unique style of play, like our zone defence.
“I think we’re very lucky where we’re at right now with netball. But there’s absolutely still room for growth.”
Adine Wilson (second from right) and the Sky Sport team for the ANZ Premiership final last year.
Wilson’s involvement in presenting started after she had her first child, son Harper, in 2008, and was asked to be part of the expert commentary team.
“I had so much fun, I think I was having to run backwards and forwards between feeding my baby and being on air,” she laughs.
Returning to court for the Southern Steel in 2009, Wilson had her second son, Lincoln, and after that season officially retired from the game. But she ended up spending more time courtside.
Throughout her time working with Sky, Wilson says she’s been fortunate to have many people guiding her.
That includes her former Ferns team-mates, like the late Tania Dalton. “She was massive – basically she just said have fun and enjoy it,” Wilson says. She also pays credit to Lavina Good, Mel Robinson and Bernadine Oliver-Kerby.
“That’s part of the fun of it, you step away from the game and from playing and the thing you miss the most is the people,” she explains.
“I feel so fortunate that by being part of the commentary team, you still get that best bit – hanging out with people you’ve spent huge amounts of your life with, and that you’ve had some amazing experiences with, whether it’s been winning or losing a heartbreaker or travelling around the world.
“I still get to be involved with netball, I still get to hang out with my mates – but thankfully I don’t have to play.”
*The 2023 Netball World Cup runs between 28 July and 6 August, with all 60 matches live on Sky Sport. The Silver Ferns’ second test against Australia is in Tauranga on Sunday night, live on Sky Sport 1 from 7pm.