A 61-goal rout of Singapore completed the Silver Ferns' first stage of the Netball World Cup. But it only gets harder from here, Merryn Anderson reports.
Just like that, the first stage of the 2023 Netball World Cup is over. While the scorelines show no surprises, the matches have provided plenty for the Silver Ferns to think about.
And maybe one player to be concerned about.
As expected, the Ferns notched up three wins from three games, beating Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Singapore to finish top of their pool in Cape Town.
After beating Trinidad and Tobago by 49 goals (76-27), set up nicely by a 23-2 first quarter run, the Ferns’ first challenge came against the world number 8 team, Uganda, on Saturday.
Despite the eventual 10-goal margin, the Ferns had to work hard for the victory. The margin was only two at the first quarter break, which then extended to just four at half-time.
The Kiwi shooting quartet finished with just one more attempt than the Ugandans in the 54-44 match, but had an impressive 93 percent accuracy between them, compared with Uganda’s 77 percent.
In their final pool match on Sunday night, the Ferns faced Singapore, ranked 28th in the world. It was always going to be their easiest game, and the Ferns generally had no trouble finding their shooters and picking up plenty of ball on defence.
They finished with their biggest margin yet, winning by 61 goals and limiting Singapore to only 39 attempts. The 80-19 win also was the game with their lowest turnover rate, with only 10 (to Singapore’s 31).
So who will coach Dame Noeline Taurua choose as her preferred starting seven from here on in?
Te Paea Selby-Rickit had a standout game against Singapore, playing a full 60 minutes and shooting 49 from 51, with two offensive rebounds. But she faces a much harder challenge in the matches to come, potentially up against some world class defence with the likes of South Africa's Karla Pretorius and Jamaica's Shamera Sterling.
Most fans would have been backing Grace Nweke to start at goal shoot, but the 1.93m shooter came off in the third quarter against Singapore after only eight minutes of play, looking in a fair amount of discomfort and getting treatment to her knee.
The tweak to her knee could be of some concern this week, as the Ferns come up against the height of the Jamaican defence, so Taurua may choose to rest her for the game against Wales.
Maia Wilson and captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio have both proven capable of playing goal shoot and goal attack and provide different styles of play - Ekenasio with a high, silky smooth shot and Wilson strength and accuracy in the circle.
Sometimes an area of concern for the Ferns, their shooting accuracy has been excellent so far - with 92 percent, 93 percent and 90 percent for their first three games.
The rest of the court doesn’t make it any easier for Taurua to choose, potentially coming out of the first games with more questions than answers.
Phoenix Karaka, the MVP for the game against Uganda, has stood up in the defensive circle, taking nine gains and four intercepts in three quarters against Singapore, and could find herself in the starting line-up for the games to come.
Kelly Jury has been seen at wing defence for the Ferns, with fair success. The 1.92m in-circle defender’s height is an asset, especially for the Ferns’ trademark zone defence.
However, against a team with a speedy midcourt who favour the man-on-man style, Taurua may want to play Maddy Gordon or Kate Heffernan in that position. Jury may also be needed to sit back at goal keep against any teams with a tall, dominant goal shoot, like Jamaica’s Jhaniele Fowler (or Romelda Aiken-George).
Taurua could also lean on the combination of Jane Watson and Karin Burger in the defensive circle - the duo play together at the Tactix in the ANZ Premiership and both picked up an MVP award in the first stages of the tournament.
Never one to mince her words, Taurua had plenty to criticise from their win over Singapore, telling Sky Sport she was “a bit grumpy” after that game.
“There was good stuff but I also don’t think the intent was at the level I would have expected,” she explained.
Taurua thought the Ferns gained plenty of ball on defence, but didn’t have the intensity or ruthlessness they’ll need in the next games.
The Ferns will play Wales, South Africa and Jamaica in the next stage of the World Cup, before the semifinals start.
One loss won't rule them out of the semifinals, which will come as a relief with the threat of the Jamaican team. The Sunshine Girls disposed of Sri Lanka 105-25, Wales 75-40, and hosts South Africa 67-49, and have a wealth of strength throughout the court.
England and Australia also remain undefeated, one of whom will likely face the Ferns in a semifinal this weekend.
* The Silver Ferns play Wales this evening, at 9pm NZT. They then face South Africa at 4am on Thursday, and Jamaica at 9pm that evening. Catch all games of the Netball World Cup live on Sky Sport.