Taurua 'best netball coach in NZ'

3:14 pm on 27 June 2016

By Joseph Romanos, Sports Columnist - Joseph Romanos

OPINION: Southern Steel are the dominant team in the ANZ netball championship this season, yet their coach Noeline Taurua seems to be something of a pariah.

Noeline Taurua

Noeline Taurua Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Taurua has been the pre-eminent New Zealand coach since the trans-Tasman competition started in 2008.

She coached Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic from 2008-13. Her team reached the final three times and won the title in 2012 - the only time a New Zealand team has managed to get past the talented Australian sides.

After a season as Debbie Fuller's assistant at the Mystics, Taurua moved her netball focus south, as coach of Southern Steel.

With one round remaining in the season proper, the Steel are the only unbeaten side and have wrapped up the minor premiership.

Most impressively, they have dealt severely with the Australian combinations, beating the Fever 69-62, the Thunderbirds 69-54, the Firebirds 66-51 and, over the weekend, the Vixens 65-56.

They meet the crack Swifts side next Saturday and then head into the play-offs.

Wendy Frew Southern Steel captain.

Southern Steel captain Wendy Frew. Photo: Photosport

Their results have been in stark contrast to how other New Zealand franchises have struggled against the Australians.

Despite her impressive CV, Taurua has not been able to get a look-in for the role of Silver Ferns coach. She's had a couple of short stints as assistant coach and that's been her lot.

Taurua was a fine netballer, goal attack for the champion Wellington club side PIC in the 1990s and a New Zealand representative who won a silver medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

It's not as if she is unfamiliar with the demands of international netball.

Silver Fern coach Janine Southby

Silver Fern coach Janine Southby Photo: PhotoSport

When Ruth Aitken stood down as Silver Ferns coach in 2011, it seemed logical Taurua would succeed her.

Instead the job went to Waimarama Taumaunu, an imposing figure, but someone who had not had Taurua's coaching successes.

Four years later, the role was advertised again late last year. Incredibly the last two candidates standing were an Australian, Julie Fitzgerald, and New Zealander Janine Southby.

Southby got the job and Taurua was given the big "Not Wanted" message.

As New Zealand Under-21 and Fast5 Ferns (netball's answer to Twenty20 cricket) coach, Southby has started to make a name for herself.

But her Steel lineup finished only third among the five New Zealand sides in last season's trans-Tasman championship, and weren't a patch on the combination Taurua has forged this season.

Netball coaches Margaret Foster and Noeline Taurua.

Netball coaches Margaret Foster and Noeline Taurua. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

One key to being a champion coach is to have champion players. Certainly at the Magic, Taurua had the comfort of having three great players - Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman and Casey Kopua.

But the Steel are no more imposing on paper than most other sides in the ANZ championship - it's just that Taurua has got more out of them.

After she missed the Silver Ferns role last year, Taurua looked shell-shocked. She said "the whole roof fell in on my world" and that it seemed her face just didn't fit.

Taurua is different to the traditional, rather cautious, netball coach. She speaks freely and likes to laugh. She is mother of a large family and has a lot going on in her life.

But I've been impressed with her innovative coaching style. Furthermore, she's always looking for an edge.

She has attended speeches or seminars by the likes of Bill Clinton and rugby sevens guru Gordon Tietjens. She has attended overseas netball courses and even got herself to Korea to study the brilliant women's handball team there.

Her teams say she is a challenging coach. They have been required to paddle the Whanganui River, walk through the night in unfamiliar terrain, climb mountains and even gain spiritual guidance from a monk - all under the heading of team bonding.

New Zealand hasn't won the world title since 2003. Maybe it's time some spark was added to the national team. Taurua would do that.

With due respect to Southby, Taurua is the best netball coach in New Zealand, as she is showing again this season.

The fact that she doesn't have the Silver Ferns job is an indictment on conservative, safety-first administrators.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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