Despite a 4-0 series loss to arch-enemies Australia and the World Cup looming, the future for the Ferns is not all black
There wouldn't have been a lot of cheer in the room when Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu and her management team met yesterday to review their Constellation Cup series.
After a 4-0 series loss to Australia - three of those defeats by sizeable margins - it is clear the team are in a deep hole just 10 months out from the World Cup.
Australia have now won the past nine clashes against the Ferns, and the New Zealand side's task of rebuilding ahead of the August 2015 tournament looks all the more daunting with the team's captain and key defensive weapon Casey Kopua facing a lengthy stint on the sideline following a serious knee injury in last weekend's third test in Sydney.
But it ain't all bad... no, really.
It has forced Netball NZ to do something about their high-performance systemsAustralian netball has always been blessed with more depth than New Zealand. But Netball NZ have typically been quite relaxed about that - after all, you can only have seven players out on court at any one time, right? That concentrated high-performance approach has produced some impressive results over the past decade or so - the Ferns won the 2003 World Cup, and gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games - that have disguised the shortcomings.
The problem with that way of thinking is as soon as you have retirements or major injury, the New Zealand side struggle to be competitive with the Australians as the next level of playing talent is coming into the group woefully underprepared for the international environment.
This has been a watershed series; while plans were already under way to address the sport's lack of development pathways following a review this year, the size and scale of the problem is now glaringly obvious. It will take a committed and co-ordinated effort at both zonal and national level to address the problem.
It has answered some serious questions in the attack endGiven the nature of the losses, with the Ferns finding themselves out of the contest very early in two of the four games, it has forced the New Zealand coaching staff to try new things, ringing the changes, particularly in the attack end. This has allowed Taumaunu to quickly find out who's up to the task and who's not.
Some veterans have not performed well in the series, with Jodi Brown and Liana Leota mostly disappointing (although Brown led the attack end well in the fourth test).
Bailey Mes has been disappointing for another reason. She has displayed the dynamism that has been lacking in the shooting end for some time. She is fast, a good mover and brilliant in the air.
The Ferns attack flows much more freely with her at the back. But there is just one thing holding Mes back from being a complete player - her shooting, which, as it turns out, is a key part of the role of a goal shoot.
Mes will have grown from the opportunity to run out a full game in the final test.
After shooting at just 50 per cent in the first half, she was much more assured in the second half, missing only two shots to finish with a 66 per cent return. Which brings us to...
They can shoot at 73 per cent and still push Australia closeWhile New Zealand's shooting stats were awful in the final test, they will still provide some comfort for Taumaunu. The Silver Ferns put up seven more shots at goal than Australia on Wednesday night, which would suggest they were winning more than enough ball on defence to win the match.
When the Ferns stick to their defensive structures, and they produce a committed full-court effort, they have the ability to disrupt the speedy Australian attack that only a couple of weeks ago looked unstoppable following their 17-goal win in game one.
If, and it is a big if given the quality of the Diamonds' defenders, the Ferns can improve their finishing under pressure, they'll be in with a shot of winning the World Cup.
Australia's development pathways deliver for NZ tooLost in the vast netballing hinterland that is the West Island of New Zealand, shooter Ameliaranne Wells has proved a handy find for the Ferns, boosting depth in the area of the court where they most desperately needed it.
The Queensland-born shooter's Kiwi origins weren't even known until she signed with the Central Pulse a couple of months ago. She was invited along to national trials a few weeks later more as a get-to-know-you type of exercise than anything else, but Wells impressed so much at trials the New Zealand selectors opted to whisk her straight into the team.
It remains to be seen whether Wells can maintain her place in the side once the injured Maria Tutaia returns to the mix, but it is reassuring to see that the selectors at least now have some options.