With the clock for the 2023 Netball World Cup counting down, Merryn Anderson picks a likely Silver Ferns selection for the pinnacle event
The Silver Ferns have never won back-to-back Netball World Cup titles.
So it’s down to coach Dame Noeline Taurua to choose a New Zealand team capable of a rare repeat after their against-the-odds success at the 2019 World Cup.
With less than three months to the 2023 tournament, all Kiwi eyes are on the ANZ Premiership. Since there are no trials for the Silver Ferns this year, it’s all about domestic performance if players want to be on the plane to Cape Town, South Africa, come July.
From the successful 2019 team, five players are unavailable - Maria Folau, Casey Kopua, Laura Langman and Katrina Rore all retired, while Shannon Saunders is yet to return after having her first baby this year.
That leaves seven players to defend their gold medals and fight for a return spot - Karin Burger, Gina Crampton, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Phoenix Karaka, Bailey Mes, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson.
There are a few fresh faces, yet to attend a World Cup, who could already have their names on the back of a black dress (think Grace Nweke or Kate Heffernan).
A squad of 12 will be named on June 7 - three days after the ANZ Premiership final, with a further three reserve players travelling with the team.
Nations will be able to call on their reserves for the first time if one of their 12 is injured or ill, with their replacement becoming a permanent team member, and the player removed from the squad unable to return.
This creates an extra element in the selection equation - do teams pick reserves who can cover multiple positions or players who could cover specific individuals?
While we can’t read the mind of Dame Noels, we’ve made our own predictions for who might get to try and repeat the amazing feat of the Ferns of 2019.
A guaranteed choice for the goal shoot bib is Grace Nweke. She’s the most prolific goal scorer in the ANZ Premiership, scoring 598 goals so far for the Mystics at 93 percent accuracy. She’s amassed 21 Silver Ferns caps since her debut in September 2021, and was a key figure in their bronze medal win at the Commonwealth Games last year.
The rest is where it gets tricky. Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio missed out on the Commonwealth Games, still returning from the birth of her second child. But she was one of the standout players for the Ferns at the 2019 World Cup, combining with the now-retired Maria Folau to send the team home with gold. A goal attack who can shoot with both volume and accuracy from further distance, Ekenasio is also a leader and calm head in the circle.
With Nweke firmly grasping the goal shoot bib with two hands, the question is who would be the go-to as another goal shoot option. An obvious choice would be Maia Wilson, the Stars shooter having a strong season, the most accurate shooter in the ANZ Premiership, at 94 percent with her 520 goals. But not having time at goal attack for the Stars this season may hurt Wilson’s chances, as other shooters are more flexible at switching between positions in the circle.
But Taurua could go with Bailey Mes - able to cover both shooting positions plus wing attack, Mes has been having one of her best seasons with the Magic. With 87 percent accuracy, plus her athleticism in the circle when it comes to rebounds and dragging -n difficult feeds, Mes may well make her third World Cup team.
Consistent on the international scene, Tactix shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit could also be in with a chance with her 59 caps.
LockerRoom’s choice: Grace Nweke, Maia Wilson, Bailey Mes, Ameliaranne Ekenasio
Wildcard: Amelia Walmsley - The young goal shoot is proving to be a powerhouse under the hoop and is growing and learning every game. No doubt she’ll be on Taurua’s radar in the future.
The most highly debated area of the court in recent years, there are dozens of midcourters putting their hands up for selection this season.
Crampton is the only member of the 2019 World Cup team who could return to the pinnacle event, and with the Stars player having the most feeds and second-most centre pass receives in the ANZ Premiership, she is likely to take hold of that wing attack bib come July.
With no trials, connections at the domestic level are key, and thanks to the almost psychic connection between Nweke and Mystics teammate Peta Toeava, the duo might be a package deal for the trip to Cape Town.
After making her debut in just July last year, Kate Heffernan already has 15 Silver Ferns caps. Despite playing domestically for the bottom-of-the-table Southern Steel this year, she’s still been busy on both attack and defence.
The Ferns will have to choose a speedy midcourter capable of keeping up with the fast-paced Australian middies in particular, which is where Taurua may choose a less experienced player.
Maddy Gordon (six caps) and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (three caps) both fit the bill, with Gordon maybe having the extra edge, able to play wing defence as well.
There might also be space for either Whitney Souness or Claire Kersten, both with recent Ferns experience and capable of covering multiple midcourt positions.
LockerRoom’s choice: Peta Toeava, Gina Crampton, Maddy Gordon, Kate Heffernan
Wildcard: Tayla Earle - Yet to be included in the Silver Ferns, Earle’s never-ending energy and Mystics connection with Toeava and Nweke could boost her into the squad.
A player very likely to be travelling to her first World Cup is goal keep Kelly Jury. At the top of the ANZ ladder for rebounds, deflections and second for intercepts, the 1.92m player has become a mainstay of the Ferns circle as of late.
Karin Burger has Jury beaten for most intercepts this season, and with the ability to play in the circle and at wing defence, is another sure pick. Burger missed the Commonwealth Games after having surgery on her foot, and will be itching to play in her country of birth at the World Cup. With Kayla Johnson out of contention, expecting her second child, Burger will be the number one choice to slide between goal and wing defence for the Ferns.
As Sulu Fitzpatrick was sidelined for several rounds with a knee injury, Phoenix Karaka stood up for the Mystics, proving a menace to opposing shooters, and with Fitzpatrick still recovering, Karaka might have done enough for Taurua.
And after having her first baby, Jane Watson is back in action and has a great connection with Burger in the defensive circle. She always stands up against quality international opposition, and is a loud voice at the back of the court, guiding the flow of play.
LockerRoom’s choice: Karin Burger, Phoenix Karaka, Jane Watson, Kelly Jury
Wildcard: Carys Stythe - Her first year as a fully contracted player, the 19-year-old has been busy with rebounds and deflections in the circle and has a bright future - could it start in Cape Town?
*The Silver Ferns World Cup team will be named on June 7, with the tournament starting in Cape Town on July 28.