The Silver Ferns are reeling following the news Grace Nweke’s Netball World Cup is over due to a right knee injury.
Scans revealed a partial tear in her patella tendon, meaning Tiana Metuarau has been called in as a replacement. New Zealand rallied in response, posting an 83-34 thrashing of Wales to move a step closer to the semifinals.
Maia Wilson stepped into the goal shoot bib, producing an MVP performance with 49 goals at 100 per cent accuracy.
Nweke was nowhere to be seen, left distraught in her hotel room.
Captain Ameliranne Ekenasio said it has been a turbulent 12 hours.
“Lots of emotions and lots of tears as well. We’ve always been really big on it being the full 15 of us. Also for us, we don’t have time. We have to move so that’s really big for us. We’ve got to do it together because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to do it.
“Things happen in teams and it was either going to push us apart or pull us together. We were always big on ‘this is going to pull us together’. But we had to do it for GG [Nweke], for Tiana, for us. We haven’t done the amount of work we’ve done to let it slip here.”
Wilson said the team was rallying around Nweke.
“It has been a very sombre camp. Very emotionally-driven. It’s hard when you see one of your mates go down, someone who is a very pivotal pillar in our team. But we have a job to do.”
The Silver Ferns showed no sense of panic on court against Wales, despite only learning of Nweke’s misfortune three hours earlier.
With Nweke gone, goal-shooting responsibilities at the tournament will rest on the shoulders of Wilson and Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who produced standout performances against Uganda and Singapore.
Wilson is adamant she is up to the challenge of taking on the big guns later in the tournament.
“I’ve been able to test myself against the likes of Australia, England and Jamaica before and feel like I’ve been able to come out on top. It’s nothing more or less that I prepared for. It’s the exact same way and I’m just looking forward to what comes.”
New Zealand have a day off before consecutive encounters against South Africa and Jamaica on Thursday morning and night (NZT).
A win in either of those games will secure them a semifinal berth.
Coach Dame Noeline Taurua is relishing the pressure as they head into must-win games.
“It’s all on. This is what it’s all about. This is what we live for - the business end. One thing we always say is we want to enjoy the moment. We don’t want to be so caught up in the pressure and expectations. We’re here to play to win.”
The tournament hosts - led by former Australia coach Norma Plummer - have suffered just one loss so far, 67-49 to Jamaica.
The 2019 World Cup-winning coach admits she does not enjoy the tactical battle against Plummer.
“She scares the s*** out of me! She’s awesome. She’s one of the best. She’s a legend and I’ve got so much respect for her.”
Taurua said it is not just the Proteas they’ll have to contend with, but their raucous home fans.
“I’m not too sure who scares me the most! It’s going to be vocal out there. I think their last game [against Jamaica] they may not have been happy with what they put out cause I know they’re actually a better team. It’s all on.”