In 2003 the Silver Ferns won the Netball World Cup, breaking the Australian Diamonds’ 16-year winning streak. In 2019, they’ve just done the same thing. Leana de Bruin was a rookie in that 2003 team, and talked to The Spinoff about the hard work and emotional high of becoming world champions.
Just 11 months since coach Noeline Taurua was appointed to do some damage control with a crumbling Silver Ferns side, the team has pulled off New Zealand’s first Netball World Cup win in 16 years.
Leana de Bruin knows what it’s like to be on the right side of the final whistle in a world cup. In Jamaica, in 2003, she was a new addition to the team when they claimed victory in a two-point win against Australia in the world cup final. She explains how it felt, and how this year’s underdog team got the gold.
You’re one of the very few people who know what it feels like to win the Netball World Cup. What will the team be thinking right now?
I’d say they’ll still be celebrating and enjoying themselves, considering all the hard work they’ve put in to get them where they are. It’s all paid off and especially for the likes of Laura [Langman], Maria [Folau], Casey [Kopua] and Katrina [Rore], this will mean a lot because they’ve been around for a long time and until now they could just never get over that line. Finally they were on the right side of that whistle when there was only one goal in it. It is something that you never forget.
In the post-match when they talked to Noels [Taurua] and Maria, they just didn’t have any words. It made me think about Jamaica and the emotions we were all feeling then, how relieved and excited we were and a bit of disbelief you can’t really get past. Then you get together with some teammates 16 years afterwards and you see it happen again, it all comes flooding back. It’s a massive happiness in your heart.
There are a lot of similarities between Monday morning’s final and the 2003 final. Both times Australia had been on a three-time win streak, both wins were within a couple of points. Do you see similarities between the teams, 16 years apart?
In 2003, I think what did it was the fact that we felt so well prepared. There was nothing we hadn’t thought about, and nothing that made us feel like we couldn’t do it. If you look at this team under Noeline Taurua, it seems like the same story.
If you’re happy in an environment you will always play well because you have that feeling that you belong there and you have a job to do and you were picked to do a certain thing.
The team is almost unrecognisable from the squad that placed fourth in last year’s Commonwealth Games, and coach Noeline Taurua is at the centre of all of that change. How did she do it?
Noels has got to take a lot of the credit. I’ve been lucky enough to have won the ANZ championship under her, and I know a lot of coaches have their favourites, and I’m sure she does too, but with her you never felt like you weren’t her favourite. You were always made to feel like your role was important in the team, and the confidence that you played from that, that she believed in you, made a huge difference.
I remember feeling so out of my league in the 2003 team. I just came over from South Africa and truly didn’t believe I was good enough to be there, but then Ruth [Aitken, former coach] just said “I picked you for a reason”, and that lifted me, I felt like I had a part to play in the team.
With Noels, you go out there and you play hard because she creates a culture where everybody feels like they’re family. You’ll do anything for your family, and that’s the spirit she brings.
Casey Kopua was named MVP after the final match, and played a stunning competition, but initially there was some criticism of Taurua putting her on the team. How did she manage to come out of retirement and play with such energy?
We all questioned some of the selections, but if there’s one person that can see the potential of every single player, it’s Noels.
I looked at some of Casey’s games and I was a bit the same, I wasn’t sure about the selection, but she’s been around a long time so has got those netball smarts. She demands a lot from her other defender. She’s really good at knowing when to really get into somebody and go “you need to give me more” and has ways of making people realise the potential around her as well.
I think she was very smart, she comes out for intercepts where it really matters, and she did this last night [in the final]. Her leadership and all the respect that the girls have for her is massive.
In the past few years there’s been a rise in the popularity of a number of sports for young women in New Zealand. What impact do you think this win will have on grassroots netball?
There are so many other sports that have done so well on the world stage recently, especially rugby, which is so great, but we’ve lost a lot of girls going there because they want to go where people are successful. This is just a massive turn and hopefully it means girls will be excited about playing again, now there’s pride back in the black dress.
I didn’t grow up in this country but the silver fern was something I looked up to and was so lucky to be a part of, and I think little girls will look up to their national team as role models again.
Despite this morning’s huge achievement, the moment the final whistle blew Taurua’s contract with Netball New Zealand ran out. It’s not been confirmed where she’ll be heading, or if she’ll be staying at the Ferns, but her time at the helm has revived a tired team, and there will be a lot of support for extending her contract.
If there was any doubt in the talent pool in New Zealand following the Commonwealth Games, Taurua has proven we’re still capable of the glory of 2003.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.