26 Aug 2016

Sports Call: Silver Ferns out to prove their strength

5:32 pm on 26 August 2016

Sports Call - The Silver Ferns begin their international campaign on Saturday, with the tough task of proving they're still a dominant force in world netball, writes Denise Garland.

New Zealand's Katrina Grant celebrates their win over England.

New Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant is in charge of a new-look team Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Silver Ferns head into the Quad Series against Australia, England and South Africa with a new coach, new captain and three debutants.

Janine Southby was appointed head coach in November last year, succeeding Waimarama Taumaunu - who took the helm from Ruth Aitken in 2011 after three years as her assistant.

Southby immediately stamped her mark on the Ferns, dropping young players Malia Paseka and Phoenix Karaka from the 2016 squad for underperforming at the trials held last December

But eight months on, few would envy the task Southby has ahead of her.

Since last season she's lost veteran defender Leana de Bruin and shooter Jodi Brown to retirement.

Centurion Casey Kopua, who has captained the Silver Ferns since 2009, is unavailable after giving birth to her first child three months ago.

And New Zealand's star shooter Maria Tuta'ia - who has so often caused frustration for the Australian defenders - is out with a foot injury.

Southby has chosen the Pulse defender and captain Katrina Grant to lead the squad in Kopua's place. Grant will be backed up by the experienced midcourter Laura Langman, who is keeping the vice-captaincy.

Two of the three debutants named in the squad, shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit and defender Storm Purvis, have come from Southby's former franchise the Southern Steel.

The other is 18-year-old Pulse goal shoot Maia Wilson, who was a surprise inclusion, earning her place in the team above the experienced Cathrine Tuivaiti (née Latu).

And the young defender Phoenix Karaka is back in the black dress.

Southby has a legacy of developing young players, guiding the New Zealand Under 21 team to gold at the World Youth Netball Cup in 2013.

But adding to the challenge this season is the burden of having to prove to Netball Australia that the state of New Zealand's game is as strong as ever.

Southern Steel coach Janine Southby who coached the New Zealand team at the international Fast Five series in January.

Head coach Janine Southby Photo: Photosport

In May, Netball Australia and Netball New Zealand announced the end of the trans-Tasman competition which had been running since 2008.

Australia had dominated the league since its inception, with the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic the only New Zealand franchise to win the title during those nine years, in 2012.

It was was the lopsided nature of the competition that led Australia to push for change

Hillary Poole, Netball NZ's former chief executive, said at the time the only way a combined competition could have continued as far as Australia was concerned, was if the number of New Zealand teams was cut from five to three.

So both countries have gone their separate ways.

It adds a huge burden to the shoulders of Southby and the Silver Ferns squad, who now have to show the Australians on the court that they are not the easy-beats the trans-Tasman league has made them out to be.

Australia not the Ferns' only competition

But before the Silver Ferns get the chance to prove themselves against the Diamonds, they first need to overcome England and South Africa.

New Zealand and Australia are co-hosting the first leg of the Quad Series between the four countries, which gets underway in Auckland on Saturday.

While the Ferns should comfortably beat South Africa when they meet on August 31st, it is unlikely to be so easy against England this weekend.

The Roses are ranked third in the world and while the Silver Ferns won their last meeting 50-39 in the 2015 World Cup semi-finals, the English only have to look back to 2014 for their last victory over the world No.2.

Almost three months after losing the Commonwealth Games semi-final to the Ferns by a single goal, the Roses travelled to New Zealand to play two Tests in the Taini Jamison Trophy series.

England won the first match 42-38, though the Silver Ferns went on to retain the trophy with a 14-goal victory three days later.

With the Roses naming four players in their team who competed in this year's trans-Tasman netball league - including veteran defender Geva Mentor and the Magic's star shooter Jo Harten - they won't be an easy side to overcome.

Regardless, the Ferns will still have one eye looking ahead to their five matches against Australia.

They'll play the Diamonds in Melbourne in September as part of the Quad Series, before meeting again in October for four Tests in their annual Constellation Cup contest.

New Zealand's only held the Cup once since its 2010 introduction and while the Ferns won the final two matches in the series last year - and away from home at that - it is hard to look past the hundreds of Test caps that are now missing from this year's squad.

However, Southby may well try to turn that weakness into New Zealand's biggest threat, by testing new, unproven combinations with her debutants against the ever-strong Australians.

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