Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: First test for playing it cool

Head coach Janine Southby delivers her message. Photo / Photosport
Head coach Janine Southby delivers her message. Photo / Photosport

The shrill squeak of 14 pairs of feet cutting, driving and pivoting on the double-sprung timber floorboards carries through the Collingwood Football Club gym.

It's the soundtrack of netball, but it seems more pronounced than usual as the Silver Ferns go about their preparations for today's Quad Series decider against Australia in Melbourne. It could be that there's an added urgency and sharpness about the team as the new-look group approach their first real test.

Or maybe it's because the glass wall that surrounds the court inside the headquarters of Melbourne's most famous AFL club creates an echo effect as the sound bounces off the surface.

Then it hits. It's because there's very little noise coming from the sidelines.

Janine Southby sits quietly behind the team's massage table, which has been fashioned into a makeshift desk, watching on expressionless while the Ferns give a local Victorian age-grade side a working over.

She scans the court assessing the combinations, which in some cases are only a week old, scrawling notes as she goes.

Every now and then, Southby comes out from behind the table to speak to a player on court, offering gentle feedback while there is a break in play. She takes aside Bailey Mes, who is still adjusting to being the key figure in the Ferns shooting end, to talk through a technical aspect, first listening to what her young charge has to be say before offering her advice.

The understated approach is a marked difference to the Silver Ferns training sessions under former coach Waimarama Taumaunu. They were fast, furious and noisy affairs, with Taumaunu firing a barrage of verbal cues from the sidelines to remind the players of their focus of the session.

"Feet, feet, feet!"

"Hands over!"

"Stay with her!"

Southby's cool, calm, considered approach is the same as the attitude she is looking to instil in her side.

"Out there on court, when they're under pressure, you can't hear what the coaches are yelling from the sidelines," she explains.

"When you had the timeouts, you had the ability to influence a little bit of what's happening out there, but they need to start doing that for themselves and that's the change in the rules that's starting to have an impact. So that's up to us to equip them by giving them opportunities to work things out for themselves, in training sometimes as well.

"But if things are getting sloppy and I think it's going to continue, then I will yell," Southby adds.

Today will be Southby's first meeting with Australia and therefore first real yardstick of where her side are at as they set about building towards pinnacle events in 2018 and 2019.

The Ferns' earlier match-ups over the series -- a 26-goal thumping of a disappointing England and a 65-46 win over the gutsy South Africans -- has brought mixed reviews of the group. Southby isn't too sure what to read into those performances either, but having looked back over the footage several times, she reckons the Ferns didn't perform as well as the score would against England, and they weren't as bad as they first thought against South Africa.

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander has inexplicably declared the Silver Ferns favourites for today's clash, reasoning her side has turned over more players since last year's World Cup. Her argument ignores the fact that a third of the Ferns squad were uncapped heading into the Quad Series, with two players still yet to get on court. Another, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, has just seven minutes of international netball to her name.

But Southby isn't so much concerned about outside expectations on her group, whether they be the public's seemingly modest ones at this point in the Ferns' development, nor Alexander's high ones.

She is interested only in the team's expectations of themselves.

"We are absolutely going out there to win. We believe we can and that's the only way to go into a game like this.

"We will need to weather the storm. They will be loud, furious and full-on. We need to just weather it and keep our heads.

"We just have to do our jobs really well. If we can stick together and work together and care for each other's skills, we'll be fine."

'Care' is a word that comes up a lot when talking to the Ferns and the management team.

Southby's first series in charge has been as much about embedding systems and establishing standards off court as on it.

When appointed to the role at the end of last year, Southby spoke passionately about wanting to build a tight, cohesive group that are respectful of the Silver Ferns legacy and what it means to wear the black dress. With many of the players still getting to know one another, she admits they are still in the early stages of that process.

Over the course of the Quad Series, team management have switched up the rooming lists, making sure the players are moved around so they get to know one another. Extra team building activities have been squeezed into an already demanding schedule for the squad, and there's a strict no phones rule at group meals.

"You've got to get to know each other. You don't have to be best buddies, but you need to understand each other and respect what they're about."

As the team wrap up their training session at the Collingwood club, Southby pulls aside captains Katrina Grant and Laura Langman, along with assistant coach Yvette McCausland-Durie, for a debrief of the session.

They return to the team to deliver their collective verdict to a captive group. You sense the players already respect what Southby is about.

- NZ Herald

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