Netball World Cup: Fitness of Silver Ferns hopefuls not up to standard
The Silver Ferns are struggling for shooting options in their Netball World Cup squad because of unacceptable fitness standards.
New Zealand's 12-player squad will be revealed in Invercargill on Thursday and Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua has had a challenging job trying to name four shooters.
She revealed to Stuff their shooting options were limited because several players hadn't met basic strength and conditioning targets.
Taurua and the selectors were sweating the results of a Friday fitness test for Pulse goal shoot Aliyah Dunn, the most accurate shooter in the ANZ Premiership at 92 per cent (442 goals from 478 attempts), who hasn't achieved the criteria. Dunn missed January's Northern Quad Series for similar reasons.
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Taurua set minimum strength and conditioning requirements after taking on the Ferns' job in August, which she said weren't very onerous. She has refused to pick anyone who doesn't meet them and said it was the same for the World Cup, where the Silver Ferns play eight games in 10 days and open with five in five days.
"The majority of our ANZ [Premiership] athletes in the New Zealand squad, netball is their job. They are paid to play. Fitness component is bread and butter. I'm not prepared to make exceptions," she told Stuff.
Taurua described the standards as "below my expectation of an elite netballer, let alone an international player representing your country".
With such a hectic schedule at the World Cup, Taurua said it was imperative players could handle the fitness load. Otherwise there was a risk of injury and with just 12 players in the squad it would impact on others and leave them short-handed in certain positions.
"I'm going into the Netball World Cup with my eyes wide open. There will be no excuses.
"I'm not prepared to say after the fact that we weren't fit enough. It's been said too many times.
"We need to learn from our past campaigns and put a stake in the ground."
Strength and conditioning was crucial for shooters given the physicality they encountered from circle defenders and when competing for the ball. Shooters played in a confined space and had to repeatedly make themselves available to the ball before they could put it through the hoop.
"They will be monstered in the circle if they don't have a strong base. Standing under the post is not going to be enough."
Tactix goal shoot Ellie Bird and Mystics' teen sensation Grace Nweke, who were long shots for the World Cup squad, have both been ruled out due to the fitness component.
Nweke, a 17-year-old student at Auckland's Avondale College, is in her first year in the premiership and new to the high performance environment and strength and conditioning. Despite her stellar play in her debut season for the Mystics, she was always going to be up against it this early in her career.
Stars' goal shoot Maia Wilson's pleasing fitness improvement helped earn her a place in January's Quad Series in England. The consistency in her play and shooting accuracy has dwindled during the Stars' poor run over the back half of the season.
Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio are both certainties in the shooting end with Steel goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit looking a strong chance for a recall. Selby-Rickit has stepped up as the season has gone on and been a standout in their last three games. She was excellent against the Tactix on Wednesday, landing 20 from 21.
If Dunn doesn't make the squad, Mystics' veteran Bailey Mes appears poised for a call-up, not having played for New Zealand since the Ferns' dreadful 2018 Commonwealth Games showing, where they failed to medal for the first time, finishing fourth.
Mes, who has played 63 tests, has also had a solid second half of the season and can play both goal shoot and goal attack, which is appealing.
Taurua is also waiting on information from the Silver Ferns medical team about what kind of workload wing defence-goal defence Kayla Cullen, and defenders Kelly Jury, and Phoenix Karaka, who have all been managing injuries, could get through at the World Cup if selected.