In a first, the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award has been shared by domestic rivals and Silver Ferns team-mates Grace Nweke and Kelly Jury as New Zealand netball dishes out its annual awards.
Eleven wins, six losses, one Commonwealth Games bronze medal and joint winners of the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award.
That pretty much sums up a busy year of international netball for New Zealand in the lead-up to next year’s World Cup defence – and was reflected in the annual New Zealand Netball Awards handed out last night.
Bookending the court, goal keeper Kelly Jury and goal shoot Grace Nweke couldn’t be separated – judged the first joint winners of the Supreme Award for their outstanding performances this year.
The award – the “highest individual accolade a New Zealand netballer can achieve” – is tracked across the ANZ Premiership and Silver Ferns games.
It’s been awarded four times in the past – Laura Langman receiving it three times and Sulu Fitzpatrick given the honour last year.
This year’s joint winners spoke of their very different backgrounds – Jury as a farmgirl in the tiny Taranaki settlement of Makahu, and Nweke as a Nigerian Kiwi who took up the game at Avondale College – and how they hope to motivate others to follow, play or even make a professional career from netball.
Since Nweke made her Silver Ferns debut at the age of 19 back in September 2021, she’s amassed 17 international caps. For her efforts in the black dress, Nweke was also awarded the Silver Ferns Player of the Year.
It’s been a while since New Zealand have had a tall, dominant goal shoot but what makes Nweke stand out is her ability in the air.
Not content to stand still and simply use her height, Nweke makes great use of her vertical jump; when she makes the connection with her feeders, she’s almost unstoppable.
Nweke’s dominance often takes her goal attack out of the game at domestic level, so the Ferns need to ensure they have confident goal attacks who can still put up shots. Then if Nweke is taken out of the game, her team won’t be overly reliant on the 20-year-old.
The 1.93m shooter was the fourth-most prolific shooter in the 2022 ANZ Premiership, even after missing a handful of games with an ankle injury. She slotted 545 goals from 591 attempts, at an accuracy of 92 percent for the Northern Mystics.
She shot 44 from 48 in the Commonwealth Games bronze medal match, which New Zealand won 55-48 over England. Nweke was also the dominant shooter in October’s Constellation Cup, shooting 40/42 in the first test, and an incredible 37/37 in the second – the two games that the Ferns won.
“People think I’m a one-trick pony, and sometimes I am. So I really want to do more, and move more and be more confident to carry the ball around, which I’m slowly getting better at but there’s still more room to grow,” she told Sky Sport presenter Adine Wilson.
“I’m so massively motivated by being different and coming from Avondale College and going through to showing people that the can make it too. Being a Nigerian Kiwi, having that point of difference and showing other girls who look like me that there’s an opportunity to play professional sport in New Zealand and represent the country no matter where we come from or what we look like.”
Jury was a standout for the Central Pulse this year, also winning ANZ Premiership Player of the Year.
She finished the season with the most deflections (116, well clear of the next highest at 78), most intercepts (46), and second-most rebounds (36).
With the return of Jane Watson and Karin Burger in the defensive end for the Ferns, Jury may havea tougher fight for a spot in the circle, but she’s shown great improvement over the last year, using her feet more and also finding her voice.
Jury, training for her ninth ANZ Premiership season, said it was surreal to have won the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award, but she was motivated to inspire a new generation of netballers.
“Our job is not only to play netball but to inspire people,” she said. “One more extra girl might turn up to a netball game or could cheer us on or sign up to play.
“I come from a very small place called Makahu out in the middle of nowhere, so just letting boys and girls know no matter where you come from, you have just as much opportunity as anyone else. You have just got to stick to it, work hard, and have fun.”
Jury said her game had grown after taking on the co-captaincy of the Pulse with Tiana Metuarau this season, and leading them to victory. Their coach, Yvette McCausland-Durie, returning from a year away, won the ANZ Premiership Coach of the Year. All three will return to the Pulse next year.
The Pulse won 10 of their 15 games, automatically qualifying them for the grand final, where they comfortably beat the Stars, 56-37.
It was also a big year for the Heffernan twins – Kate making her Silver Ferns debut at the Commonwealth Games in front of her family, and cementing herself as the number one pick for the wing defence bib.
She received the Fan Favourite award – voted by the public – a popular choice in the black dress and for the Southern Steel.
Twin sister Georgia returned to the netball court this year after suffering an ACL injury in 2020, ruling her out of the 2021 season.
The goal attack was rewarded for a strong season with selection in the first Mixed Invitational team to play at the Cadbury Netball Series. She impressed in her first time up against international quality opposition in the NZ Men and the Silver Ferns. She then was selected for the Fast5 Ferns, and showed her accuracy and confidence shooting from long range.
Georgia received the Aspiring Silver Fern award last night, and may become the third Heffernan to make the Silver Ferns, after mum Annette (Silver Fern #76) and Kate (#182).
“She’s done so well and it’s just so cool to see her get some recognition for all the hard work,” a proud Kate Heffernan said of her twin. “An ACL injury is an awful thing for an athlete to go through but she has come out stronger. I think she can go so far, and this award, she’s just the perfect person for it.”
Annette Heffernan and her sister Maxine Blomquist, and current Silver Fern Te Paea Selby-Rickit and older sister Te Huinga Reo, are the only sets of sisters to play for the Ferns, but neither pair played in the black dress together, so the 23-year-olds may still make more history.
It’s a big year coming up for the Silver Ferns, with the 2023 Netball World Cup starting in July in Cape Town.
Any New Zealand netball fan will remember the triumph in Liverpool in 2019; the 3am alarm so worth it when the Silver Ferns beat the Australian Diamonds, 52-51, in the final.
From that 12-strong side, four players have retired – Maria Folau, Casey Kopua, Laura Langman and, most recently, Katrina Rore.
One will likely miss the World Cup due to pregnancy (Shannon Saunders), while Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Watson will be back following missing the Commonwealth Games after having children, and Burger returns from foot surgery.
The defending champions may even have a new-look team, as the ANZ Premiership looms as the last chance to impress coach Dame Noeline Taurua and the Ferns selectors.
The Ferns have a Quad Series in January in South Africa as preparation, before the domestic competition starts on March 4. But first, Dame Noeline can’t wait “to get the band back together” with the Ferns squad Christmas camp in Auckland this weekend.