Sixteen players will be named in the next Silver Ferns’ squad in two days, and it’s a draft that would have caused the national selectors a few headaches both good and bad.
While availability and fitness testing will rule some out, there are some fine players who will miss the cut because of depth in certain areas.
Silver Ferns’ coach Dame Noeline Taurua, assistant Debbie Fuller, and two other selectors will be at the ANZ Premiership grand final in Invercargill tonight before they make their final decision on the squad.
Fuller said 16 players would be named in the Silver Ferns’ squad on Tuesday.
Just 10 players will be picked in the development squad, a smaller number than in the past, which will allow Dame Noeline to get them more closely involved in the Silver Ferns’ environment.
In some ways that team naming could be just as revealing, to see who Dame Noeline identifies as players with the potential to step up into the national side, less than two years out from the next Commonwealth Games.
Only players who meet stringent fitness standards will be named in the Silver Ferns’ squad.
And they have upped the ante on them. The new fitness requirements were set in January and assistant coach Debbie Fuller said all the Silver Ferns’ squad members were on point as expected.
“The ones that have met those have been outstanding, we’ve had records broken this year and new benchmarks set across every testing metric that we look at – vertical jump, strength and power, bronco and yoyo,” Debbie Fuller said.
“Then you’ve got the ones that just aren’t ready, the ones that are just waiting for the magic bullet to come and it’s not going to come. The only way it comes is from hard work so you do get a few who are not ready for that. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to be ready next season.”
Less depth at shooting end
If you were to look at game stats alone, Grace Nweke would make the Silver Ferns’ squad hands down.
The Northern Mystics shooter put up the most goals in the ANZ Premiership, was accurate at 89 percent, and was a machine at goal shoot.
But come Tuesday she’ll probably be named in the development squad because the 18-year-old is unlikely to have the fitness base yet to meet the fitness standards for the national team.
The incumbents Maia Wilson, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and Te Paea Selby-Rickit pick themselves.
Bailey Mes is coming back from injury and was expected to have fully recovered by November so there’s a chance the selectors might include her in the team, given the earliest Test would be played in December at best.
If Pulse shooter Aliyah Dunn can reach the fitness standards, her name should be in the Silver Ferns’ squad.
Dunn, who got four Test caps in 2018, wasn’t considered for the World Cup squad last year because she wasn’t able to reach the fitness requirements.
But with the standards set even higher since then, there’s no guarantees Dunn will be named and that would leave things looking a little thin in the shooting department.
There could be an opportunity for Tactix shooter Ellie Bird to crack into the side, but again that will come down to fitness.
When you look at incumbents like Ekenasio and Wilson, you can see by their slick movement on court for the full game, that they are a cut above with their fitness.
While not privy to fitness results, Dunn and Bird don’t look like they are quite at that same level just yet.
Goal attack is a position New Zealand doesn’t have much depth in, once you go past Mes, Selby-Rickit, and Ekenasio.
Monica Falkner should be getting close to full fitness after a serious injury last year, the other possibility is Tiana Metuarau but again the question is around fitness.
Midcourt options aplenty
In stark contrast, the midcourt options seem endless right now.
There’s an obvious trio – World Cup champs Gina Crampton, Shannon Saunders, and Laura Langman.
There’s another caveat here though, with no guarantees that Langman will be named on Tuesday, based on availability.
Fuller told RNZ that the Silver Ferns’ training camps are a very important part of the programme and “anyone playing overseas is well aware that they have to get back for them.”
That could be problematic for Langman, with those camps likely to be held in September and October. She’s only partway through Australia’s Suncorp Super netball competition, which hasn’t set an end date as it navigates through Covid-19.
The other question is whether the veteran would want to do two weeks quarantine to make herself available for a hypothetical international programme, with no tests announced.
But fear not, plenty of players have put their hand up in the midcourt.
Sam Winders has a good chance at getting a recall into the side.
The Magic captain was back to her best this year and picked up a lot of crucial intercepts in the dying minutes of close games, so she has that X factor.
Winders is equally adept at centre and wing defence.
Having a shorter option at wing defence can be an asset, as there are times taller defenders can get burnt for speed by the opposing wing attack.
Claire Kersten’s not dissimilar to Winders and has been a lynchpin for the Pulse for a few seasons now and would be fully deserving of a recall.
But Dame Noeline quite likes there to be a point of difference between her players.
At centre Kimiora Poi plays a slightly more floaty style to Kersten and Winders but has terrific vision and court awareness.
Maddy Gordon has been a revelation at wing attack this year for the Pulse. She’s fit, fast, composed, and the best defensive wing attack in the ANZ so she’s the full package.
There are other wing attacks that would have given the selectors a headache.
Peta Toeava is an exciting prospect but also a bit of an enigma. One week she can play like an absolute fire cracker, but the next week she can get benched. Whitney Souness has 9 Test caps but might not have the same physical presence of some of the other middies.
The selectors might like the idea of an Erikana Pedersen who is in good form and has a steady hand.
Could Grace Kara, who finished third in the league for centre pass receives and second for feeds make a stunning comeback?
When Dame Noeline took the Silver Ferns’ coaching reins in 2018 the 63 Test veteran was left out and didn’t even make any of Netball New Zealand’s wider national squads, so perhaps not.
You would expect to see exciting Southern Steel midcourter Kate Heffernan in the development squad.
A recall in defence
Katrina Rore, Jane Watson, and Karin Burger are certainties for the defensive end.
Rore and Burger can cover both wing defence and goal defence, while Watson is brilliant at either circle defence positions.
With Sokolich-Beatson out with injury and Phoenix Karaka announcing she is pregnant, there’s space for two more.
Northern Mystics defender Sulu Fitzpatrick should be added – she’s probably the most savvy goal keep in the country, and in some of the best form of her life.
Fitzpatrick has had a couple of brief forays into the team and was a non-travelling reserve for last year’s World Cup.
Like Grace Nweke, if you went on performance and game stats alone, Temalisi Fakahokotau would be named in the side.
But she doesn’t appear to be as fit as she was in 2017 and 2018, when she cemented her place in the Silver Ferns, before her World Cup dream was stolen through injury.
She might not be ready fitness-wise but if she’s playing this well now, she’ll be an absolute force when she does get there.
That leaves room for Kelly Jury, who adds great height in at goal keep, to get a recall.
Kate Burley and Georgia Tong could be inclusions in the development side.
Possible team of 16
Shooters: Maia Wilson, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Bailey Mes, Aliyah Dunn
Midcourters: Gina Crampton, Shannon Saunders, Laura Langman, Maddy Gordon, Sam Winders, Kimiora Poi
Defenders: Katrina Rore, Jane Watson, Karin Burger, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Kelly Jury