Grant digs deep as Ferns set forth on road to redemption

Summer for Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant has been all about training, and going to the beach – to train. She tells Suzanne McFadden about her determination to exorcise the netball demons of October ’17.

This was a typical “double day” for Katrina Grant, post-Christmas. In the morning, she ran to the 232-metre summit of Mount Maunganui, and took in the view. In the afternoon, she sprinted along the beach below, and did jump training in the sand.

Her partner, Joel Rore – who’d trained with her every day over the summer break – didn’t speak to her all the way back home that afternoon. “He didn’t like that session very much,” she says. “The double days were kind of hard on him.”

But the captain of the Silver Ferns wasn’t deterred. If anything, she was reinvigorated. Renowned for her gutsy training ethic, Grant has dug a little deeper this summer - driven by the demons of October ’17.

The four-test whipping by the Australian Diamonds at their last encounter was the toughest series that Grant, a veteran of 104 internationals, had experienced in her stint as New Zealand netball captain.

She admits she played below her best during the Constellation Cup, and fell into the trap of trying to help her team-mates on court when the going got messy.

“None of us really performed as well as we would have liked, myself included. Not being able to put an amazing game out there for your country is really hard to take, because you want to be able to do that all the time,” Grant says.

“So, if anything, it’s definitely made training over summer easier - because you know how much it hurts to lose.”

The player known as “Pole” since her high school days is about to get the chance to make amends. Later this week, the Silver Ferns crack into their busiest international season yet; a year with potentially 21 test matches, should all go to plan. And at the centre of it, is the lure of gold, which has eluded them for the last eight years.

The marathon season begins at London’s Copper Box on Sunday, where the Ferns meet England’s emboldened Roses to open the Netball Quad Series. Five days later, they’ll be in Johannesburg, South Africa, to play the emerging Proteas, before coming face-to-face with their No. 1 nemeses, the Diamonds, the next Sunday.

That’s roughly 30,000 kilometres for three games of netball played across a week. But Grant isn’t grumbling; she knows how crucial these tests are to her team. “Any chance we can get to play against good opposition, we’ll take it.”

Because the Ferns are demanding the most challenging lead-in they can get to the ultimate test in April - the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

“I should have been leading from the front. But my performances weren’t totally outstanding, and sometimes I’d go and help out others,” she says.

- Katrina Grant

It was in 2010 that Grant played an integral part in the Ferns side who last won Commonwealth gold, in Delhi. The final was an unforgettable double-extra time two-goal victory over the Diamonds, where Maria Tutaia (now Folau) kept her cool and scored the clincher, and goal keep Grant played all 84 minutes. It remains the highlight of her 10-year international career.

“I would love for this bunch of amazing women to experience that as a team, because it was unbelievable. I haven’t had that feeling again since 2010. And this is potentially my last Commonwealth Games,” says Grant, now 30.

There’s been little rest for the Ferns right through the festive season. There were the dreaded double training days three days a week. “We were lucky some people opened their gyms around the country for us,” says Grant. And there was self-restraint. “While everyone around you is having a few beverages, you have to say no. It’s an easy choice to make at the end of the day though.”

And there’s had to be a mental recovery from that last series drubbing. The Silver Ferns squad met in camp before Christmas, where their failings at the hands of the Australians – which seemed to worsen with each game - were dissected.

“I think what happened is that we’d done really well winning the Quad Series, but you have to constantly keep working. Because no matter how teams come back at you, you can’t rest on your laurels,” Grant says. “We all knew that in quarters [of the Constellation Cup] we played outstanding netball, so now it’s about knowing how to take the pressure on, keep performing, and not trying to go and help everyone else out. If you do your own job well, then you will be better as a team.

“That was something that really stuck out. But it’s a hard one for us. In our team, we care about each other a lot, both on and off the court; we want each other to do well, to go and help each other, and I think we do that in a game without even realising.”

Grant takes a captain’s share of the blame for the shortcomings, and may have been hurting more than any other player after the four straight defeats.

“I should have been leading from the front. But my performances weren’t totally outstanding, and sometimes I’d go and help out others,” she says.

“It was the hardest series I’ve been part of as captain. It hurt a lot. But I took a lot on board from it all… I definitely learned a lot about myself, and the team, and how to deal with certain situations.”

Grant wants nothing more from this Quad Series than three victories from three tests. “It’s what we want, and what we probably need,” she says. She sees the English, who seriously threatened the Ferns for the world No. 2 seeding at the end of last season, as a very dangerous side.

“This Quad Series is really going to set up the pecking order. But it will also show us what work needs to be done before the Commonwealth Games. We’ll only have eight weeks to work on it from when we get home,” she says.

They’ll play a home series against Jamaica, Malawi and Fiji before heading to the Gold Coast.

This will be one of the most significant years of Grant’s career, and not only internationally. She will lead the Central Pulse again in the ANZ Premiership, aiming to go one better than last year’s runners-up title.

“I’m feeling really good about it all,” she says. “Physically, I’m going great. Mentally, too.” She’d just moved back to Wellington, this time with Rore. They’d been living in his home city of Rotorua over the summer, but he decided to follow her to the capital and complete the second half of a building apprenticeship he started years ago.

“It’s ideal, everything is falling into place,” says Grant. “Hopefully everything else this year will follow, and fall into place too.”

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