ANALYSIS: The Silver Ferns will attempt to move on from the pain of a fourth place finish at the 2023 Netball World Cup over the next four-year cycle. Brendon Egan looks at five uncapped players who could provide spark and break through into the black dress.
Carys Stythe (Mystics)
Stythe has all the ingredients to be the next great defensive talent in New Zealand netball. The 20-year-old debuted for the Mystics in 2022 and gained her first full contract last season.
At 1.92m, Stythe is adept at either goal defence or goal keep. It seems a matter of when, not if, she breaks through into the Silver Ferns.
With Mystics stalwart Sulu Fitzpatrick retiring, Stythe will move into a starting role with the defending champions in 2024, lining up alongside Silver Fern Phoenix Karaka.
Already a member of the Silver Ferns development squad, the national selectors clearly have an eye on Stythe for the future.
Before last year’s ANZ Premiership final, captain Fitzpatrick said Stythe’s game reminded her of both Karaka and retired Ferns great Casey Kopua.
“She’s got a bit of Case in her, she’s got a bit of Phee (Karaka) in her. She’s got hops. They’re both very good at defending the shot. Maybe a bit of Case and Phee and a whole lot of Carys.”
Georgia Heffernan (Steel)
They are a talented bunch in the Heffernan family.
Goal attack Heffernan is well on the way to joining identical twin sister Kate as a fully fledged Silver Fern. Should the Southern Steel shooter break through, she would become the third member of her immediate family to wear the black dress.
Mother Annette, a defender, played nine tests between 1985-1990, and was a member of the Ferns’ 1987 world championship winning side. Aunt Maxine Blomquist was a Fern too, playing 31 tests.
Little went right for the Steel in 2023, losing all 15 games, but Heffernan was one of the few bright spots, stepping up in the shooting end.
She was a standout performer for the Fast5 Ferns at the Fast5 World Series in November, demonstrating her long range shooting skills.
Heffernan has shown she can bounce back from adversity, returning to top form after a serious knee injury in 2020. She suffered a ruptured ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), MCL (medial collateral ligament) and meniscus damage to her right knee.
Rahni Samason (Stars)
Could shooter Samason follow in the footsteps of Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio?
Raised in Victoria, Samason is eligible for the Ferns through her father, who was born in the Cook Islands and has a New Zealand passport.
The 25-year-old has represented the Melbourne Vixens in Australia’s Super Netball, but has moved across the Tasman, joining the south Auckland-based Stars for 2024.
Samason made a stunning Super Netball debut in 2021, landing 29 from 32 and the game-winning ‘Super Shot’ against the Queensland Firebirds.
An ACL injury delayed her rise into the professional netball ranks. She had more bad luck last season, suffering a leg injury in pre-season, which ruled her out of the Vixens campaign.
If Samason can excel in the ANZ Premiership, she could be an intriguing addition to the Ferns’ shooting stocks.
Amorangi Malesala (Stars)
Few players enhanced their reputation in the 2023 ANZ Premiership more than 25-year-old Malesala.
The Stars goal attack had a breakout campaign, landing 256 goals from 320 attempts (80%), having five games with more than 20 goals.
“I think this year was a big turning point for me in terms of my self belief because I know that I had the ability to do the job,” she told Stuff.
Her eye-catching play for the Stars, combined with her efforts at the December national trials, and for the Fast5 Ferns, resulted in a first time call-up to the Silver Ferns.
Malesala is poised to become Silver Fern No 185 in January’s Nations Cup in England. With Maia Wilson and Tiana Metuarau both not selected due to conditioning and captain Ekenasio unavailable, Malesala will get extended court time at goal attack in the series.
A gifted long range shooter and reliable feeder, Malesala has the attributes to push for greater national opportunities in the new World Cup cycle.
The Ferns suddenly have a glut of goal attack options with Ekenasio, Metuarau, Malesala, Georgia Heffernan, and the potential addition of Samason. Wilson and Amelia Walmsley can also cover goal attack.
Tayla Earle (Mystics)
Of the uncapped midcourters in the ANZ Premiership, Earle might have the best chance to progress to the Silver Ferns.
Long touted as a player with Ferns’ potential, the 23-year-old has been a dependable performer in recent seasons for the Mystics.
Mainly a centre, Earle is probably next cab off the rank if there were any serious injuries in the Ferns’ engine room.
With Maddy Gordon cementing herself as the top Ferns centre in the Constellation Cup and Kate Heffernan a leading option at either wing defence or centre, Earle will need to continue to shine for the Mystics.
A New Zealand secondary schools’ player from 2016-18, former New Zealand under-21 representative, and New Zealand A squad member, international netball is the next step.
She has also featured for the Fast5 Ferns over the past two years with her strong conditioning base, sharp feeding, and accurate distribution skills, all assets.
Playing for a successful Mystics side and being one of the main feeders into star goal shoot Grace Nweke doesn’t hurt her Ferns’ prospects.
Other contenders: Kate Burley (defender, Stars), Greer Sinclair (wing defence, Tactix), Paris Lokotui (wing defence, Tactix), Parris Mason (defender, Pulse), Ivari Christie (midcourter, Steel), Claire O’Brien (midcourter, Magic), Catherine Hall (defender, Mystics).