Latu finds van Dyk's shoes will be hard to fill

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2014
Cathrine Latu
SHOOTING AHEAD: Cathrine Latu in action for the Silver Ferns.

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Partner Jim was the only one dancing a jig round Cathrine Latu's house, when Irene van Dyk retired.

There's a part of Latu that's obliged to say that and to claim that she's desperately sad not to have to share the Silver Ferns' goal shooting duties with van Dyk anymore. Never mind if it sounds like something a well-known beer brand might put on a billboard.

Only, like Latu herself, it's the genuine article. Airs, graces and platitudes aren't in her arsenal. What she tells you, you can take to the bank.

To a large extent, New Zealand's chances of retaining their Commonwealth Games netball crown lie with Latu. She's the only recognised goal shoot in their group, since van Dyk called time on her 14-year Silver Ferns career.

Minus weekends off, for good behaviour, the squad has been in camp for two weeks now. It's the first time any of them have assembled without van Dyk and for the woman tasked with replacing her, it's a challenge.

"I'm really unfortunate that I'm allergic to her determination and sheer work ethic. But that's all right, I'll try and make up for it in my own way," Latu said.

"It's no secret that we don't stay in the game for the money, because there's not enough. But the way she handled herself made me envy her a lot because she never let anyone pull her down and she was always the one to shoulder criticism and she didn't mind it and she always took it and she reinvented herself time and time again. There are so many things about that woman that still amaze me and I just wish I could be half the woman she is."

Latu hasn't tended to cop things quite so sweet. Missing out on New Zealand's 2011 world champs team, for eligibility reasons, nearly broke her.

Named, but then excluded because she was still a few weeks short of serving her four-year stand-down for playing for Samoa at the 2007 worlds, Latu was done.

"She [van Dyk] was the one that made me want to keep playing and made me want to push past my eligibility issues.

"You know, I just thought about disappearing and having a baby. Nobody would've known because I couldn't play anyway. But she was the one that made me think I could actually do this.

"So I did have attachment issues because she was my idol. Now I just want to make her proud because I'm trying to take her bib and make this all worth it."

The 27-year-old is good enough to guide her team to glory in Glasgow. Quick, brave and accurate, she's a handful for any defender. Provided she can keep her kit clean, without van Dyk around.

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"I have to do my own washing now, which is a huge burden for me. She loves doing washing, I love having my washing done."

Only one result will be acceptable for the Ferns in Glasgow. That heaps enormous pressure on the group, but Latu has issues of her own to add to the mix.

Some of the physical punishment dished out to her by Australian defenders Laura Geitz and Bianca Chatfield, in last year's Constellation Cup series, had no place on a netball court. Hardly a day goes by when Latu doesn't think about that, how she handled it then and what she might do when confronted with it again at the Commonwealth Games.

"I'm well aware that my body shape is different. But the most unfortunate part is that I'm expected to handle it a bit more because of my body shape and I disagree. No matter who you are, the rules should be the same.

"It's something I have to work on, though, because if the umpires expect I can handle more, then I have to show them that I can handle more and find more strategies around getting free, just like they [Geitz and Chatfield] are finding strategies to make it look like I'm pushing. I'm proud of the way I reacted to it. I do have a temper, I'm not going to lie, and I do think I was getting ripped off."

After the heartbreak of 2011, Latu "had a big fat cry" when coach Waimarama Taumaunu told her she was definitely going to Glasgow. It won't be a shock if there are tears again, when New Zealand begin their campaign against Malawi on July 25.

"It's been such a long wait . . . and I know everyone has their own tiny journeys, but I feel like mine was so painful and it was so long and it was a massive learning curve."

- The Dominion Post

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