For the record, I don't know Central Pulse netballer Sulu Fitzpatrick at all except for having caught glimpses of her in action on TV.

Until, of course, last Thursday when Fitzpatrick was here as a member of the ANZ Premiership champions to conduct clinics with several teammates for schoolchildren in Hastings.

The former Silver Ferns defender, who is court savvy and wears her malu (a traditional Samoan tattoo that runs the length of her thighs to the knees) with pride, has since announced she is leaving the franchise to return to her birth city of Auckland to be near her nuclear family.

But what caught my attention was the 26-year-old's question to a gaggle of Hawke's Bay Netball life members who had engaged with the players in a Q & A session of the contemporary game versus what the long retired players did in the yesteryear.

Advertisement

"Is there any advice you would like to give to us?" was Fitzpatrick's question when asked if the Pulse had any queries for the Bay matriarchs.

It was the measured and sincere manner in which she had posed the question that had struck a chord with me and caught, dare I say it, some of the life members by surprise a little.

"Just make sure you're enjoying yourself," was Isobel Taylor's sound tip, coming to the rescue of the life members.

"Wow, she'd make a damn good captain," I thought of Fitzpatrick who is one of four non-travelling reserves to the World Cup in England next month and also in the All Stars team with Bay players Kimiora Poi, Claire Kersten and Ellie Bird.

As it turned out, I discovered the mother of twins was appointed the Fast5 New Zealand captain.

The traits of leadership for an off-again more than on-again Silver Fern go back to St Cuthbert's College, where she was deputy head girl before making her elite New Zealand women's debut at 19.

Even Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie had last year acknowledged the former New Zealand Under-21 skipper's raw honesty and self-awareness that saw her shed up to 20kg in her quest to not just do the right thing by netball but life in general.

It makes one wonder where the Pulse would have been years ago with such leadership, well before their maiden crown on Queen's Birthday Monday, and if Fitzpatrick will be able to keep employing those attributes later in life.

Sulu Fitzpatrick, putting her body on the line here, will be a huge loss to the Central Pulse but a gain to any other team or community she builds an affiliation with in the future. Photo/Photosport
Sulu Fitzpatrick, putting her body on the line here, will be a huge loss to the Central Pulse but a gain to any other team or community she builds an affiliation with in the future. Photo/Photosport

Leadership of Fitzpatrick's ilk isn't about assuming a mantle of title or designation that somehow suggests one stands head and shoulders above others because of their ability to call the shots on the court under duress.

It's a quality that demands parking one's ego at the doorstep and embracing vision and responsibility, not power that leads to crowning glories.

In society, though, such off-court values are so easily overlooked for whatever reasons — political or otherwise.

Recently the bewildering, belated acknowledgement of Dame Yvette Corlette's (nee Williams) feats in the Queen's Honours List is a classic example of inexplicable oversight.

The Dunedin-born track-and-field athlete, who became the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal, was honoured posthumously after she died on April 13 this year. The 89-year-old had held the world record in the women's long jump and was named "Athlete of the Century" on the 100th anniversary of Athletics New Zealand, in 1987.

All of that takes me to former All Blacks captain Wayne "Buck" Shelford and why he still hasn't been bestowed a knighthood.

I had broached that subject in January 2012, saying "Arise, Sir Wayne Thomas "Buck" Shelford" on the account of no rugby player in the world having ever put his body and soul on the line for his country as him.

Forget the hammy tweaks, ankle rolls and calf twinges, this bloke, in his inaugural season for the Men in Black, literally put in a ball-breaking performance against a rampant French side in the "Battle of Nantes" late in 1985 in the second test match.

"Roughly 20 minutes into the match, he was caught at the bottom of a rather aggressive ruck, and an errant French boot found its way into Shelford's groin, somehow ripping his scrotum and leaving one testicle hanging free," BBC Sport reported in 2002. "He also lost four teeth in the process. Incredibly, after discovering the injury to his scrotum, he calmly asked the physio to stitch up the tear and returned to the field before a blow to his head left him concussed."

He watched the remainder of the game, which the All Blacks lost 16-3, from the grandstand. To this day, the 61-year-old reportedly has no memory of the game.

So how is it the original "Bring Back Bloke" keeps missing the muster, for the mostly rich rather than famous, each year?

Wayne
Wayne "Buck" Shelford with wife Joanne. Photo/Photosport

Someone suggested to me it had probably something to do with Shelford joining the unauthorised New Zealand Cavaliers tour of apartheid South Africa in 1986, which included 28 of the 30 players selected for the original tour.

But that doesn't stack up because the late Colin "Pinetree" Meads was booted off the All Blacks selection panel after acting as coach to the tour. Meads, who once played a test match with a broken arm, went on to receive knighthood in 2009.

In an era now when the post-All Blacks aristocrat are tainted with drink-driving and recreational drugs it hardly matters that Shelford may have allegedly had any episodes in after-match functions.

Maybe, just maybe, the former No 8 has been offered a knighthood and, like many have had for myriad reasons, privately declined it rather than publicly denounced it.

Either way, for the sake of the Fitzpatricks of the world, it's heartening to know leadership isn't about receiving decorations but defining character.

From time to time, it means curbing one's desire to be heard and, instead, listening to those who have been there and done it.