Netball

Will this Silver Fern be frozen out again?

As the Silver Ferns side for the World Cup is named in the deep south, will Katrina Rore be frozen out again? Suzanne McFadden hopes not. 

If discarded Silver Ferns captain Katrina Rore is recalled into the side for netball’s World Cup, it will make headlines. If she isn’t included, ditto.

Rore was the face of the Silver Ferns – not in glory, but despair - at last year’s Commonwealth Games. A face streaming with tears as she professed her pride in wearing the black dress... as her team slipped to their worst finish ever.

Eight months later, the 125-test veteran was dropped from the Ferns for the Northern Quad Series in England, just a couple of months into Noeline Taurua’s tenure as coach.  

It may prove to be one of Taurua’s most inspired calls yet.

As shattering as it was to be ditched, Rore has made the most of her break from the pressures of international netball. She adopted a different training regime and spent more time with her new husband over the summer.

She returned to the court for the Pulse with a renewed vigour, leading them to the minor premiership title in the national league, and firm favourites to take out the ANZ Premiership for the first time.  

She hasn’t dominated the statistics in the competition – although she’s right up there for intercepts and deflections – but she’s certainly been the central pillar in the strongest defensive wall, with Karin Burger and Sulu Fitzpatrick.

Now Rore is on the cusp of returning to the Silver Ferns, and when the 12 are named for the World Cup in Liverpool in July, there will probably be more surprise if she isn’t there for her third World Cup campaign.  

Rore would be the ideal slide - covering all three defensive positions. She won’t have to carry the weight of the captaincy on her shoulders. And she appears to be unfazed by the situation - saying after her last game she'd forgotten all about this week's announcement.

It’s unlikely there will be any bolters when the team is read out in Invercargill at 4.30pm. (Assistant coach Deb Fuller will do the honours, as Taurua and Silver Ferns captain Laura Langman will be at training with their other team, on the Sunshine Coast).

The selection choices aren’t black and white, and Taurua was apparently still mulling them over at the 11th hour.  But, for one thing, experience won’t be an issue. Interestingly, eight of the 12 who finished runners-up at the last World Cup in 2015 have been in the mix for this side.

Back in March, Taurua said she had a spine of six pencilled in for Liverpool; six players who were sure as houses. 

It’s not difficult to deduce that Langman, Maria Folau and Casey Kopua make up half of the vertebrae in that spine, with the other half almost certainly formed by Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Jane Watson and Burger.

That’s almost a starting seven. Missing is a wing attack - likely to be Gina Crampton, who’s been unswerving for the Steel, especially with her new leadership role this season.

So who will fill the other five pieces of the Silver Ferns skeleton?

At the shooting end, Te Paea Selby-Rickit looks certain to make her comeback after being left out of the Northern Hemisphere tour in January.

Maia Wilson, the goal shoot who's been in and out of the Ferns for the last three years, will probably find herself on the outer again, after a shaky season with the Stars. 

The last spot will come down to two players at opposite ends of their careers – the practiced Bailey Mes and the teenage Aliyah Dunn.

If the Ferns are looking for a fourth shooter with experience, it would be hard to overlook Bailey Mes. Photo: Getty Images.

In Mes’ favour is her 63-test experience, and her long history with Folau. Her vertical leap is still outstanding. She’s taking, and sinking, longer shots at goal attack this season, but her percentages aren’t quite at the standard you’d expect of an international shooter (she’s averaged 73 percent accuracy for the Mystics this season).

But she’s versatile, and can also play wing attack – she’s shown great vision in to the circle, feeding the Mystic’s young shooter Grace Nweke.

Nweke, by the way, won’t be in the line-up. At 17 and still playing high school netball, she needs to spend time in a high performance environment. But she’s undoubtedly the most exciting discovery of 2019 and, if she sticks with netball, she could be the face of our next World Cup campaign.

Dunn has plenty going for her, too. She’s tall (at 1.90m), and accurate - the most spot-on shooter in the ANZ Premiership at 92 percent. Giving her experience at the pinnacle of the game would be an investment for the Ferns’ future.

What’s against the four-test goal shoot is her fitness – she failed to make the strength and conditioning grade Taurua has wisely insisted on for all her players.

The coach doesn’t want a lack of fitness to be the reason for a poor Silver Ferns performance in Liverpool. "I'm not prepared to say after the fact that we weren't fit enough. It's been said too many times. We need to learn from our past campaigns and put a stake in the ground," Taurua told Stuff.

The Ferns have a stiff schedule, playing eight games in 10 days in Liverpool – starting the first five days of the tournament with five matches.

Whitney Souness and Shannon Saunders are the strongest contenders for the remaining mid-court spot.  

Although Saunders is dependable, experienced and fit as a fiddle, Souness would get my nod, with the flair she brings to the attack and her tried and true on-court relationship with Ekenasio.

Nine months ago, you could have filled your quota of defenders twice with the wealth of talent available New Zealand netball. But injuries have seriously stripped the pool.

Unorthodox, explosive goal keep Temalisi Fakahokotau never made it back on court in time after rupturing her ACL in September. 

Kayla Cullen is a conundrum. An exciting utility player – who can even play centre – Cullen’s career has been plagued by bad injuries, and question marks remain over whether she could weather the demands of a World Cup. If she doesn't make it this time, she may be lost to Australia (the new home of her fiance Shaun Johnson) for good. 

Perhaps the most ill-starred story will be that of Kelly Jury. The young 1.92m defender with huge potential was out for most of 2018 with a nasty shoulder injury that required surgery. She returned to the Magic this season, but wasn’t completely back to her old form. Her heavily-taped shoulder may need more attention before she wears the black dress again.

If Taurua was looking for height, she would go back to Erena Mikaere. A centimetre taller than Jury, she’s swift and athletic, but her form has been erratic in the national league, although she played a critical part in the Mystics’ overthrowing of the Pulse in their very last game.

But Taurua isn’t completely sold on having to have two towering defenders in the circle. The defensive lynchpin in her Sunshine Coast Lightning side, South African Karla Pretorius (1.81m) is the first player in the Australian SuperNetball to steal 100 intercepts. She’s quick, and tactical; Taurua calls her the best goal defence in the world.

So perhaps Phoenix Karaka is the right choice. She was on right on track to make a Ferns comeback until she hit her head on the court midway through the national league, and spent a month on the bench with concussion. While she may have been a standout performer in the Mystics’ shock victory over the Pulse, she admitted afterwards she still wasn’t 100 percent.

Taurua has always said she was up against the clock to prepare the Silver Ferns for the World Cup, and repair the damage of the last two seasons.

They have seven weeks now before their first - and critical - game against the Malawi Queens, who embarrassingly turned them inside out at the Commonwealth Games.

In the meantime, the Ferns get to sharpen up in next month's international series in Auckland, against a NZ men's invitational side, the Fiji Pearls, and a yet-to-be-named All Stars team. 

LockerRoom’s Silver Ferns team prediction: Maria Folau, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Bailey Mes, Gina Crampton, Whitney Souness, Laura Langman, Karin Burger, Katrina Rore, Jane Watson, Phoenix Karaka, Casey Kopua.

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