19 Oct 2020

Prodigy clips Silver Ferns' ticket with last ditch yo-yo bid

7:22 pm on 19 October 2020

She cut it fine but 18-year-old shooter Grace Nweke has continued her meteoric rise by making the Silver Ferns' squad.

The Mystics' shooter Grace Nweke.

The Mystics' shooter Grace Nweke. Photo: Photosport / Andrew Cornaga

The Silver Ferns have named 15 players for the Cadbury series and will name a game day team of 12 for each match against New Zealand A, the New Zealand Men and the under-21 team.

Nweke has been named alongside shooters Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Monica Falkner, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Maia Wilson for the series starting this Wednesday.

Nweke could also be named in the Taini Jamison series against England at the end of this month.

She clipped her ticket by making the strict yo-yo fitness standard set for anyone who wants to wear the black dress.

Nweke, who only played her first full season of ANZ Premiership netball this year, exceeded even Silver Ferns' coach Dame Noeline Taurua's expectations.

"I think wow - very impressive from where she was at the beginning of this season... to how she was able to present herself during the camps was really impressive and the strides she made in that respect has been phenomenal basically."

Dame Noeline said Nweke was able to get a bit of time after the ANZ Premiership to really focus on her fitness.

"Also all of the Northern Mystics players worked hard in preparation, knowing that they had to come into camp really well and there was opportunities for them so I think they've also done it as a collective."

It was tight for Nweke.

At the first camp in Wellington, she didn't quite reach the yo-yo mark required. At last week's second camp, a smaller group, who hadn't made the cut, got another opportunity.

Out of that group Kelly Jury and Nweke met the coveted standard.

"During that time pretty much the other players [who have already passed the test] are starting warm up but they do start to yell. I must say it's quite an awesome thing. When some of those players are getting close, I think that's the beauty of our team they will start to cheer and start to egg everybody on and push them through and they certainly did that."

Dame Noeline said while Nweke was obviously physically gifted, the thing that stood out was also her work ethic.

"And she's quite smart. She will ask questions and find out what she needs to do but also put it into action as well. She's a beast out there on court but physically she's amazing. Not that we give excuses for younger players but if anything I feel where I've seen her that we could probably push her more than I was expecting prior to her coming in."

The players were told at the end of last week's camp and Dame Noeline said Nweke couldn't quite believe she was in the Silver Ferns' squad.

The Pulse have won both their opening matches of the season.

Claire Kersten is set for a return to the black dress. Photo: Photosport

"She was beautifully pleased, she didn't hear what we had said and thought we were talking about somebody else... I think she nearly kept her mouth open for the whole time. She's been a pleasure to work with and I can't wait to see her out on court."

The Silver Ferns are missing in-circle defenders Phoenix Karaka, who's pregnant and Katrina Rore, who's unavailable for medical reasons.

Dame Noeline said she will move Karin Burger to the goal defence position to cover that end, which means there's a wing defence position up for grabs.

That will open the way for Claire Kersten, who hasn't played for the Ferns since the 2018 Commonwealth Games fail and Sam Winders, who last played for the side in January 2019.

"I see Claire and also Sam playing in that pure wing defence position ...what that means is Kimiora and Shannon will primarily be in centre.

"Both Sam and Claire play similar games, they are very nuggety they have the ability to come up with ball. And obviously Sam with her way and flavour of being competitive out there that any sniff or anything that she needs to do to get the ball she will. I've really enjoyed watching both her and Claire at that wing defence position and it's going to be a battle and a half as to who gets the final nod."

The Silver Ferns will be without their most experienced defender for the Cadbury series.

Dame Noeline said at this stage Katrina Rore was also not available for the Taini Jamison series against England.

As a result, World Cup stand out Jane Watson is likely to see more time at goal defence.

"Her time that she played out at Tactix is going to be very valuable for us at her goal defence position. But I'm also really mindful that she's one of the best goal keeps around international-wise so I don't want to do it just for the sake of it but goal defence is a position that we don't have an abundance of.

"I did have a look in camp at Sulu [Fitzpatrick] going out at goal defence so that's also a possibility but it needs to be done strategically and managed well."

Vitality Netball World Cup - New Zealand v Barbados - Shannon Saunders.

Shannon Saunders will compete with Kimiora Poi for the centre bib. Photo: Allan McKenzie / SWPix.com / photosport

Temalisi Fakahokotau's time was cut short at the first camp in Wellington, with the goal keep still coming back from an ACL injury.

The Silver Ferns' coach said she still had some way to go.

"Post ANZ that was still an issue for her and alongside that she hasn't been able to load to the level that's required or for her to be able to present at camps physically capable. So after having discussions we all came up with the idea that she needs to rehab properly and also get her conditioning levels better so that she can present at a better level in January."

Meanwhile, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson is ahead of her recovery timeline from an achilles injury but Dame Noeline wants to take a cautious approach with the talented defender.

The World Cup winning coach is contracted until February next year but intends to extend that until the end of the next Cup once she gets on top of her life administration.

"After this I will. It's my fault I do have the paperwork, I just haven't looked at it.

"To imbed all these things that we've been doing in regards to building the depth but also I'd love to go another round and I haven't experienced Commonwealth Games either."

Silver Ferns - Cadbury Netball Series


Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Monica Falkner, Grace Nweke, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Maia Wilson


Gina Crampton, Claire Kersten, Kimiora Poi, Shannon Saunders, Sam Sinclair, Whitney Souness


Karin Burger, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Kelly Jury, Jane Watson



Ellie Bird, Aliyah Dunn, Jamie Hume


Tayla Earle, Maddy Gordon, Kate Heffernan


Kate Burley, Oceane Maihi, Erena Mikaere, Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, *Georgia Tong (subject to medical clearance)