analysis – When the Silver Ferns meet Jamaica at next year’s World Cup, it won’t look much like the team they beat this week and that’s a problem when it comes down to a KO game.
You wouldn’t know based on this week’s results, but Jamaica will be going for gold in Cape Town.
The Silver Ferns lifted the Taini Jamison Trophy last night after beating Jamaica 75-35 in Auckland, a day after a 25-goal win over the visitors.
It’s hard to believe that Jamaica beat the Silver Ferns 67-51 six weeks ago at the Commonwealth Games, where the Sunshine Girls took silver and New Zealand took bronze.
The biggest blow came when only three players from this side were named in Birmingham in the series against the Silver Ferns.
Star players Jhaniele Fowler and Shamera Sterling were unavailable due to university commitments while other players were injured.
Visa issues at the end of Jamaica also meant they had no real options on their bench, leaving the Jamaican starters short of breath.
Netball New Zealand must have been pulling its hair out as the series had to be cut from three Tests to two.
It’s hurt Netball New Zealand financially but it’s the Silver Ferns who could suffer the most.
Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua desperately wanted her players to get on-court time against Jamaica’s best.
Fowler scored 54 goals at 100 percent in the 67-51 semi-final win over the Silver Ferns in Birmingham while Sterling was a constant threat in defense.
Between now and the Netball World Championships in July, the Silver Ferns are unlikely to face Jamaica again.
A Jamaican side will return to New Zealand for the Fast5 series in November, but most of the top international players will be rested for the shortened version of the game.
At the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the Australian Diamonds had the advantage of meeting Jamaica in pool.
The Sunshine Girls surprised many by defeating them in that first encounter, but the Diamonds were better at it.
It would have been much more difficult for the Diamonds to beat Jamaica in the gold medal match if they hadn’t played them three days earlier.
It can take time to recalibrate against the Caribbean style, and if you get just one chance in a KO game and you don’t hit it, it’s all over.
The Diamonds players also have the advantage of playing regularly against half a dozen of Jamaica’s best players in the Australian League, so they know them better than we do.
Silver Ferns goalscorer Grace Nweke is only half a game under against sensational goalie Shamera Sterling.
When defenseman Elle Temu, who made her debut in the Taini Jamison series, makes the World Cup team next year, she will face Fowler and shrewd goalscorer Shanice Beckford with no experience.
This setback isn’t something Dame Noeline can’t overcome, but it makes her job that much more difficult.
Ahead of this week’s series, Jamaica have won four of their last six games against the Silver Ferns, making our ability to play Jamaica regularly as important as we did against Australia.
In the future, Netball New Zealand may need to play series in Jamaica to give the Silver Ferns a better chance of facing a stronger Jamaican team.
Many of the Sunshine Girls have to work full-time, so it’s harder for them to take time off to tour abroad than for the Silver Ferns players, who are paid.
While it’s been difficult to gauge just how much progress the Silver Ferns have made since Birmingham, it’s clear that the return of Ameliaranne Ekenasio is huge for the side.
The Ekenasio-Nweke shooting combination has the potential to be as good as anyone else on the world stage.
Both players have shown MVP performances and Ekenasio’s calming influence and ability to shoulder the shooting load will be a huge help to Nweke.
The series hasn’t been the preparation New Zealand was looking for ahead of next month’s Constellation Cup, but at least they’ll meet Australia in full force when they get here.