16 Oct 2019

Silver Ferns' shooting on point under Taurua

5:53 pm on 16 October 2019

The Silver Ferns' shooting accuracy has improved across every series since coach Noeline Taurua took charge over a year ago.

Silver Ferns Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio.

Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio Photo: PHOTOSPORT

It was a bit of an ugly start in that department with New Zealand only managing a return of 68 percent in her first game as Silver Ferns coach last September.

It wasn't a good day out for Ameliaranne Ekenasio who could only manage 55 percent before getting benched by Taurua.

The Silver Ferns ended with overall figures of 79.8 percent for that Quad series but the trend has been going in the upward direction ever since.

Ekenasio probably feared that first outing would burn in Taurua's memory but she was given a life line for the Northern Quad series in January this year and hasn't looked back since.

It was in that Quad series that the Ekenasio-Maria Folau combination was unearthed and it's been a fruitful one ever since.

The Silver Ferns finished that series with 86 percent shooting accuracy.

The Cadbury Series matches in June weren't recognised at official tests but again the numbers improved.

The fact they managed 88 percent is even more impressive when two of those games were against the New Zealand men, some of the longest limbs the shooters would have to contend with.

At the end of their World Cup triumph the Ferns finished with 89 percent and Ekenasio was one of the standout performers of the tournament.

She's been at the forefront of New Zealand's shooting renaissance and puts it down to multiple factors.

She said knowing Folau was there took some of the pressure off.

"We're just feeling really good as a group which helps me as well but also the combination with Maria kind of helps as well too. It's always not just one of us we both can take the load so it kind of feels nice that we can just share the role ... she's been around for so long and she's pretty amazing out there on court so I'm just loving being able to play with her," said Ekenasio.

Taurua said the midcourters were also playing a big role in setting up the shooters nicely to take the shot.

"It's always the strategy in regards to the inside/outside links. There's so many variables in regards to shooting success and percentages being high," said Taurua.

"I also think the calibre of the shooters - both Maria and also Mils [Ameliaranne] that we have, they're high percentage shooters anyway so we are just starting to get that combination working quite nicely in that unit.

"Hopefully as the tests go on we can also introduce new blood out there and see what else we've got."

It was an area the Silver Ferns needed to improve to give them a fighting chance against the likes of England and Australia.

New Zealand's accuracy for 2018 to the end of the Commonwealth Games was just 79 percent, and you could often see stress written all over the shooters' faces as opposition defenders bore down on them.

Ekenasio also gives credit to her midcourt players.

"Our middies do so much work in front of us and if they don't give us good ball then we don't have a comfortable shot anyway.

"So it's not even just our shot it's pretty much the whole dynamic of our attacking end really helps us as well too, we just kind of get the glory sometimes when it's been good."

The 28-year-old said fitness could potentially come in to it as well with the shooters less stressed when it came to taking their shots.

"But honestly I think all the work that we've done as a team has kind of brought us together so we feel like everyone else has a little bit more confidence in us, we have more confidence and it just goes both ways."

Folau and Ekenasio were on the money again in the opening test of the Constellation Cup on the weekend, both shooting in the 90s.

You would have to go back to legend Irene van Dyk to find the last New Zealand shooter who rarely shot under 90 percent.

Van Dyk would practice about 300 shots a day before she gave up counting later in her career.

Ekenasio said it was hard to put a number on it but she sometimes put up as many as a staggering 1000 shots a day.

"When we're away in camp I guess we could put anywhere up to 500 to 1000 on certain days.

"Probably closer to a 1000 when I'm by myself a day but then there's good days and bad days so sometimes you're just not feeling it so I just don't stay at the post so it's kind of just more of a feeling I guess."

What's even more impressive is that Ekenasio and Folau take a lot of their shots from distance.

But it's a combination that could be coming to an end very soon with tonight's test shaping as Folau's last on home soil.

Folau won't be playing in the Australian competition next season with her name missing from yesterday's final team lists, while squads for next year's New Zealand domestic competition were confirmed months ago.

The 32-year-old has given no indication of her future beyond the Northern series in England in January, suggesting retirement may be close.

The Australian coach Lisa Alexander said Folau had been a joy to coach against.

"I absolutely adore Maria. I remember her coming into our team room when I was coaching the World Seven with Julie Fitzgerald. And she was a cheeky young thing then and she's still cheeky. And she's just been a fantastic netballer, world class for so many years and always a thorn in our side and she will go down as one of the greats of the game."

The second Constellation Cup test is in Auckland tonight before the series heads to Australia for another two games.

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