OPINION: Bridget Tunnicliffe reflects on a Netball World Cup where the brassy Silver Ferns fell short at the final hurdle but surpassed the expectations of most.
ANZ competition offers little clues
The Netball World Cup highlighted again that the ANZ competition is an entirely different beast to the international scene between the trans-Tasman rivals.
This year was probably the worst we've seen from ANZ teams on this side of the Tasman. Only one side, the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic managed a win over in Australia, and the final was an all-Australian affair.
The fact that the Silver Ferns managed to beat Australia in Sydney on day three makes it even harder to fathom how in eight years of the ANZ competition, two New Zealand franchises, the Central Pulse and Canterbury Tactix, still haven't picked up a win over there.
The Southern Steel have managed just the one. Perhaps if anything that tells us that our top tier players are notably stronger that the rest of the pack, while in Australia there's not such a wide gap between the marquee players and the newcomers.
Sometimes coach does know best
Some criticised Wai Taumaunu in 2013 when she benched Irene van Dyk, sacrificing proven winning ability, in the hope Cathrine Latu might turn into a legitimate option at goal shoot down the track.
It was during the Constellation Cup series which New Zealand lost 4-1. Taumaunu felt it was prudent to blood Latu so a viable option could be developed in the event van Dyk ever got injured or retired.
Some said it devalued the black dress. Well, the legendary shooter dropped a bombshell just weeks out from the Commonwealth Games last year, by announcing her retirement from international netball, so just as well Latu had that exposure.
Perhaps she could have done with more. If the coach has also come under a bit of flak for not putting in a better succession plan, that's really an issue Netball New Zealand has to deal with. Hopefully a new domestic competition (expected to be launched next year) will go a long way to developing the next crop of Silver Ferns.
It didn't help Taumaunu that Bailey Mes did her ACL in the later stages of the 2013 ANZ season, just when she was getting opportunities at goal shoot. Nor did it help that Malia Paseka was injured late last year so missed out on a possible call-up for the Constellation Cup.
The risks Taumaunu took in picking her team for the World Cup paid off. They didn't go all the way but they went further than what they would have if she'd stuck with the status quo.
Timing is everything
So much has to go right if you want to beat Australia at a World Cup.
All seven players on court have to be humming at the same time. Ideally you want everyone at their prime for the pinnacle events. There can be no weak links, not even the slightest.
It's unfortunate for New Zealand that Leana de Bruin won't be around for the next World Cup, Casey Kopua is highly doubtful and who knows if Laura Langman and Maria Tutaia have the stomach to commit to another four years.
Just as we're discovering the talents of Bailey Mes, Grace Rasmussen, and Kayla Cullen, who are still works in progress, we could start losing our best in other areas of the court. That's just the cycle of sport and there's usually some undiscovered talent that puts their hand up in between cycles but it's hard to picture right now how the likes of Kopua and Langman could be replaced.
Kopua is one of the best
If anyone wasn't already impressed with Casey Kopua, they should be after her performances on and off the court during the World Cup.
The captain showed tremendous fortitude to fight her way back from a potentially career ending knee injury last year, to lead her team in Sydney. She had some fine performances and played with the same grit and determination she has since she first debuted for the Ferns.
Her third World Cup disappointment would have stung deeply but 30 minutes later she fronted the press conference, fought back the tears and spoke with honesty. When asked if she felt cheated by one quarter, given the road she had to take get to the Cup, she talked about loving every minute since her return and that being on court for the Ferns was everything.
Africa could take the game by storm
That's if those nations had even half the resources available to the traditional heavyweights of the game.
Three African sides advanced into the top eight side of the tournament - South Africa, Malawi, and Uganda.
Malawi has been impressive in the last year few years. The world's sixth-ranked team gave the Silver Ferns a scare in the qualification rounds, losing by eight but not before getting to within two goals in the final quarter.
The Queens then missed out on their first semi-final at a major tournament by just one goal, when they put the frighteners up Jamaica.
Uganda contested just their second World Cup - their only previous appearance was in 1979. Seemingly out of the netball wilderness, the Ugandans surprised many in Sydney, finishing eighth in the tournament.
When you hear stories about young girls playing netball with paper mache balls in their villages because they don't have proper equipment, it's exciting and maybe a little bit scary to think how good these nations could be given half the chance.