The architect of the incredible turnaround the Silver Ferns have enjoyed is now off-contract. So now that the World Cup has been won, how can Netball NZ keep Noeline Taurua on the books? Radio NZ’s Ravinder Hunia recounts the journey and analyses her options.
The Silver Ferns winning a gold medal against their toughest rival at the Netball World Cup wasn’t just luck – they well and truly outplayed Australia.
Nearly a year of planning, and taking command of all four corners of Netball New Zealand has resulted in this moment: after 16 years the Silver Ferns are once again world champions.
If you ask a Silver Ferns player about the 2018 Commonwealth Games they will probably roll their eyes and ask why it keeps being brought up. That dark stain will unfortunately stay in Silver Fern history forever, but not in a bad way anymore.
It now serves as the opening line to a compelling story about how a coach dug an international netball side out of despair and directed them to a Netball World Cup gold medal.
We all know what happened at those games so lets fast forward a little bit. I remember the day Netball New Zealand (NNZ) chief executive Jennie Wyllie announced Taurua as the Silver Ferns coach. She walked into the room to a standing ovation and I believe it was because we [the media] knew we were in the presence of change.
She made her intentions clear that the Netball World Cup was the end goal and although she was the woman of the moment, she wasn’t able to do it alone. This transformation was going to take the entire organisation, both people and policies. It was from this moment the master plan was put in motion.
First, like from a Hollywood film, she slowly started to recruit her ‘squad’.
She appointed former Mystics coach (and former Silver Ferns teammate) Deb Fuller as her right-hand woman. Fuller would oversee everything in her absence in NZ while Taurua continued her duties with the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Next was the 2012 ANZ Championship winning reunion. Casey Kopua was out of retirement and Laura Langman was back after rules prohibited her from playing in the black dress.
Through the Australian system, Taurua learnt a lot. But after the 52-51 world cup defeat Australian coach Lisa Alexander believes it was Taurua’s unique approach to netball that won the medal.
“Noeline has learnt a lot about the way we do things and she has applied that to Netball New Zealand. But you can’t take everything from Australia,” Alexander said. “She’s got New Zealand netball right back on the map again and it’s an amazing achievement.”
Taurua did pick up some tricks though. It was imperative to work with the domestic coaches in build up to a world tournament, so who did she call on next? Every single New Zealand Premiership coach. Each coach (except for Amigene Metcalfe of the Magic) was assigned international series duties. This not only helped with their progression, but created accountability within each franchise.
The feedback was Taurua’s structures kept everyone honest. Players, coaches, and Netball New Zealand now all had a stake in the successful outcome of the Silver Ferns. Cue the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
All the international series leading up to the World Cup were just that, a build-up. One win over Australia (Constellation Cup), no wins over England, and a near miss against South Africa.
The first taste of backlash she experienced was excluding veteran Katrina Rore. The former captain, battered and bruised from the Commonwealth Games had two choices: one, be upset and live with coaches decision? Or two, do everything in her power to get back into that dress.
She not only fought injury adversity and became a world cup gold medalist, she did it as a specialist wing-defender. “Just because people weren’t selected it didn’t mean anything to me… there was a method to the madness,” Taurua said.
The Silver Ferns were peaking once they reached Liverpool and it was here that Taurua’s plan came to fruition.
During this Netball World Cup in Liverpool I asked NNZ staff what they thought the difference was between Taurua and past coaches. The resounding answer was Taurua’s ability to stay composed every step of the way. Her calmness has been adopted by all those around her, on and off the court.
While this day will go down in New Zealand sporting history, it’s one of wonder as well. Taurua is officially off contract with NNZ and finishes with the Sunshine Coast Lightning in September. So now the big question is whether she will re-sign.
“I won’t leave Netball New Zealand in the lurch, or the Lightning. There would be a period of time that needs to be transitioned,” she said. “We are still working through details but that will be pushed to the end of the year. Things are up in the air at the moment, I’ve been so committed to each programme and it’s been a hard-out road for the past 11 months.
“I’ve got a lot of things happening in my life, including my family, I’ve just got to suss things out.”
The realisation that Taurua’s journey to the World Cup may end here will have a few people feeling uneasy, and also have a few international teams hoping that’s the case.
So will she stick around to help the side seek Commonwealth Games redemption? Who knows. If there is one thing we have learnt in the last 11 months it’s that a decision will be made all in good time.
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