Noeline Taurua appears confident next year's Quad Series in England – an integral juncture on the road to the Commonwealth Games – will go ahead as she eyes a host of reinforcements to the Silver Ferns squad.
Nine months out from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and Taurua believes the Silver Ferns remain well placed compared to their rivals, despite some patchy results during this year's challenging Covid-disrupted season.
The Silver Ferns finished their 2021 campaign with a 7-3 ledger that includes the 3-1 Constellation Cup series win over the Australian Diamonds in March; the 2-1 series loss to England in September and last week's highly competitive 2-1 series victory over the heavily-depleted Aotearoa Men's team.
Those results only tell half the story, however, with constant changes in schedules and cancelled series altering plans throughout.
"From where they were to where we finished there's been massive lessons. They've been exposed to some degree and fast tracked to put it out there in real time," Taurua reflected. "The gains we've made have been massive for our overall programme. We'll fine-tune things faster than we would've normally.
"I'm pleased, but not satisfied, because I feel there's still massive gaps for us and areas we were exposed, not only in strategy but also personnel as to the improvements we need to make."
Missing a host of established players, Taurua was forced to thrust many next generation talents into starting roles. While the Ferns shooting percentages need swift improvement Taurua was impressed by Grace Nweke and Tiana Metuarau's gradual confidence growth.
Veteran England defender Geva Mentor gave Nweke a baptism of fire during the English series yet she responded against the Aotearoa Men to hold her own under the hoop.
"Geva showed her experience against Grace but the improvements she made against the men physically she will get a lot of confidence from that because she stood up well," Taurua said. "To have a tall presence in the shooting end was valuable for us as it pulls the defence and gives us another style of playing. She shifted hugely."
Metuarau, the daughter of former Ferns defender and coach Waimarama Taumaunu, spent time in both shooting roles with her vision and agility shining through.
"As a combination they are both fearless," Taurua said. "They bring a different dimension to the players we currently have.
"In both series our shooting percentages weren't high and over the last two or three years we have been high so that's a massive area for us. We are getting the ball down there but we're not putting it through the hoop. In both series we were exposed in that degree. We need shooters who are prepared to go to the hoop and our accuracy needs to be higher."
Pulse midcouter Maddy Gordon also made an impression at both wing defence and centre.
"She took the bodies on and didn't quiver so there's some promising aspects and areas I know we need to improve but really happy with their contributions," Taurua said.
After exposing the next tier Taurua can now look forward to welcoming back many experienced campaigners.
The already well-stocked defensive end, where Kelly Drury and Karin Burger were leading lights against the men, will be further boosted by Jane Watson, who is expected back on court before the end of the year after ankle surgery, while Phoenix Karaka is ready to return with the Mystics after the birth of her first child.
Sulu Fitzpatrick missed the men's series after tweaking her knee against England, as did midcourter Sam Winders due to a back injury.
Former captain Katrina Grant will make her return with the Magic following pregnancy; likewise Kayla Johnson with the Stars.
Ferns captain and shooting ace Ameliaranne Ekenasio's baby is due at end of this month, with plans being put in place around her return.
Midcourter Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, following her second Achilles operation, faces an uncertain future but Taurua is keen to bring as many of her missing contingent as possible into camp in November.
That mix of old and new is sure to create compelling competition for places.
"We've got a few we're working with behind the scenes and we're just waiting for the time we can reintroduce them back into the environment," Taurua said.
"There's still a way to go before I get everyone back, and I'll know where they all sit."
Taurua's roadmap for the Ferns to the Commonwealth Games includes the yet-to-be-confirmed Quad Series featuring New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa – scheduled for January in London. Another tournament involving the Aotearoa Men, following the ANZ Premiership season, is also expected.
"I think it's more likely that it will go ahead," Taurua said of the Quad Series. "All the countries will be keen to get out there and make sure they play against each other but also for the bench officials and Netball England with the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham they need to get experience. There's a lot riding on that January series in preparation for Commonwealth Games.
"Negotiations are still happening. In the next two weeks we should know what's happening in that space.
"That will be a massive point for us to see how far or close we are to the opposition. That will show us what's required in ANZ and in the build up to Commonwealth Games.
"When we went into the world champs we did a series against the men, NZA and a Pacific team. We will probably emulate that same series because it set us up nicely to play the different variety of opposition.
"When I look at our opposition Australia haven't had any game time. England has come out and played us but I'm not sure what the second half of their season will look like so in the bigger scheme of things us getting game time is massive."