Leota's experience proves a winner for Ferns

BACK IN SILVER: Silver Ferns midcourter Liana Leota has returned to the team after a three-year absence.
BACK IN SILVER: Silver Ferns midcourter Liana Leota has returned to the team after a three-year absence.

Despite a couple of contenders, Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu couldn't go past a player who had been there and done it.

English-based Liana Leota, recalled to the New Zealand netball squad after three years in the international wilderness and just 11 weeks after giving birth to her third child, missed the original phone call from Taumaunu after sleeping in following a long night with baby Karney.

When she eventually checked her messages and got back to Taumaunu, it was the news Leota had made the tough trip back from England to play in the second half of the trans-Tasman league for - the chance to win a second Commonwealth Games gold medal for New Zealand.

"That experience, the wise old head, the deftness, the subtlety, the game sense - all of those things we saw," Taumaunu said of Leota.

"I wasn't sure we were going to, but they were evident from the time she stepped back on to the court. Combining that with the fresh enthusiasm and accuracy of Shannon [Francois] seemed to be a really nice set of complementary skills, and we are confident they'll play well with Laura [Langman]."

The Silver Ferns midcourt was the most competitive area of a largely predictable 12-strong squad.

The Pulse's Millie Lees toured England during the summer, while Grace Rasmussen had been one of the form players for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.

"That's great, because in the last few years we've been casting around trying to find people and this year we've had people say 'pick me'. There were some tough decisions, but that's a good place to be," Taumaunu said.

"[They were] very tough, and very close calls, but we believe we made the right call. Those people will continue to train and the race isn't over by a long shot. As with any netball team there is always the chance of injury and people might withdraw, so they are well in the picture."

The surprise retirement from international play by Irene van Dyk last week sent the Silver Ferns looking for their next best shooting option.

Ellen Halpenny's ability to play both shooting positions got her noticed but it was her accuracy which saw her selected ahead of the likes of Bailey Mes.

"In order to win games we've got to sink goals and it was Ellen's accuracy which set her apart," Taumaunu said.

Along with Halpenny and Leota, Anna Harrison, who missed last season due to pregnancy, was the other notable selection.

A strong trans-Tasman competition and her ability to play from goal keep to wing defence were her selection points, Taumaunu said.

"She can play all three defensive positions and in a pinnacle event with games running day after day, people like that are worth their weight in gold."

Of the team that toured England, Casey Kopua returns from injury to replace Phoenix Karaka and will lead the team, Lees misses out, van Dyk has stepped aside and been replaced by Halpenny, and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit makes way for Harrison.

Halpenny, Cathrine Latu, Francois and Jodi Brown will all be attending their first Commonwealth Games for New Zealand, although Brown was part of the 2006 squad before withdrawing due to injury and Latu has represented Samoa at the Commonwealth Games.

Taumaunu is confident she has the team to win a third consecutive Games medal in Glasgow.

"I'm just very mindful that the Australians' desire is huge. We are going to have to make sure that our desire is even greater."

The Southland Times