It’s a big year for... Te Paea Selby-Rickit

2018 looms as a pivotal year for a host of great Kiwi athletes, teams and sporting figures. Over coming weeks, Newsroom details the challenges that lie ahead for this nation’s best and fairest. Next up, Silver Ferns shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit.

As tough as it was to endure the Silver Ferns being clobbered by Australia again, having already lost their grip on the world No. 2 status to England, there was still a glimmer of hope at the sharp end of the court.

It came in the form of a 1.88m-tall, straight-shooting, single-minded dynamo with imposing genes; the daughter of an All Black, and sister of a former New Zealand netballer.

Te Paea Selby-Rickit has been in the sights of netball’s movers and shakers since she was a reserved 14-year-old schoolgirl, who then spoke fluent te reo Māori as her first language.

For years, she saw herself as “the young girl”, often warming the bench, waiting for the chance to make her mark. But at 26, Selby-Rickit has now come into her own, proving herself as a vital shooting weapon in a team struggling to notch points on the board, and precariously slipping off Australia’s firecracker pace.

Selby-Rickit is doing it in her own composed, unemotional style. Poker-faced, she moves deftly around the shooting circle, coolly demanding the ball, before turning and precisely lobbing it through the net.

She’s not without flair. She’s known for her clever off-loads; twice, in that awful 19-goal loss to the world champion Diamonds last weekend, she scored in mid-air, having scooped up the ball one-handed from behind the goalpost.

And she loves nothing more than having an Australian defender snarling in her face; history shows that’s when she’s at her best. “I still get a little nervous, but I love the challenge of playing Australia,” she says. “I get really excited by it, and I think that definitely helps how I play against them.”

With her latest rock-solid display of 28 goals from 30 attempts coming off the bench against the Diamonds, Selby-Rickit must surely have played her way into the Silver Ferns’ top starting line-up for the Commonwealth Games in April.

“That’s what you aim for,” Selby-Rickit says, straight off the plane from the long melancholy trip home from Johannesburg. “If you’re in the Silver Ferns, you want to make that starting seven.”

“I’m happy with how the game [against Australia] went for me personally. But, of course when you lose, it never feels good - it cancels that good feeling out, because it’s a team sport."

- Te Paea Selby-Rickit

Silver Ferns coach Janine Southby, who’s known Selby-Rickit since she was a young teenager, can’t be far from making that decision, with the team to play on the Gold Coast named next week. After their dawn arrival back at Auckland Airport, the coach sung the shooter’s praises.

“Every time Te Paea goes out there, you can see the real determination she has. She’s such a target at the back of the court, and the ball she took on this tour — the way she turned and shot it – showed real growth,” she says.

“She has a quiet way of going about what she does, and some people mistake that for being a bit cruisy, but she’s very determined. She’s humble and down-to-earth, and epitomises everything about being a good team person.

“Te Paea would be the first to say she’s still got a lot of work to do in the way she can improve. And she’s driven to do that. I’d like to see a real consistency across her whole game – rebounding, shooting goals – and see that she’s really owning it: ‘Give me the ball I want to shoot it’. And she’s already taking all that on board.”

While Selby-Rickit has stepped in at goal shoot for the Ferns in recent times of trouble, pairing up with Bailey Mes or veteran Maria Folau, Southby would like to see her grow her game at goal attack too.

Selby-Rickit returned home to Dunedin — to the house she bought just over a year ago, and her beloved Rottweiler, Drogo – with plenty to contemplate. 2018 is shaping up to be a colossal year in her netball career — not only in her quest to win Commonwealth gold, but also as a senior leader in the country’s top netball franchise, the Southern Steel.

This will be Te Paea’s eighth straight year with the southernmost side, and she and her defender sister, Te Huinga Reo (a former Silver Fern and two years her senior), are like towering, wise bookends in the ANZ Premiership champions’ line-up. Steel coach Reinga Bloxham is looking to the sisters to provide “inspirational” leadership at both ends this year. And, for the first time, Te Paea will be the primary shooter in the side, with Jamaican super-shot Jhaniele Fowler not returning to Invercargill.

“It’s weird because I’ve always been like a ‘young girl’ in the team, and it feels like, all of a sudden, I’m one of the old girls,” she says. “It’s up to us to take ownership of the team and try to help the new young girls come through and build on what we accomplished last year.

“I absolutely love the Steel. A lot of people move around with netball these days, but I’m lucky to have only played for one franchise; not many people have done that.”

There are temptations to move to Invercargill – like her partner Brayden Mitchell, captain of rugby’s Southland Stags – but she’s happy based in Dunedin, training with her flatmate, fellow Silver Fern Gina Crampton.

Home, though, is still Otaki, the Kapiti Coast town where the sports-mad Selby-Rickit family grew up. Their father Haydn “Hud” Rickit is still a town legend, having played two tests for the All Blacks in 1981 (he remains the only All Black never to play in black; kitted out in white for those tests against Scotland). The Auckland and Waikato lock rarely spoke of his rugby career with his five kids; they only found out he’d played for his country when someone told them at school.

Of Ngati Raukawa descent, all of the Selby-Rickit children were schooled at the local kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and wharekura, where they were taught in Māori – it was the only language they spoke at home and in town. Their English developed alongside their sporting careers.

Te Paea is five papers away from completing her teaching degree from the University of Otago. She’d like to squeeze in some study this year, but a frenetic netball schedule could make that goal problematic.

She has homework to do in the meantime – around how to defeat first England, then Australia.

“I’m happy with how the game [against Australia] went for me personally. But, of course when you lose, it never feels good  it cancels that good feeling out, because it’s a team sport,” she says.

“We’ve addressed a few things that will make a huge difference, if we can nail them – and that’s personal errors. We’re making far too many.

“We’ve had some pretty tough conversations, and a lot of them were around mental toughness. A lot of people think we’re just scared of Australia, and we have it in our minds that they’re always going to beat us. But I don’t think it’s like that at all. We can beat them. It’s just about us cutting down our personal errors.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a big year. We’ve got a lot of work to do before the Commonwealth Games, but I still believe we can win it. I’ve been working towards this, and next year’s World Cup, for a very long time. So I wouldn’t be happy with anything less than gold.”

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