Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Maria Tutaia back from injury, but needing to shake rust

Maria Tutaia has returned from injury but admits she now has a long road ahead as she tries to shake the rust. Photo / Photosport
Maria Tutaia has returned from injury but admits she now has a long road ahead as she tries to shake the rust. Photo / Photosport

The pain is gone, now Maria Tutaia just needs to deal with the rust.

After being sidelined for two months with a painful foot injury, the star shooter made her Silver Ferns comeback on Saturday night when she took the court at halftime in game three of the Constellation Cup. Her international return to the court didn't go as she had hoped, as the Ferns collapsed to a 62-50 loss to the Diamonds after tiring badly over the back half of the match.

Tutaia admitted she struggled with the pace and intensity of the game, making her transition into the Ferns new-look attack end less fluid than she hoped.

But the 102-test veteran said she had to be realistic about what to expect given she hasn't taken the court since early July. It had been even longer still since Tutaia last wore the black dress, having not played for New Zealand since their heartbreaking defeat in the 2015 World Cup final.

"It was a bit rusty for me, it wasn't the performance I would like to have come back on, but knowing that I haven't been around for a long, long time, coming into this environment where there are new players, new coaches was always going to be tough," said Tutaia.

"I haven't even jogged for the last two months, so I knew my legs were going to feel heavy. Conditioning-wise it's about becoming a lot fitter, and being able to handle the knocks for a full game."

The star shooter said she was pleased with the way her foot pulled up after her 30 minutes on court, with no further flare-ups.

"I felt really comfortable. Obviously I still have to be quite diligent with my recovery and my rehab stuff after the game, but all in all I was really happy with how I came through it."

"I need to get this right for the remainder of the year, because I don't want to start next year still dealing with this niggle."

Tutaia has returned to a much more competitive environment than the one she left, with two players putting their hands up for the goal attack role in the star shooter's absence. Pulse shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio was one of the stars last month's Quad Series campaign, while more recently Te Paea Selby-Rickit has come to the forefront following a breakthrough performance in the Ferns 53-51 win over Australia in game two.

Tutaia said she has been excited to see the growth of the attacking unit while she has been away.

"It's been great to be a part of and the challenge for me is just being able to grow and help this team as much as I can," she said.

"It's been so promising to see the likes of [Ekenasio] and [Selby-Rickit] just take it. I guess the depth in New Zealand over the past couple of years was quite worrying, because there were no players coming through in that GA spot. And to see those two really nailing it, and Janine and Yvette have done a really good job of interchanging them, so it's great competition."

- NZ Herald

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