The Silver Ferns will no longer have to combat a formidable midcourt foe this year after Australian captain Natalie von Bertouch's shock decision to retire after leading the Adelaide Thunderbirds to their second trans-Tasman netball crown last weekend.
Von Bertouch, who played 76 times for Australia, was expected to be named when Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander named her squad for the 2013 international programme tomorrow, but the 30-year-old pre-empted that announcement today by announcing the end of her impressive career.
Troubled by injuries in recent seasons, von Bertouch signed off in style by guiding the Thunderbirds to a 50-48 victory over the Queensland Firebirds in Adelaide on Sunday.
She made her test debut against the Silver Ferns in 2004 and steered Australia to world championship gold at New Zealand's expense in Singapore two years ago, one of her 16 matches as captain.
Von Bertouch was also a member of the victorious world championship team in 2007 and also won two Commonwealth Games silver medals.
Foot and finger injuries forced her to miss eight of the Diamonds' last 18 tests and she also endured another interrupted campaign with the Thunderbirds this year.
"I've made this decision because I could no longer contribute to the team in the way that I wanted after injuries have limited my court time," she said.
"Obviously it's going to be a huge change for me because netball is everything I've known since I was 9."
Von Bertouch said she now was looking forward to overseas travel and planning her wedding to partner Jace Bode.
Alexander described von Bertouch's retirement as a huge loss for Australian netball with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2015 world championships in Sydney looming.
"She will go down as one of the best players this country has ever produced.
"Nat probably played her best games for the year in the finals for Adelaide and she went out on top."
Alexander still has several midcourt options, though none boast von Bertouch's experience.
Madison Browne and Kimberlee Green are seasoned campaigners with background at centre while talented rookies Ashleigh Brazill and Kimberley Ravaillion are also being developed in the Australian system.
The annual Constellation Cup opens the international programme in September when New Zealand host tests in Invercargill and Auckland before the three remaining fixtures are held in Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra in October.
- © Fairfax NZ News