Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: The clouds ... and the silver linings

Dana Johannsen runs the rule over the Silver Ferns.
Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant and her teammates struggled to contain the Aussies. Photo / Photosport
Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant and her teammates struggled to contain the Aussies. Photo / Photosport

Lack of consistency

The Silver Ferns were out-played by Australia in two of the four games in the Quad Series. They were blown off the court in the opening test, having looked ill-prepared for the intensity Australia would bring. They summoned all their effort to respond with a win in Tasmania, only to lose the resolve in game three. While they came ready to play in Thursday night's final test in Invercargill, rookie errors at inopportune times cost them the chance of drawing the series.

The Silver Ferns have become renowned for being able to win the odd one-off match against Australia, but haven't been able to do so consistently. Unfortunately the Quad Series only further underlined that reputation.

Losing their best player

Thursday night's 49-45 loss brought to an end one of the most remarkable individual records in New Zealand sporting history, with star midcourter Laura Langman's run of 141 consecutive tests ending. Langman will be ineligible for the Ferns next season, having taken up a contract in the Australian League in 2017.

Langman's loss will be keenly felt. She was easily New Zealand's best player this year, while the influence she has off the court is immeasurable. There is a danger the competitive gap between New Zealand and Australia will widen even further without Langman in the middle next season.

Positional shortages

The absence of versatile midcourter Kayla Cullen from the Constellation Cup exposed a previously overlooked positional shortage in New Zealand netball. Coach Janine Southby was unable to find a specialist wing defence in the country to take the place of Cullen in the squad, and instead brought in Gina Crampton - an attacking midcourter - to make up numbers.

It was Langman who plugged the gap out on court, which she did superbly, but it took her away from the centre position. Anna Harrison also filled the role with less success, and it meant taking her out of the goal circle, where she had a huge impact.

Building depth

Partly through circumstance and partly through design, Southby laid strong foundations as she builds towards the pinnacle events in 2018 and 2019 by exposing a raft of new combinations to the international environment . Five players - Jane Watson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Storm Purvis, Maia Wilson and Gina Crampton - debuted for the Silver Ferns this season - that's the most debutants they've had in one year since 1994, when six new players were brought into the mix.

Developed strong shooting options

The biggest area of development for the Ferns was in the shooting end - an area where the Ferns have traditionally struggled.

In the absence of star shooter Maria Tutaia, who was sidelined with a foot injury for all but the final two tests of the season, two other players stepped forward.

Ameliaranne Ekenasio shone through the early stages of the season, stringing together breakthrough performances in the Quad Series. Then, when a family bereavement and niggly injuries stalled Ekenasio's progress, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, playing in her debut season, emerged. The net result is the Ferns now have three strong options at goal attack.

Limiting the Diamonds' opportunities

While the Diamonds retained the Constellation Cup, the Silver Ferns will take some satisfaction in what the Australians weren't able to do across the course of the series.

Coach Lisa Alexander had limited opportunities to trial new combinations and blood young players against their toughest international rivals.

Diamonds stand-in skipper Clare McMeniman played every minute of the series, despite signalling her intention to retire at the end of the year, while we saw the same midcourt combination in all four matches.

- NZ Herald

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