Sport, best of the year: 10 The Silver Ferns

By David Leggat

Played eight, won eight. Just as the All Blacks suffer when some of their opponents are written off as lightweights, so it is with the country's best netballers.

For years, the only game in this particular town has been New Zealand v Australia. But don't blame the Silver Ferns for that.

This year they beat England (who are decent but a notch or two behind) 3-0 in a home series. The first and third internationals were won by 18 and 15 goals, the second in Wellington was a blowout, 74-30.

Then the big one, or one-two. Australia were beaten 50-43 in June in Sydney, then thumped 61-36 at Waitakere. It was a record victory over the old enemy. A bit like the All Blacks dusting the Wallabies by 60 points.

Sure, Australia are in a trough by the standards of the past few years, and the new faces don't have the same surehandedness, tenacity and bloodymindedness of their predecessors.

At the same time, the Silver Ferns are on a roll.

Irene van Dyk and Vilimaina Davu dominate their ends of the court, the likes of captain Adine Wilson, Temepara George and Belinda Colling are high-quality operators and newcomers like Laura Langman and Casey Williams look like cementing themselves for the foreseeable future.

Van Dyk is perhaps the most dominant figure in New Zealand team sport. Without her goals, games are not won. This year she was an unstoppable force.

There's an argument that coach Ruth Aitken should experiment by putting van Dyk on the bench for the odd quarter against the Australians; that she won't be around forever and best Aitken take a glimpse at life post-van Dyk.

The world champions will defend their title in Fiji in 2007. They should be at the peak of their powers.

But a little insurance would not hurt. An injury to van Dyk could be potentially disastrous. Apart from her goals, van Dyk gives a feeling of confidence to the rest of the team. Taking them out of that comfort zone for periods against tough opposition might be beneficial.

Then again, Aitken and her assistant, Leigh Gibbs, have got most things right since taking over in 2001. It's a good time to be a netball fan.

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