Ferns captain’s call for help

Katrina Grant understands if New Zealanders aren’t backing the Silver Ferns right now. Already this year, they’ve lost to three of their Commonwealth rivals.

The Silver Ferns captain was hurt to the core as she watched Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls dance and leap around the court like they’d won a gold medal, two weeks early, in sealing their 59-53 victory over the Ferns on Saturday - their second win over the world No. 2 team in just three days.

Grant told her team to commit that scene to memory, and make sure it never happened again. Especially if it meant they might miss out on a Commonwealth Games medal.

LockerRoom editor Suzanne McFadden spoke to Grant after the latest loss to find out whether she believes the Ferns can turn the ebbing tide.

LockerRoom: You’ve lost to Australia, England and Jamaica already this year. Is there a chance you may not be on the podium for the first time in the Silver Ferns’ Commonwealth Games history?

Katrina Grant: Never. I can’t think of that. Individually I’m doing everything that I can so we can be on that podium. If I do that, and everyone in the team sees me doing that, then it should filter down. We need to believe in ourselves that gold is within our reach. It’s really hard going to a pinnacle event because you want it so bad, and it means so much. Quite a few of our players have never been to a Commonwealth Games before, so I feel like we’re going to get there, they will play their first game, and finally understand that this means a lot. When they see the wider New Zealand team, they will think ‘This is what we are playing for’.

LR: Has losing this dress rehearsal series knocked your confidence?

KG: It only makes me want it more. I've won a gold, and a silver. One was absolutely amazing; one hurt like crazy. I’ve watched online highlights of the Delhi 2010 medal match where we beat Australia. I never usually read the comments underneath, but there were some like: “You’re never going to do that again”. I definitely tell the rest of the team “Do not read these!” But it gives me a bit of fire too. You want New Zealand to have your back. But I certainly understand why the country doesn’t have belief in us at the moment, because we haven’t been doing well. But this is the team we have, and we’re working hard. Just get behind us New Zealand, and believe, because that makes us stronger as well.

LR: Producing a full 60 minutes of consistency has been a problem for the Ferns for a while now. How do you now get that consistency from your team?

KG: Keep playing, keep playing. Keep pushing, keep pushing. Keep holding each other accountable. If things aren’t going right, we need to pull each other up on it and demand more from each other.  We are starting to do that, we’ve definitely improved in the last six weeks. Even in the last two weeks. It’s probably the most I’ve heard our team talk on and off the court. When we are doing any team analysis, we are really knuckling down and pulling each other up, which is what we need.

LR: So what have you taken from these tests against Jamaica, Malawi and Fiji?

KG: These four games in a row have proven that we are strong and fit. We now know what Jamaica has; we know what to expect. Even though we don’t meet them in pool play, potentially they could beat Australia.

LR: So has losing to Jamaica better prepared you for the opening Commonwealth Games match against England?

KR: 100 percent. These games have benefited us the most out of any other team here. No doubt about it, we needed this. We may not have got bums on seats this week, but honestly, that doesn’t bother us. We needed these tests to go into the Comm Games. After that, no one will remember this.

LR: Did Jamaica’s strength through the court surprise you?

KR: Normally if you even start to get on top of Jamaica – and there were times when we did on D (defence) – then they would crumble. But they didn’t. They were a much more patient, disciplined team than I have seen before, and they don’t give up. They have a self-belief I’ve never seen before. Jhaniele (Fowler-Reid) has played here for the Southern Steel, and won an ANZ Premiership. Romelda (Aitken) has played in Australia and won a championship. It makes a difference. Having Jhaniele in the back there is tough.

LR: There were a lot of basic errors in the final – stepping calls, a pass through a third. Why are those mistakes being made at this level?

KG: It’s so simple to fix. But potentially there’s benefit from putting us in those positions so we know what to do in the next game.  Whoever stepped, then you’d hope in the next pressure situation they won’t do that again. You know what though? There were still some exceptional skills out there. Our ball speed through court – if we can just do that consistently, even for five minutes longer. There’s outstanding talent out there, we just need to get them all playing 100 percent at the same time.

LR: Will you take a break in the next few days before heading to the Gold Coast?

KG: I’ll definitely have to have a rest. But, being a leader, there’s so much to think about. Maria (Folau, the vice-captain) and I take a lot on our shoulders. We are quite a lot more experienced than the rest of the team, and we want to help them grow. We know we only have a short amount of time to do that, and we’re working darn hard behind the scenes, as well as on the court, to lift everybody, to make this a winning side. Believe me, it is coming. These women are amazing; it’s such a good team, and we have each other’s backs. We want to play for each other too, because sometimes it feels like we’re just playing for us.

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