Shooter Amorangi Malesala won’t have the luxury of easing into her Silver Ferns debut as the only specialist goal attack in the side.
The Silver Ferns have arrived in England for the Nations Cup against Australia, Uganda, and the Roses.
Netball World Cup shooters Tiana Metuarau and Maia Wilson were not named for the series after failing to meet fitness targets.
And with captain and starting goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio sitting out the tour – just three shooters were named for the series.
Starting goal shooter Grace Nweke and Amelia Walmsley, who only made her debut late last year, have just 32 test caps between them.
Malesala is the only recognised goal attack and coach Dame Noeline Taurua is fully aware that they are going into the series looking very green in that position.
“Amorangi has got a bit of responsibility …she’s going to be fresh and learn on the job, we’ll see how it goes, I’m realistic about where she is and her starting point.
“Her intentions in regards to her trainings and her preparation, it’s a good first step. Plus mentally she’s quite a tough cookie, she doesn’t waver or be soft around what she needs to do out on court.”
Amelia Walmsley is also likely to spend some time in the goal attack bib.
Standing at 1.92m, Walmsley has only ever played goal shoot at the elite level, but has had a run at goal attack during recent trainings.
“We have what we have and I’m really excited by that but I’ll just have to see how it goes. She does offer something a wee bit different and she is tall …I’m used to working with different players. It’s just her ability then to be able to calm herself and take the shot, plus also the inside link to the play-making skills …”.
New Zealand’s last two tests against Australia in the Constellation Cup in October were probably two of the Silver Ferns best games of 2023.
By the end of the series Nweke was able to play a full game after completing the road back from injury, which was a major boost to the side.
There was also a marked improvement in the defensive efforts in the two wins over the Diamonds and the Silver Ferns’ coach was looking forward to building on the gains made.
But she said it was difficult to get momentum when players came in and out of the side.
“It’s our stability to consolidate the combinations and to progress from Constellation Cup. It is what it is, and with the opportunity it’s presented to others to see what they can do I’m excited by that but I’m also aware there’s some inexperience in that shooting end.”
The Silver Ferns’ coach felt discipline still let them down at times.
“I believe our midcourters could possibly go another level up. There were soft turnovers and something we need to plug if we want to compete with the best.”
She said the midcourt would have to rise to the challenge when feeding a less experienced shooting circle.
“It puts the emphasis or the pressure on our midcourters and our midcourters have been with us for two or three years now, with Mila [Reuelu-Buchanan] being the more inexperienced.
“But I’m really excited by what they can do because I know there’s more that they can do in that space and their leadership as well so really putting the emphasis on our midcourters to take the load, take the ball to our shooting end knowing that they could be a bit under pressure.
“I also expect that they will be able to do that so hopefully we can rise and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Malesala had a break-out season for the Stars in last year’s ANZ Premiership and took a number of clutch shots for her side.
She was on her way back from trials in December, when the Silver Ferns coach rang to say she would become a Silver Fern.
“When she told me that I made the team I don’t think I really remember anything much after that so really blessed and grateful to be part of the Ferns environment,” Malesala said.
While she knows her introduction to international netball will be challenging, it was also a golden opportunity to get a lot of time on court.
“I think I’ve prepared myself as best as I can, attending most of those training sessions with our strength and conditioning coach over the summer break and trying to put in the work. I guess it’s just a matter of time just seeing how it all unfolds and looking forward to stepping up in that role.”
An added bonus for Malesala is that she will reconnect with Australian coach Briony Akle, who has been brought in as a specialist for the series.
Akle assisted Tonga at the Netball World Cup and is head coach of the highly successful New South Wales Swifts.
During a two year stint in Sydney in 2019 and 2020 playing in the NSW Premier League, Malesala had a cameo for the NSW Swifts.
“I was actually fortunate enough to be coached by her when I was over in Sydney with the Swifts and getting to cross paths with her again I never thought it would be at this level, given she is from Australia.
“Really looking forward to the sessions that she will be taking and she is an awesome coach and I have a lot of respect for her as well.”
The Ferns will be playing under new rules for the first time since World Netball updated the rule book.
Dame Noeline said it wasn’t until they played a Test that they could really come to terms with how the rules would be interpreted in real time.
“One thing we probably have to be mindful of is the short pass rule because we do that quite often so I think there needs to be a bit of awareness around that one.
“It’s up to the interpretation of the umpire, you know can the defender move through that space or not.
“The substitution rule where we can make those changes really fast without a player calling an injury I think will be great and really fasten the game up.”
The Silver Ferns first test is against Australia on January 21st.