Shocking Silver Ferns are costing netball dearly

1:59 pm on 9 April 2018

Opinion - The Silver Ferns didn't just lose a netball game last night. While the 57-53 loss probably drove many fans to google just exactly where Malawi was, it highlighted a systematic failure of netball's governing body in this country to provide a sustainable model of success.

Malawi players celebrate after defeating New Zealand.

Malawi players celebrate after defeating New Zealand. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

This should be extremely worrying for netball given what may well happen during the Commonwealth Games women's rugby sevens tournament.

Let's get one thing clear though: the Ferns were absolute garbage in the loss to Malawi, and seemed almost set up to fail by a coach who took a bizarre attitude towards substitutions. Just how far this team has fallen makes the Kiwis' World Cup effort last year seem valiant by comparison.

This last year has seen the Ferns lose nine games out of 14, including losses to England and the first back-to-back losses to Jamaica. It's probably not even worth mentioning the defeats to Australia, because that's just a given these days. In fact, the most telling sign of the current state of the side was in the recent Taini Jamison Trophy Series, when the most positive aspect highlighted by the commentators was the admittedly impressive gym work that skipper Katrina Grant had put into her biceps.

If there were question marks over the Ferns' ability to be competitive in the Commonwealth Games, there should be full on alarm bells now. There is a very real chance they may not even make the medal playoff round at all, let alone compete for a gold one.

The insanity of some of the decisions of Netball New Zealand have now manifested themselves into the current situation. Severing ties with the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship to focus on a domestic competition, then restricting one of the greatest players ever, Laura Langman, from representing New Zealand defies belief. Current coach Janine Southby has been in charge for the entire horrific period of underachievement, which begs the question: Why hasn't she been given the boot?

But while the Silver Ferns are quickly becoming a sad punchline, they should be mindful that every loss is costing netball dearly. While it still enjoys first place in terms of sporting participation among young women, it is now under threat due to a changing society which makes little distinction between rugby and netball. Or, more importantly, who plays winning rugby.

The Black Ferns kick off their tilt at gold in the Sevens this weekend, and can count on a serious degree of interest in their games. Like their fifteen-a-side counterparts, the national women's side has enjoyed a long run of success. But the difference now is the players donning the black jersey are becoming household names, role models and far more inspirational to young women wanting to play sport.

The richest irony is that the biggest name, try-scoring machine Portia Woodman, may well have ended up in the Silver Ferns in the old days. Woodman was a contracted player with the Northern Mystics before turning her attention to the footy field, and provides ample evidence of the ability to transition between the sports. She commands an almost Jonah Lomu-like level of interest whenever she touches the ball, and in Sevens that generally means she'll be crossing the try line shortly after.

Her presence, coupled with the recent announcement that New Zealand Rugby will centrally contract female players, should be sending just as many shivers up the spine of netball officials as the Silver Ferns' lack of anything even resembling form. Not to mention the fact their highest profile player, Maria Folau, is now inextricably linked to the religious and anti-marriage equality stance of her husband.

The Silver Ferns losing to Malawi is a shocking result for sport in this country, and those responsible for it need to be held accountable.