Looking at this year's international netball season strictly as a numbers game, the Silver Ferns are still a long way off hitting the jackpot.

They finished the year with an unsatisfactory five-win, six-loss record in a season which included series losses to Australia and, more worryingly, a composite World Seven selection.

But coach Ruth Aitken had always pigeon-holed 2009 as a year of development - building player skills, establishing combinations and connections, improving mental and physical resilience. The long-term goals were what mattered, she emphasised, with the defence of their Commonwealth Games title in New Delhi next year, and the 2011 world championships in Singapore, the main priorities.

To that end, some short-term pain was acceptable, given the potential for long-term gain.

Unfortunately, the pain began immediately, and it wasn't just the team suffering. Loyal fans had to endure two stuttering losses to a World Seven combination which had barely four days to prepare for the first test in late August.

The Silver Ferns were without midcourter Julie Seymour, the veteran calling her career to an end with her fourth child on the way in 2010. But they had picked up Temepara George after two years' self-imposed exile from international netball, and were expected to lose little.

However, shortcomings in the links between players, a tendency to turn over too much ball, and an uncharacteristically tentative defensive effort saw the New Zealanders fall 44-48 and 44-53 to the World Seven.

The third test looked set to head the same way as the Silver Ferns trailed at going into the final quarter, but a gritty final 15 minutes saw them pull away to a 46-41 win.

Things looked even better after a 53-50 win over perennial rivals Australia in Sydney a week later, giving them a 1-0 lead in the five-test series.

Midcourter Liana Barrett-Chase was forced out of the rest of the series with a calf injury and New Zealand struggled in the following two tests on Australian soil, falling 44-48 in Melbourne and 33-36 in Brisbane.

Back on home territory, and in front of a vocal Invercargill crowd, the Silver Ferns lost the fourth test 46-47, showing commendable grit but falling one fightback short.

Three days later in Auckland, with veteran goal shoot Irene van Dyk celebrating her 100th test cap for New Zealand - adding to her earlier 72 for South Africa - the Silver Ferns finally put together a complete game.

They dominated all phases of play to win 52-36, finally giving Aitken the team effort she had been looking for all season.

As the year drew to a close, the Silver Ferns' extended international calendar included a little light relief with the new-look FastNet world netball series in Manchester.

The competition, held in October, included world netball's top six sides who played a rapid-fire version of the game.

Each match comprised four six-minute quarters, with rolling substitutions allowed and goals scored outside the circle worth two points. Each team nominated one quarter as a power play, where goals are worth double, and goals scored outside the circle are worth four.

The Silver Ferns struggled to hit consistent form at the event, downing Malawi, Samoa and Jamaica but losing to England and Australia in pool play. However, once they made the semifinals, the battle-weary New Zealanders really hit form.

The world champion Australian team were soundly thumped 27-17 in the semifinal before the Silver Ferns took the title 32-27 against Jamaica, who had earlier downed the unbeaten England team 33-22 in their semifinal.

The win delighted the team, but Aitken expressed reservation about injecting any of the rules into orthodox netball, saying she still preferred the sterner test of the hour-long game: "From a coach's point of view, I really like the cat and mouse element over 60 minutes."

She had three more opportunities to test her team's mettle over the extended version of the game after the Manchester tournament, with a one-off test against England followed by two difficult matches against Jamaica in Kingston.

All three games stretched the Silver Ferns' developing resilience to the limit, with the English match forced into extra time after the New Zealanders shelled a four-goal lead in the final quarter and the scores were tied 51-51 at the final whistle.

They regrouped and fought back to win 65-59, a satisfying result which carried on into their first test against Jamaica where they downed the home team, brimful of confidence after an upset win over Australia, 61-56.

But in an anti-climactic end to the season, the Silver Ferns wilted two days later to a 53-50 loss to Jamaica, leaving Aitken to acknowledge her team still had some work to do before next year's defence of their Commonwealth Games gold medal.

Things were even less encouraging at under-21 level: the New Zealand team defending their world youth title in the Cook Islands in August were in a different league from Australia, who won a punishing final 64-46.

Earlier in the year, New Zealand teams finished a strangely unsatisfying year with no glory in the trans-Tasman league. Despite the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic and the Southern Steel making the playoffs, both teams fell in the semifinals, leaving the Melbourne Vixens to beat the Adelaide Thunderbirds 54-46 in the grand final.

On a more positive note, the Wellington-based Central Pulse finally registered their first win in two years of the competition with a 53-52 win over defending champions NSW Swifts.

And at national championship level, Auckland-Waitakere exacted revenge over Southland by reversing last year's result and cruising to a 47-33 win in Invercargill.

- NZPA