Bidwell: An uphill struggle for the Silver Ferns

17:00, Aug 04 2014

Can the Silver Ferns win again this year?

No, really. On the back of what you saw from the two-time defending champions at the Commonwealth Games, how many of October's six tests against Australia and England do you think they might win?

It would be nice to think they'd prevail in the two against England and maybe sneak the game at Invercargill, which begins the four-match Constellation Cup series with the Diamonds.

But that's with your hopeful hat on. If you're honest with yourself, then you'd have to concede there's a chance they'll win none of them.

England should've beaten the Silver Ferns in January. Instead coach Anna Mayes made some daft substitutions and England dropped their bundle. That cost them the belief required to finish the job they'd started so well, in Saturday's Commonwealth Games semifinal.

But you fear it's a matter of time until they begin regularly defeating a New Zealand team that can't get the ball to their shooters, nor put it through the hoop.

Yes, it's perhaps a little unfair to judge Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu on the Glasgow sample alone. The pair weren't right and then couldn't be completely relied upon come the knockout matches.

Again, though, put your hand on your heart and list all the times Tutaia has played well in recent years. Or at least as well as she used to, in the days she had a reliable goal shoot by her side and hit long shots in her sleep.

Irene van Dyk retired; she and coach Waimarama Taumaunu were adamant about that, so you have to take them at their word. Van Dyk had been a Silver Fern 15 years but, lest we forget, is South African.

Three of our trans-Tasman Netball League franchises had imported shooters again this season. It would've been four, if some at the Central Pulse had their way and Caitlin Thwaites was kept on.

Jodi Brown did the bulk of the Silver Ferns' shooting in Glasgow. As it stands, she doesn't have a franchise for next year.

With no van Dyk to pick, Ellen Halpenny got a trip away and, due to injury, played more minutes than was preferable. Halpenny shot at 66 per cent against Jamaica, 67 against England. Brown went at 78 and 80 in those games, before posting 11 goals from 16 attempts in the 58-40 defeat to Australia in the final.

Taumaunu and company had years to plan for the day van Dyk wasn't around and this is what they came up with? There's nothing coming from below, either, and nor will there be while quick fixes like Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, Jo Harten and Mwai Kumwenda plug holes in our franchise teams.

One of the knocks on van Dyk was that she didn't present for the ball. Sure she ran around a lot, but the feeders couldn't find her.

Problem is they're still searching for Latu, Tutaia, Brown and Halpenny as well. Even if the Silver Ferns had shot at 100 per cent in the Commonwealth Games final, they'd still have lost by four goals.

Australia had 10 more attempts than they did and this in a sport when you're guaranteed 50 per cent possession.

Our national team is blessed to have Leana de Bruin, Casey Kopua, Joline Henry and Laura Langman. These are hard women, brave and consistent performers, players driven to succeed. But they couldn't carry the whole team.

Given another year to get fit, Liana Leota ought to be more of a contributor at the 2015 World Cup. Otherwise the wing attack cupboard is full of nearlies but not quites.

But it all comes down to what happens in that shooting circle. Nerve deserted New Zealand's shooters in Glasgow and there were too many times when the last thing they wanted was the ball.

It's a shocking job, for which few people are suited at the top level. Taumaunu might be searching a while.


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