29 Jun 2017

The year of Ferns' comebacks and bolters?

11:55 am on 29 June 2017

There will be plenty of fresh young faces in the mix when as many as 28 players are named for the Silver Ferns' trials on Friday and one or two could well make the final cut.

The Pulse's Tiana Metuarau fends off the Mystic's Michaela Sokolich-Beatson.

The Pulse's Tiana Metuarau fends off the Mystic's Michaela Sokolich-Beatson. Photo: Photosport

Given the retirements of some key personnel, the defensive end will certainly look different.

And with the Commonwealth Games in April next year, then the World Cup in 2019, coach Janine Southby will also be looking to make some crunch decisions.

Casey Kopua and Anna Harrison, both veterans of the defensive end, recently announced their international retirements, a year after stalwart Leana de Bruin bowed out of the side.

That leaves only Katrina Grant as the truly established defender at international level but there are several options.

Casey Kopua

There'll be no Casey Kopua in 2017 Photo: Photsoport

Goal keep Jane Watson has continued her impressive form of last year, which saw her get her first cap for the Ferns.

Her footwork and anticipation is second to none right now.

She's likely to vie for that position with Phoenix Karaka, who has been in good form for the Pulse in this year's ANZ premiership.

Kelly Jury got her first Ferns court time early this year, and appeals as a player who will only get better and possesses valuable height.

One player who has earned a recall is Temalisi Fakahokotau, who had a break out year in 2014 when she gained a couple of Test caps.

Fakahokotau went off the radar somewhat but has had a strong year at the Tactix and finished second in the statistics for deflections, and fourth for intercepts.

However, she also tops the list for penalties so that might be a barrier to her regaining Ferns selection.

Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit got a couple of Test caps in 2013 and is due a comeback too. She's had an excellent domestic season and has formed a formidable partnership with Jane Watson at the Steel.

New Zealand under 21 captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson has had an eye catching year at the Northern Mystics. Her speed off the mark is incredible and she could well find herself given a Silver Ferns opportunity.

The retirements also give two-test cap Fern Storm Purvis, who offers another style of defence, a chance.

With Laura Langman ineligible this year, the centre duties are likely to go to Shannon Francois.

The Magic's Sam Sinclair, who got her first Ferns court time early this year, should wear the black dress again. She can cover centre and wing defence and was tenacious for the Magic this year.

Silver Ferns regular Kayla Cullen has recently been favoured at wing defence for the Ferns, but this year has reminded selectors that she is a worthy option at goal defence.

Wendy Frew Southern Steel captain.

Wendy Frew Southern Steel captain. Photo: Photosport

And why not Steel captain Wendy Frew? The one-Test Fern was last in the national squad in 2011. Aside from her immense experience she's simply one of the best wing defences in the country and a fabulous leader.

The Pulse's Claire Kersten is another player who has put her hand up at wing defence this year.

Grace Rasmussen has been the starting wing attack for the Ferns for the past two years. She faces strong competition from Gina Crampton, who debuted for New Zealand last year.

Elisapeta Toeava is also an exciting prospect. She has been a key part of the Northern Mystics attack line this year, feeding the Ferns shooting duo of Maria Tutaia and Bailey Mes, which may work in her favour. The wing attack roars down the court like a high speed train.

Mid-court dynamo Elisapeta Toeava.

Mid-court dynamo Elisapeta Toeava. Photo: Photosport

Whitney Souness from the Pulse has also been impressive at wing attack.

That leaves the shooting end, which is the area of the court which has fewer options.

Bailey Mes is the first choice goal shooter and is likely to remain that way.

She's been in good form and has built a stronger combination with Tutaia while at the Mystics. Maia Wilson is likely to be her understudy. Cathrine Tuivaiti has had a good year at the Pulse but her shooting volume is still her achilles heal.

Tutaia and Te Paea Selby-Rickit are the incumbent goal attacks and are unlikely to be usurped by young gun Tiana Metuarau, for now.

However, 15 players will be included in the 2017/18 Silver Ferns squad so that gives Janine Southby a bit of wriggle room to include a bolter like Metuarau to give her exposure to the Ferns environment.

The 16-year-old got outmanoeuvred in a couple of games this year but was never out-muscled.

She can take the knocks but Southby might be wary of putting too much expectations on someone so young.

Malia Vaka, who can play both shooting positions, is also an option. She made the World Cup team in 2015 but was out for most of last year when she had her first child.

Vaka took a while to find her feet in the domestic league this year but got better as the season wore on.