Dame Noeline Taurua has got plenty to consider heading into the new year.
With the Covid-19 pandemic ending the hope for a series against Australia later in 2021, the makeshift Cadbury Series against an Aotearoa Men's has served a terrific purpose.
Last night, the Silver Ferns went down to the men's side, suffering a 57-53 loss. However, having won the first two games of the series, it provided an opportunity for a bit of freedom and experimentation ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2022.
There's no guarantee the Silver Ferns will get any more international netball under their belts before the Commonwealth Games, so the past three matches – played across three nights as to get the side accustomed with the intense tournament-like format – were vital for the team.
"I know what I've got and what I haven't, and where the gaps are and the things we need to work on, so from that perspective it's so valuable for us to get out on court," Taurua told Sky Sport after last night's match.
"There's still a bit of work to do, but also honouring the opposition as well. I thought it was a great exhibition."
With experienced campaigners Jane Watson, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Sulu Fitzpatrick among those unavailable for the series, the opportunity was there for rising stars to stake their claims to a place in the squad to play in Birmingham in the not so distant future.
The Commonwealth Games are set to be held in July, and Taurua said she was hopeful the Silver Ferns would at least get to play another series against the men before then, if nothing else eventuated in terms of international matches.
"I think, especially in these times, it's really uncertain and we don't know what the plan is moving forward," she told Sky Sport.
"We've got a camp in November. So, depending if the Quad Series goes ahead, we'll be preparing for that – so hopefully we'll have another couple of camps before next year happens."
There were plenty of positives for the Silver Ferns in this week's series against the Aotearoa Men's team, particularly the play of defensive duo Kelly Jury and Karin Burger, who played every minute of the physical series and disrupted the opposition attack constantly. With Fitzpatrick and Watson still to return to the squad, there is a whole lot to like about how the defensive third shapes up for the Ferns ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
In the shooting circle, young duo Grace Nweke and Tiana Metuarau impressed in what has been as area of concern for the Silver Ferns in recent times. During their series against the England Roses, the Silver Ferns had a lower shooting percentage than their opposition in all three matches. While the English shooters were often converting higher than 90 per cent of their attempts, the highest conversion rate for the New Zealanders was Metuarau's 90 per cent in the second contest.
Running at goal attack in the second and third matches for the series against the men this week, Metuarau showed no signs of an injury that saw he come into camp under a probable minutes restriction as she moved freely up and down the court impacting the play on both attack and defence. Nweke showed some strong play under the hoop, converting at 85 per cent for the series on 100 attempts, but also out-rebounding the opposition defenders convincingly.
Ekenasio and Maia Wilson were the first-choice pairing earlier in the year when the Silver Ferns met Australia, and worked very well in tandem – which showed in Wilson's high conversion rate. However, the remaining attacking spots in the team could be heavily contested in the coming months as the Silver Ferns look to shore up that aspect of their game.
In the midcourt, there are options aplenty. Gina Crampton was a revelation at wing attack with her non-stop movement, patience and ability to pick the right passes, and was ably assisted by 21-year-old rookie Maddy Gordon at centre who looks to be a shining prospect for the future. At wing defence, usual centre Claire Kersten showed her versatility in the midcourt, while veteran Shannon Saunders made a big impact when she was injected into the game.
Add them into the mix with the likes of Samantha Winders and Kimiora Poi, who impressed throughout the England series, among others, and Taurua will have the pick of a special bunch when the time comes to select the Commonwealth Games squad.