2013 review: Silver Ferns fail their major test

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2013
Cathrine Latu
Getty Images
AUSSIE ANTICS: Bancia Chatfield (left) and Laura Geitz of the Diamonds react after a contest with Cathrine Latu of the Silver Ferns.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is an apt description for the Silver Ferns' year.

They did a professional job on Malawi and the FastNet Ferns retained their World Netball Series title in style, but New Zealand's flagship team had one real assignment this year and failed it.

One-nil up in their Constellation Cup series with Australia, the Silver Ferns then surrendered four tests on the trot, to hand back a trophy they'd won for the first time the year before.

Let's start with the good stuff.

New Zealand unearthed some depth, in the form of an old stager and a selection of last resort.

Cathrine Latu's long been on the domestic and international scene, without ever doing much to suggest she demanded inclusion in the Silver Ferns' best side.

Never fit enough and always reluctant to stray from her comfort zone beneath the post, Latu was a luxury rather than a necessity in the team. But, after a shameful season with the Northern Mystics, Latu reported for national duty in good nick and then had a stroke of luck fall her way.

Often a bit self-conscious on court, getting bashed by Australia's Bianca Chatfield and Laura Geitz turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to Latu. Diffidence was suddenly replaced by determination, as she sought to show the Diamonds that she wouldn't be pushed about.

Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu wasn't the only person to notice. Irene van Dyk saw it too and her superb performance in the final test against Malawi confirmed that New Zealand have the two best allround goal shoots in the game.

The other unexpected positive for the team was Shannon Francois. A bench player at the Southern Steel, Francois was well down the national pecking order when the season started.

But as injuries whittled down New Zealand's midcourt depth, it was the pharmacist from Gore that Taumaunu turned to and with heartening results. With Millie Lees and Kayla Cullen set to return to the midcourt mix, and Joline Henry back to her belligerent best, the Silver Ferns have options.

Provided everyone plays well. Too many Ferns went missing in big moments this year. Basic skills let them down and they really did give the Constellation Cup away, rather than have it taken from them. At times they were just plain bad, unfortunately.

They must be harder on themselves as individuals and more demanding of their team-mates if they are to avoid gifting away the Commonwealth Games title too.

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For ugly, look no further than Geitz. Beloved by Australians, she's no-one's sweetheart here and her tactics and behaviour have soured relations between the teams. Netballers tend to be a pretty forgiving bunch, but there are a few grudges held where Geitz is concerned.

Domestically, none of New Zealand's franchise teams were especially good. A couple showed promise, two fell away badly and one's simply poor, which meant there was too much mediocrity for any to mount a challenge for the trans-Tasman League crown.

- The Dominion Post

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