COMMENT:

If you have anything negative to say about the New Zealand Men's Invitational team playing the Silver Ferns, then you probably didn't watch a minute of the game.

Sure, when head coach Noeline Taurua announced earlier this year that the Ferns would be going up against a men's side, there were mixed opinions and concerns.

But anyone who saw the men play in the Cadbury Netball Series last week saw a side giving the Silver Ferns the push they needed ahead of one of their toughest Netball World Cup campaigns to date.

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Men's netball has been somewhat 'underground' for many years and although the side have played the Ferns on multiple occasions, it had always been behind closed doors.

After lacking decent recognition and support from Netball New Zealand, last week's series was a landmark occasion to set the scene for the future of both the men's and women's game.

Scotty Stevenson and Hayley Holt during their on-air debate. Photo / Facebook
Scotty Stevenson and Hayley Holt during their on-air debate. Photo / Facebook

Apart from the historical relevance to the series, the match-up lived up to the challenge Taurua was after.

Generally taller, faster and stronger than the women's side, the men played with tenacious one-on-one defence and an aerial style of play - things the Ferns don't often get the chance to test themselves against.

New Zealand Men's goal shoot Junior Levi towered at 2.14cm, forcing Silver Ferns defenders Jane Watson, Phoenix Karaka and Casey Kopua out of their comfort zones and challenging them to find innovative ways to combat his handy height advantage.

Levi's presence saw the Ferns defenders step-up with player-of-the-match performances and can only be beneficial before facing Australia's Caitlin Bassett (1.96 m) and Jamaica's Jhaniele Fowler (1.98 m) – both of whom should now be a piece of cake to defend in comparison.

Jane Watson of the Silver Ferns goes for an intercept against Junior Levi of the NZ Men. Photo / Getty
Jane Watson of the Silver Ferns goes for an intercept against Junior Levi of the NZ Men. Photo / Getty

On the other end of the court, Silver Ferns shooters Maria Folau, Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes were similarly challenged as the attacking unit came up against the ranging arms of Matt Wetere and Victor Godsmark White under the hoop.

Folau and Ekenasio were forced to call upon their long-range shooting skills while Mes shone in her first appearance in the black dress since last year's Commonwealth Games.

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Even though the Silver Ferns suffered back-to-back losses to the men (54-50 and 66-54), they looked a very different side to what we saw even a few months ago during January's Quad Series and the Constellation Cup.

So when Breakfast presenter Hayley Holt called the match-up "weird" in a heated debate with sports journalist Scotty Stevenson, it's unsurprising that she was called out.

Because the only thing "weird" about the men's team playing the Silver Ferns in a broadcasted series was that it's taken this long to finally happen.