Silver Ferns, welcome to Sippy Downs
When the Silver Ferns reunite with their coach and captain on the Sunshine Coast this weekend, they shouldn't expect a stroll along the beach. Nope, it's all business between now and next month's World Cup in Liverpool.
In Sippy Downs, on the banks of the Mooloolah River, Noeline Taurua and Laura Langman have laid out the welcome mat for the Silver Ferns.
The coach and captain of the Ferns can’t wait until the rest of the New Zealand side arrive this Sunday for a five-day, full-on training camp on the Sunshine Coast, which has become Taurua and Langman’s second home.
Their club side, the Sunshine Coast Lightning, have two more games before Australia’s SuperNetball league goes into a hiatus when their international stars head off for netball's World Cup in Liverpool next month.
So rather than coach and captain being torn away from their club, the Silver Ferns will go to them - to begin the final stretch of their own World Cup preparations. And, at the same time, take advantage of Australia's fine sporting hospitality.
The Ferns will use the high-performance sports centre at the University of Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, home to the Lightning and Australia’s cycling and swimming programmes.
“It will be a real treat,” Langman says, sounding just a little like a Queensland tourism ambassador. “The winter here is so mild [23 degrees Celsius yesterday] and the Coast are so welcoming.”
But don’t think for a moment there will be strolls along the white sands of Mooloolaba. Taurua has warned the players to expect an intense and “physically demanding” hit-out every day they’re there - tougher than they've experienced with her before. “It’s all business now,” she says.
“It’s really the first time we’ve been together as a team to prepare for the intensity of back-to-back games in Liverpool. We need to be ready for eight games in 10 days, and getting bodies as strong as they can be to manage the load.
“These next two weeks are critical to get our foundation built around strategy and routines.”
It’s also the time to examine the “what if” scenarios a world championship can spring: if the lights go out in the stadium (like they did during a World Youth Cup final in Fiji), if the coach gets trapped in traffic before the game, or if a player is sent off (remember Temepara Bailey in the 2003 World Cup final – the last time New Zealand won?).
“We could train in a cowshed. It’s about what you’re doing and who you’re training with," - Laura Langman
For Langman, it could be especially tough next week being pulled in two directions – helping put the Ferns through their paces, while training with the Lightning as the defending champions try to stay in the league’s top two.
“It’s really hard to switch hats,” the 151-test veteran says. “In the past, when I’ve tried to split the two, it hasn’t worked. So I think the Lightning has got to be my priority.
“So I’ll do every training session with the Lightning, but I’ll come into the meetings in the afternoons with the New Zealand side. When I touch down in New Zealand the week after that, I will be 100 percent Silver Ferns.”
The same concession has been afforded the Ferns master shooter, Maria Folau, who will stay to train with her Adelaide Thunderbirds side next week. She’ll join the Ferns in Auckland the following week for the four-match Cadbury series, against the New Zealand men’s invitational side, the Fiji Pearls and an All-Stars line-up.
Langman played against Folau last weekend, when the Lightning beat the Thunderbirds by six. “Ria’s in exceptional form; I can’t wait to play with her again,” Langman says.
After a year away from domestic netball, Langman is thriving back in the Lightning environment with Taurua, and says she’s returned “a little different”. Some of that stems from now balancing her netball with a long-distance job, as the in-house accountant for Hamilton engineering consultants BCD Group; her office is a table in a local café.
Taurua is not only impressed with the way 32-year-old Langman is playing, but how she’s sharpening her captaincy skills leading the Lightning.
“There’s a bit of a process we go through here to select our captain, and it’s a great honour that her peers over here see her as having such strong leadership qualities too. She was voted in by everyone,” says Taurua, in her third season with the Sunshine Coast.
“Physically, she’s going hammer and tongs. She’s fit, tough and, once again, her commitment to being a better netballer is as strong as when she first started. There are still ‘work-ons’ because she’s been away, but I’m really happy with how she’s chugging along.”
Langman is excited that this coming week will give the Silver Ferns “a cool insight” into the way Australian clubs are run.
“The information our trainers grab and the analysis we do is pretty remarkable,” she says. “This is a really unique opportunity to experience that, and full credit has to go to Noels for making it happen.”
But there is a little snag. Taurua didn’t realise when she arranged the camp that it’s exam week at the university, and the 3000-seat stadium where they would normally be playing will instead be filled with desks and students. The Ferns will have to go to a stadium in nearby Caloundra for court-time.
“We could train in a cowshed, I always say,” Langman says. “It’s about what you’re doing and who you’re training with.
“The week is an opportunity for our team to solidify what we will be as a group. It’s about finding out who we are, what our values are and what are we going to live to.”
Taurua sees the 12 players named for the World Cup as essentially a whole new team; there are players in the side who she hasn’t worked with before.
“The key is to bring the team together as fast as possible and develop our court strategy,” she says.
“We have to start loading their bodies now to see how they handle it, and how we then manage them. The more information we have the better leading into the worlds – from this week in Sunshine Coast and then testing our strategies and routines in real time in the Cadbury series against different opposition.
“Having those four games in a row in Auckland is the perfect set-up for us. There’s still enough time out from the worlds that we can tweak if need be.”
With the Lightning focused on their own business, the Silver Ferns will instead play the feeder teams from the Lightning and Firebirds clubs who play in the ANL, a competition similar to New Zealand’s Beko League. The rest of their time will be spent in the gym and on court in three training sessions a day.
With Folau missing, the Ferns have gained four extras for the Australian camp, with former Ferns Maia Wilson, Whitney Souness, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson and Sulu Fitzpatrick joining as training partners.
Taurua says bringing the Ferns to her base reflects the strong relationship between Netball NZ and the Lightning club, who’ve allowed her to do both jobs for the last 10 months. “It’s something that hasn’t been done before, and it’s a win-win for everyone,” she says.
“Now I can’t wait to get my wee hands on my lovely little petals - and see what we’ve got.
“It seemed like a long time coming to get to this 12, but it’s exciting now. I have a big smile on my face.”