The first building blocks of Netball NZ's new player development strategy will be put in place during England's tour to New Zealand this month.
As well as tests against the Silver Ferns in Rotorua and Palmerston North, the English will play an NZA selection side made up of members of the wider Ferns squad and a couple of promising age-group stars. It may not sound like much but that match represents a major step forward for the national body's development systems.
A review this year into the dwindling depth in the country's elite netballing ranks highlighted, among other things, the need for an extended national development programme. The findings led to an overhaul of the national squad system.
Rather than having separate accelerant and under-21 squads, a new national development squad has been created, which will have its own programme and more competition opportunities, the first of which will be against the touring England side in Auckland early next month.
Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu is pleased to see the next tier being exposed to top international competition.
"It's been a while now since we had a New Zealand A team and I think it is an important stepping stone for players and I'm delighted they are able to play a team of the calibre of England," said Taumaunu.
The NZA team is made up of members of the wider New Zealand squad who missed selection in the Ferns test side, including capped players Camilla Lees, Shannon Francois, Courtney Tairi and Ellen Halpenny, as well as up-and-coming young players on the ANZ Championship scene.
The two surprises in the team, which will be coached by Yvette McCausland-Durie, are New Zealand Secondary School stars Maia Wilson and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson.
Wilson, who at only 17 stands at a towering 1.92m, is already an international basketballer, making her debut for the Tall Ferns in the four nations tournament in China in August. But with the youngster harbouring ambitions of being a double international, she continues to make her way through the New Zealand netball ranks as well.
The Silver Ferns selectors were able to get a good look at Wilson when the Mt Albert Grammar schoolgirl was brought into national trials last month to provide an extra body in the shooting circle with Maria Tutaia and Malia Paseka unable to take part due to injuries.
While Wilson's early introduction to the national programme may be read as play by Netball NZ to steer the youngster away from basketball, Taumaunu said with New Zealand's shooting ranks so limited the selectors had no choice but to promote players from the national secondary schools team.
"She is someone that deserves the opportunity. We haven't done this just to get her in our system, she is a very accomplished netballer and probably the most mature 16-year-old I've ever met," said Taumaunu.
"We recognise she has basketball commitments, but she has said she would really love to be a double international and play for the Silver Ferns one day, so we will have to keep working through things with her."
As expected Taumaunu named an unchanged Silver Ferns line-up to take on England in two tests later this month. Having already had a change forced on them in the Constellation Cup series against Australia, with Kayla Cullen coming in as a replacement for injured captain Casey Kopua, Taumaunu was reluctant to make any further changes.
Laura Langman will lead the side in the absence of Kopua, who is facing up to six months on the sideline with a knee injury, with Katrina Grant to fill the vice-captain role for the series, beginning in Rotorua on October 28.
NZ team for England series:
Laura Langman (captain), Jodi Brown, Kayla Cullen, Leana de Bruin, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Katrina Grant (vice-captain), Joline Henry, Cathrine Latu, Liana Leota, Bailey Mes, Grace Rasmussen, Ameliaranne Wells.
NZA team: Shannon Francois, Ellen Halpenny, Camilla Lees, Phoenix Karaka, Malia Paseka, Jamie-Lee Price, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Samantha Sinclair, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Courtney Tairi, Jo Trip, Maia Wilson.