Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Netball: Brown's mother of all comebacks

Former Silver Fern Jodi Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Former Silver Fern Jodi Brown. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Whether she makes the cut or not when the Silver Ferns squad is named, Jodi Brown's comeback story is one of the more remarkable of 2012.

The Steel shooter has been in the international wilderness since 2007, after stepping down from the top level to start a family. During that time, she has played in the ANZ Championship for the Tactix, Magic and Steel, as well as having two children.

After she turned down the opportunity to play at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games (Brown was earmarked for the 12-player squad before pulling out for family reasons), most assumed that was the end of her international career. But she is in contention for a spot in the Silver Ferns team announced tomorrow.

"I was very nervous when I got off the plane [to come into camp]," says Brown, "I thought, 'what the hell am I doing and why am I doing this?' There were jokes going round that a lot of the girls would never have known that I was a Fern. A lot of things have changed and moved on with the times but after a while, it is like hopping on a bike again - though everything seems faster and stronger."

The 31-year-old has no regrets about her time away. She had been in the national system for 10 years, going through "numerous highs and lows in terms of injury and non-selection" and decided it was time to put family first. It was hard to watch the drama that unfolded in Delhi - "as a netballer, you wanted to be there"- but ultimately she is at peace with that decision.

Brown has committed to the next four-year cycle (concluding in Sydney at the 2015 world championships) and a huge motivation is Glasgow and the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She was a last-minute injury withdrawal from the 2006 Games in Melbourne.

"After the disappointment of 2006, that is one thing left on my netball career," says Brown. "[The Commonwealth Games] is something that I still haven't achieved and it is a driving force for me wanting to be here. I've heard all about the offcourt experiences that go with the Games and to win a medal would be amazing."

Compared to the last time she was in the national squad, Brown says her conditioning has improved significantly: "I'm a lot fitter now - you have to be fitter, stronger and faster and I think that has finally sunk into my brain. I've been doing extra work, I have more base fitness and I'm able to create more on court."

"I think she is moving better [than 2007]," says Ferns coach Wai Taumaunu.

"I'm comparing what I can see now with what I recall but I remember in 2007 she got a bit caught not being able to get free and it is not as noticeable now. Both her brain and her physical conditioning help her to be more available.

"She has always had the ability to put the ball into space and open things up. She reads the game very well and has a beautiful shot and technique, though she probably hasn't been as accurate as she has wanted to be recently."

Brown can play as a stand alone goal shoot, though almost all her 28 caps have been in the goal attack bib. Her vision and range of passing sets her apart from most other goal attacks in the country. Taumaunu will need to see what she has to offer in the international arena sooner rather than later. Julianna Naoupu would be unlucky to miss out, after her stellar season with the Magic, but the 22-year-old has time on her side and will only get better. Paula Griffin has had a few chances and has yet to fully convince at this level, while Anna Thompson is being considered as a wing attack.

Brown has also played with many of the current team, including Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman and Casey Williams, and that was evident at the trials last week.

She slotted in seamlessly and was quick to adapt to the various combinations that Taumaunu put on the court.

Taumaunu was reluctant to give much away but spoke highly of the experienced attacker: "We have to go with form; the New Zealand netball team is about the best team this country has to offer and the older players are part of that.

- Herald on Sunday

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