The Silver Ferns will need near-perfect goal shoots to defend the Netball World Cup. Merryn Anderson looks at how the contenders are shaping up and why accuracy has become even more critical to success.
What’s the equation to win a Netball World Cup? Twelve players, one coach, 10 days of competition - plus one 100 percent shooter?
After five rounds of the ANZ Premiership, the three teams at the top of the ladder - the Mystics, Stars and Tactix - are the three teams with the most accurate and prominent goal shooters.
The Mystics’ Grace Nweke sits pretty at the top of the shooting ladder, with 270 goals from 285 attempts, at an impressive 95 percent accuracy.
She shot a perfect game against the Stars in round four, slotting all of her 46 attempts. The Mystics won by three goals, despite the Stars shooters putting up eight more shots.
The Silver Ferns' other regular goal shoot, Maia Wilson, is not far behind Nweke in accuracy this season - banking 246 of her 261 attempts for the Stars, at 94 percent accuracy.
When it comes to international netball, a highly accurate goal shoot has become more and more critical to a team's success.
Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua says for this year's Netball World Cup campaign, she's looking for goal shooters who can score 40 goals, at 90 percent-plus accuracy.
“For us to be international or mixing it with the big teams, we need to have our shooters in the 40s plus,” she says. Being available for the ball against man-on-man defence is another key trait they need from their goal shoots.
And as for goal attacks, Taurua wants players who shoot somewhere in the range of 20 goals in the ANZ Premiership - around half of what's expected from a goal shoot.
“We know that gets considerably less - probably around the 15 - when we play international, because of the workload," Taurua says.
“Mainly because they play higher up in the circle, so you’ve got that centre pass connection, but their main role is the inside-outside link, the secondary shooters. So you’re looking at obviously accuracy, volume, plus also their ability to work the ball or connection into the circle.”
That's quite a different philosophy than at the last World Cup when the Silver Ferns won the world title with two shooters sharing the load in most cases.
The Netball World Cup in Cape Town starts in late July, and the Silver Ferns aren’t hosting trials for the team. So the ANZ Premiership is the last chance for players to put their hands up for selection.
Taurua says they’ve been building for a long time towards the pinnacle event, so the lack of trials isn’t a concern.
“Over the last two years, we’ve been looking to provide opportunities for international experience or exposure to as many players in our Silver Ferns and Silver Ferns development squad as possible,” she says.
“To some degree, we’ve been forced to go into that due to either pregnancy or injuries, but also it’s been a strategic decision, to know we had to build towards the Netball World Cup this year.
“The idea was to get as many people out on court who were ready and then pretty much use this ANZ to measure or see what those shifts have been within their own team and also around the individual skillsets.”
Four-cap Silver Fern Aliyah Dunn has continued her form in the south, after moving from the Pulse to the Tactix this season.
Dunn is the other dominant goal shoot to have recorded a perfect game this season, shooting 43 from 43 against the Magic - one day after Nweke’s perfect performance.
Former Silver Ferns shooter Donna Wilkins has been working with the Tactix this year, and says Dunn’s contribution to the team is vital.
“It’s massive for us, not only having a shooter who can shoot those sort of percentages, but also wanting the ball,” she says.
“It makes it so much easier for the feeders and also our goal attacks, Te Paea [Selby-Rickit] or Vika [Koloto], coming in and knowing they’ve got a shooter behind them putting up the shots.”
The Tactix are also fortunate to have the experienced Selby-Rickit, a more dominant goal attack who takes the longer shots with confidence.
“You’re not always going to have the perfect game so you need that other person to be able to shoot,” says Wilkins.
“I think it’s important to have two shooters who can shoot from anywhere and aren’t afraid to put up those shots.”
Both Taurua and Wilkins believe the ANZ Premiership teams with a dominant, accurate goal shooter will be at the top of the leaderboard this year.
“Obviously you get 50 percent of ball through the centre pass, so you want to make sure your shooters have the ability to put those opportunities through the hoop straight away,” Taurua explains.
“But also the bonus happens where your defence are turning over ball, so if you don’t have both ends sorted, then it really puts that emphasis back on those shooters. So every time they get the ball in hand, they’ve got to put it through the hoop - hence having a 90 percent shooter is definitely important.
“You'll see with all the stats of all the international shooters, the world-class shooters are all up in those numbers, 40 plus, 90 percent accuracy.”
Wilkins adds that it benefits the whole team.
“It’s a real lift to a team when you can get the possession - you get an intercept and you get it down the other end and you see it go through the net,” she says.
“When I was a shooter, if someone got an intercept, you'd want to score it for them - it’s a huge lift to a team when shooters can do that.”
Often a thorn in the Silver Ferns’ game plan over the last few years, Jamaica’s Jhaniele Fowler has been shooting up a storm in Australia’s domestic league - not missing a goal in her first two games for the West Coast Fever.
Her first miss came in her third game of the season, after 146 consecutive goals without a single miss (this broke a record set by New Zealand’s Cathrine Tuivaiti during her time at the Mystics).
Having such a dominant, tall shooter creates issues for the opposing defence, who need to disrupt the ball before it reaches the shooter under the net.
“I think in contrast, that’s also what I’m looking for,” coach Taurua says. “Those defenders who can combat those shooters who are shooting high percentages, but also have the variation of skillsets to disrupt the flow of the ball.
“So for example if I’m looking at Grace [Nweke], obviously she’s tall but you need a defender who can move in and around her to stop that link into the circle.
“The majority of the time, when you’ve got shooters with high percentage like that, it’s an automatic count that once they get the ball in the circle, it’s gonna go through the net. So it’s that disruption that happens to the pass or on the shot that’s really important.”
But it’s a team effort, and the equation for a World Cup winning team needs all seven players on court to be connected.
“As a selector, I’m looking at feeders as well - is their service of the ball to their shooters putting them in shooting position?” says Taurua.
“That connection makes a difference to their flow or their ability to turn and make that shot.
“It’s not just a matter of throwing the ball to them, where there’s no calculative or strategic approach to that pass. It’s how you can service your shooters as easy as possible.”
The ANZ Premiership table is tight after five rounds, with the Southern Steel so far the only team yet to have registered a win.
The Steel (home to Jhaniele Fowler for five seasons) were dealt a tough blow before their 2023 season started - their key goal shoot, English import George Fisher, ruled out with an ACL injury. Fellow goal shoot Saviour Tui is also recovering from injury, and had limited game time for the first few rounds.
The team have had to adapt their game plan, used to feeding a dominant and accurate goal shoot, and now working with more moving, lower volume shooters who are used to playing a more supporting role in the circle.
“When I look at the Steel with George Fisher, they’ve had to rejig now and they’re sort of starting to settle,” Taurua says, after the Steel came within five goals of the Magic last week.
“And probably with Saviour coming back in, quite a high percentage shooter, you should probably see a bit more settle in that Southern team."
Taurua says it’s difficult for a side to adjust without an experienced goal shooter who can hold down the circle.
The Steel lost to the Mystics by 16 goals in their most recent game, despite having only one less attempt at goal than the victors. The Steel shared shots between their goal shoot and goal attack, contrasting with the Mystics, where Nweke was dominant again, shooting 47 from 48.
It’s a theme that’s running through the ANZ Premiership, and might be the key to winning the Netball World Cup.