Goal shoot Grace Nweke has to prove her fitness before the start of the Cadbury Netball Series on July 13 in order to secure her spot in the Silver Ferns’ squad for the Commonwealth Games.
The Northern Mystics star was included among the 12 players named on Monday by coach Noeline Taurua for the netball tournament in Birmingham that begins on July 28, but is yet to be medically cleared after suffering an ankle injury last month.
Taurua also revealed that last week’s trials in Wellington had been disrupted by non-Covid-19 illness, with players from the ANZ Premiership champions, the Central Pulse, particularly affected.
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She wouldn’t specify who and said the inability of some players to trial hadn’t been a decisive factor in her selections: “Some came in on the second or third day, some couldn’t get in at all, but we did take other variables into account and we looked at totally what that person can bring”.
Former captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Pulse goal attack Tiana Metuarau were only included in the five-strong reserve group, but one of them will replace Nweke if she doesn’t recover from her ankle injury in time.
Taurua confirmed Nweke was yet to meet the Silver Ferns’ fitness standards, but said the other 11 players selected had and that she was confident Nweke would get to where she needed to be by the deadline that has been set.
It appears Ekenasio may still have work to do in that regard as well, having been hit by Covid-19 during the ANZ Premiership season, where she returned after a year away having her second child to play for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.
Taurua wouldn’t say whether all five reserves had met the fitness standards.
Nweke strained ligaments in her ankle playing for the Mystics against the Tactix in the ANZ Premiership on May 14, but returned to play 45 minutes in their elimination final loss to the Stars on June 9.
Taurua said Nweke had been cleared to play in that game, and the final if the Mystics had made it, but had further work to do to be ready for international play – and a Commonwealth Games campaign where the Silver Ferns will be on court seven times in 10 days.
“We’re taking the time to make sure that she’s 100%, that she’s fully fit, but also that her body can handle the rigours of tournament play.”
Of Ekenasio, Taurua said: “There’s still a level of physical readiness that she needs to improve on, but she really enjoyed the time that she was out on court [in the ANZ Premiership]”.
“Once again she showed her experience and her seniority when she was there, but there’s still a bit more work to do physically so that she can run at the level that’s required.”
After Ekenasio, Metuarau and her Pulse team-mate Maddy Gordon were two of most notable omissions. Magic midcourter Sam Winders, the team’s player of the year last year, was another.
Taurua has gone for experience in the form of Bailey Mes and Te Paea Selby-Rickit as her options at goal attack ahead of Metuarau, with Maia Wilson joining Nweke at goal shoot.
Gordon’s versatility appeared to be a potential feather in her cap, but Kate Heffernan – who is yet to play for the Silver Ferns – Shannon Saunders and Whitney Souness have been preferred alongside captain Gina Crampton as midcourters.
“She could have been there,” Taurua said of Gordon. “You’ve also got Sam, there’s Claire [Kersten]. There’s quite a few midcourters that could have been there.
“There’s clear positional skillsets that I’m looking for.
“We also play a certain style within the Silver Ferns. We’re not man-on-man defence, we’re zone, so you’ve got to be able to play that type of style, because that’s our point of difference against other countries, so the abilities and the skill set required is different from what happens at the Pulse.”
Goal keep Kelly Jury was one of two Pulse players to make the cut, with Souness the other. Joining Jury in defence were Sulu Fitzpatrick, Kayla Johnson and Phoenix Karaka.
The three other reserves alongside Ekenasio and Metuarau were midcourters Kersten and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and defender Elle Temu.
Reuelu-Buchanan and Temu are the only two reserves set to travel with the main squad to England.
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The Ferns will play New Zealand A, the New Zealand men, and a mixed invitational team in the Cadbury Netball Series in Auckland in mid-July before leaving for the Commonwealth Games.
After missing out on a medal altogether at the last Games, on the Gold Coast in 2018, they will be up against it to beat Australia and hosts England to gold this time around.
Defenders Katrina Rore and Jane Watson didn’t factor into selection discussions after missing the ANZ Premiership this year while having children, while Karin Burger was ruled out with injury.
Silver Ferns – Commonwealth Games squad
Shooters: Maia Wilson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Grace Nweke (subject to medical clearance and return to play protocols), Bailey Mes
Midcourters: Gina Crampton, Shannon Saunders, Whitney Souness, Kate Heffernan
Defenders: Kayla Johnson, Phoenix Karaka, Kelly Jury, Sulu Fitzpatrick
Reserves: Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Claire Kersten, Tiana Metuarau, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Elle Temu