Week in Review

Finding GOATs amongst the Silver Ferns

Since her retirement, the word GOAT [Greatest Of All Time] has been consistently linked to Laura Langman.

But understandably, it’s an acronym that sits uncomfortably with the former Silver Ferns captain. The question remains though - is she?

Is the team’s most capped player in fact their greatest? Or would she even make the face of the Mt Rushmore of Silver Ferns?

Alex Chapman spoke to some of the country’s sharpest netball minds to discuss GOATs in black dresses.

Jenny Woods: the voice of netball, commentator for Sky Sport.

Rikki Swannell: netball commentator and journalist.

Dana Johannsen: former netball reporter, now Stuff’s national correspondent in sport.

Suzanne McFadden: longtime sports journalist and editor of LockerRoom.

(Both Swannell and Johannsen emphasised they hadn’t seen as many play as their two colleagues).

Here are their four picks each for the greatest Silver Ferns of all time:

Irene van Dyk played 145 tests for NZ (and 72 for South Africa). Photo: Getty Images. 

IRENE VAN DYK - four votes

JW: She was a match-winner and had longevity. I can’t remember her ever being injured or recall there being a time where she left the court or wasn’t available through injuries. Time and time again, when people were saying things like ‘Oh Australia have worked her out’ she’d evolve, she’d change her game, she’d do things differently. She was a smart player and avoided becoming predictable.

RS: She excelled across eras. When she first came onto the scene with South Africa in ’95, and to then go on to 2003 [when NZ won the World Cup], that’s a different generation. And then to continue on as she did until she was 40, there’s plenty of longevity. She also changed what a tall, strong, holding shooter can be, and while she may not have been the most athletic person in the world, as a package, she had everything.

 
 

DJ: She continuously added strings to her bow and became this unflappable rock. Players like [Australian defender] Liz Ellis would come in and get in her face and try to rattle her and she’d just position herself under the goal and get them in. Also, who shoots at 90 percent for that length of a career?

SM: It’s not just about the way she played for me, always reinventing herself, but the way she became the face of netball. Even when she was born in a different country and in 1995 denied us a place in the World Cup final… but the way this country took her into their hearts as well, I mean, she was voted one of the most trustworthy New Zealanders for a few years in a row. And I loved that she smiled and clapped every time she scored. She loved the game.

Out of retirement, Casey Kopua made a huge impact for the Silver Ferns in their 2019 World Cup victory. Photo: Getty Images. 

CASEY KOPUA (NEE WILLIAMS) - three votes

JW: Whenever I think of Casey, I think of two tests - the Commonwealth Games gold medal match in Delhi in 2010 where she was just enormous, and the 2019 World Cup final where she just won ball. What I really admire about Casey is she epitomises that humble, no-nonsense New Zealand attitude. She’s not flash, she’s not shiny, but just such a solid individual.

RS: Casey played to her absolute limit every single match I ever saw her play, and every one I didn’t. Even when absolutely broken, on one leg, she’d find a way to pull out something incredible. She made everyone around her better, and it’s no coincidence that last year Jane Watson played her best netball with Kopua. She pushed herself to the nth degree and looked absolutely exhausted and became a great leader too, purely through her actions.

SM: Physically she was incredible. She pulled off some of the best leaps and intercepts I’ve seen, most notably in last year’s World Cup final, which really cemented that victory. She was a natural leader who didn’t really love the limelight – you don’t see Casey selling cornflakes. And she was very loyal, she played for the Magic her whole career and when Noeline [coach Dame Noeline Taurua] called to ask to come back to the Silver Ferns, she answered. She was just a beautiful netballer.

SANDRA EDGE - three votes

JW: Sandy would always be there for me, although, it probably helps that I played with her! [Woods proceeds to talk about how they were part of a Hamilton Old Girls team in the 1980’s.] In the black dress she was about flair and speed. She could turn a game and do things in the air that I still haven’t seen many others do, just the way she’d leap and turn and pass… she must’ve been a dream to be fed into the circle by.

RS: Anyone my age, for rugby in that era, there was Michael Jones, Sean Fitzpatrick and John Kirwan. The same era for netball was Sandy and Wai Taumaunu. Edge was my first real sporting hero so there’s probably some nostalgia there. But I also know I can appreciate her years later with how good and revolutionary she was. She was brilliant on attack and defence, won a World Cup, and when you look at the teams she’s coached, you can tell she has a real netball brain.

SM: The greatest midcourter ever. She had amazing vision, presence, she never kept still and was one of those people who could read the game a couple of phases ahead. She had the ability to get the ball in the air, twist, pass and then land. She was humble too, she always saw herself as just that kid from Tokomaru Bay.

Laura Langman made history with her 163 test caps for the Silver Ferns. Photo: Getty Images

LAURA LANGMAN - two votes

RS: I’ve been lucky to see as much of Laura’s career as I did. Laura really set high standards and you wouldn’t have wanted to let her down, and she herself rarely had a bad game. There may have been games where we didn’t notice her as much, or she was quieter, but she didn’t have a shocker. And just the stamina and way she looked after herself is shown by her playing those 141 consecutive tests, at times multiple days in a row at World Cups and Commonwealth Games.

DJ: 141 tests on the trot is proof of her consistent excellence. Apart from when she was blocked from selection [due to playing in Australia], she was one of the first names written down. I remember [former Silver Ferns coach] Ruth Aitken saying that she wished she could clone Laura because she was so good at wing defence and centre. She’s such a strong, tracking defender, which is also why she fitted in so well across the Tasman, as they play a different style over there… she’s criticised for taking every second pass, but people don’t understand how hard you actually have to work to do that.

JOAN HARNETT - one vote

JW: Joan got netball up and out of being a ‘game for gals’ and into being a national sport… I’ve put her in because I’ve talked to some people and her name just kept coming up and I think it’s a nod to the players before the television era. Without players like that, there wouldn’t be the television era because they put out results to get the coverage.

WAIMARAMA TAUMAUNU - one vote

SM: Wai was such a formidable force. I’m still in awe of her because of the mana and presence she has about her… she doesn’t suffer fools. Wai wasn’t extremely tall, but that intimidation factor she had made her 10 feet tall. And along with Tracey Fear and Leigh Gibbs they formed one of the greatest-ever Silver Ferns defensive ends, who won the 1987 World Cup. And she went on to be a respected Ferns coach too.

Temepara Bailey (right) and Maria Folau celebrate NZ's gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Photo: Getty Images

TEMEPARA BAILEY (NEE GEORGE) - one vote

DJ: She was just the most amazing player to watch. Incredibly strong, incredibly dynamic and amazing vision. You’d watch her bomb it halfway down the court and just wonder ‘what is she doing?’ and it would just land with pinpoint perfection. That 2003 World Cup when she was sent off, and then to come back onto the court and nail the intercept to help win the final, is credit to her. Also, testament to her that she came back to play as a grandmother in the ANZ and was talked about as a potential Silver Fern.

BERNICE MENE - one vote

DJ: She was the player I idolised growing up, and I wasn’t even a defender! She was a Silver Fern at 17, and was the archetype of the New Zealand defensive style of play; she always stayed off the body of her opponents and came through for the spectacular clean, aerial intercepts we all love. It really was a shame she retired so young.  

Notable mentions: Maria Folau, Ria Fatialofa, Margaret Forsyth and Leana du Bruin.

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