What do the main weekend netball and rugby events have in common? The energy and exuberance of youth, Merryn Anderson and Suzanne McFadden discover it.
You might not think you can draw too many parallels between the Black Ferns smashing world’s third-largest rugby nation Canada and the Pulse marching on the Stars in netball’s premier grand final, both played on Sunday after -midday.
Yes, two teams have dominated their meetings. The Pulse stifled the Stars from the start in their 56-37 win at Wellington; the Black Ferns took a bit longer to escape Canada’s clutches, thrashing the winners 28-0 with a fuller second half in Auckland.
But there was something else the weekend’s two big matches had in common: the youngsters of the two winning teams stood the test of professional sport.
You would like to think this puts netball and rugby in good stead for the future.
Of course, the national teams of both codes are desperate to be at their competitive best in the very near coming. The Black Ferns when they defend their world title on home soil in four months, and the Silver Ferns to take care of their unfinished business at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month.
Suzanne McFadden was in the crowd as the Black Ferns took positive steps forward, while Merryn Anderson watched the young Pulse side make history – twice in one afternoon.
PACIFIC FOUR SERIES: BLACK FERNS 28, CANADA 0.
Wayne Smith, the Black Ferns’ new training director, was glad he read Ruby Tui‘s text messages.
The Sevens star, who is thriving in his new surroundings of 15, messaged Smith and told him to keep an eye out for an 18-year-old Auckland midfielder named Sylvia Brunt at the Black Ferns camp .
“I didn’t know she was,” Smith admits. “But she texted me saying, ‘You need to see this girl play’.”
Next, Brunt was called up to the 32 Black Ferns squad as a traveling reserve for the Pacific Four Series, but on Sunday she made her debut in the black jersey against Canada.
And, when she did, somewhere around 50 minutes into the clash, the bottom of the Waitākere Stadium stand burst open. Sylvia Brunt’s fan club – made up of Auckland whānau, Ponsonby Fillies teammates and schoolmates from Mt Albert Grammar – shouted and wildly waved huge homemade banners.
Brunt replied “She had a huge impact, she sparked that field,” captain Ruahei Demant said after the Black Ferns victory. “I’m so excited for his future in this shirt.”
Tui first saw Brunt when they were 16 when they played together in the Fillies: “I thought she was in her twenties, just the level of intelligence she had in rugby.
“Sis is so calm, she’s really polite. But as soon as she crosses that white line, something happens… Like Wolverine, she transforms. This kid is going to be one of the greatest, huh.
The other Black Fern debutant in the game, 22-year-old Amy du Plessis, also made quite an impression as the next-gen Fern. Playing in the centre, du Plessis was strong both in attack and defence, and bonded well with Brunt when she entered the game.
His searing break down the left wing (despite cramping) towards the end of the game was finished by Tui for his second try of the game.
“It’s probably the best match Amy has ever seen play,” Smith said, noting the work that South African-born du Plessis did on her game with All Black center Conrad Smith as a mentor.
Smith was full of compliments for the home side, which went two out of two in this series after beating Australia 23-10 in pouring rain last week. He also called Demant (who started at the second five next to Hazel Tubic at No. 10) “probably the best player in the country right now.”
And yet for a second time, the Black Ferns struggled in the first half to avoid handling errors, chain passes or score tries. Even with a brisk wind behind them, they only led 6-0 at half-time thanks to two penalties from Tubic.
The Canadians, ranked third in the world, had big hits on defense and looked threatening on offense just before halftime. But the breeze died, the Black Ferns established their relationships more often and a chip-and-chase try from Tui opened the doors for three more New Zealand tries (including one each from Maia Roos, 20, and flanker Alana Bremer).
Tui credited fellow winger Ayesha Leti-I’iga with dragging her into his kicking game. Meanwhile, Leti-I’iga showed her power for a second straight week, relentlessly breaking through Canada’s defense and earning player of the match awards.
“Our wingers are world class, aren’t they? Smith said: “You can see why we want to play rugby because you have to use your big players.
“Ruby hasn’t played a lot of 15s, but it’s amazing how she picks things up. She’s been working on that kick for three weeks. Doing it under pressure – she’s special.
Even down to 14 women twice during the game, the Black Ferns’ outstanding defense still kept a disappointed Canada scoreless.
True to Smith’s ethos of seeing everyone in the team take the field this series, a different XV will line up in their final game in Whangārei this Saturday, against USA (who beat Australia, 16-14, yesterday). This will help the Black Ferns coaching staff to get closer to the best team to defend the World Cup in October.
The connections are growing with every game and practice, reassures Demant.
“You only see 80 minutes of it, but those connections are made every day when we go out to the training ground as well,” she says. “There’s a lot of work that coaches and players put into, not just the game plan, but our whanaungatanga [a sense of family connection]. And there are so many benefits to that, and this is one of them.
ANZ PREMIERSHIP GRAND FINAL: PULSE 56, STARS 37.
Central Pulse have proven to be the youngest team in the ANZ Premiership this season, with an average age of 22.
After finishing fifth in the elite netball league in 2021, few expected they would thrive this year with such a young squad; their oldest player – Kristiana Manu’a – is only 26 years old.
But it turned out to be a dominating performance from the Pulse, both on Sunday and throughout the season. They had won 10 of their 15 regular season games, with four of their five losses being by five goals or less. And their 19-goal win over the Stars was the biggest Grand Final margin of victory in National League history.
Vital midfielder Maddy Gordon made his 50th ANZ Premiership appearance on Sunday, aged just 22. She was elated with the win, speaking to LockerRoom after the final whistle.
“It could have really gone either way, so I’m so glad the girls could pull it off,” she said.
Gordon, who returned from a knee injury during the season, believes the youth of the Pulse has been key to their success. “We had such a good atmosphere in the team; we really wanted to go out there and play for each other,” she says.
Among the young guns who played their part in the Pulse’s success this season were their 20-year-old co-captain, Tiana Metuarau, and Paris Lokotui, who saw her season sorely cut short by an ACL injury. Parris Mason (19) and Amelia Walmsley (18), who both came off the bench yesterday, were also crucial in Central Manawa winning the second tier National Netball League this year.
The Pulse’s latest title makes them the most successful ANZ Premiership side, also winning the final in 2019 and 2020.
Manu’a credits his team’s eventual success to the consistency of the young squad.
“Before the game we said ‘No matter the result, we want 60 consistent minutes’, so that’s what we did. And I’m absolutely delighted with our performance tonight,” the defense said. clever goal.
The first five of those 60 minutes were scrappy, but the Pulse were the first to settle and an explosive six-goal streak late in the first quarter gave them a nine-goal lead.
Impulse shot Aliyah Dunn didn’t miss her first 14 attempts, with several tricky assists from Metuarau helping them lead 15-6.
Every time momentum seemed to tip the Stars’ way, a yellow dress charged and the Pulse’s lead grew to 11 goals at halftime, 26-15. The damage was well and truly done and the Stars never cut into the home side’s lead.
With victory secured, Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie introduced her bench players to the pitch in the final stanza, rewarding all of her 12 players with great final experience.
Gordon was full of praise for McCausland-Durie, who returned to the Pulse after a year’s absence in 2021.
“She’s honestly the best coach, knows how to put a team together and knows how to make them laugh,” Gordon said. “I’m so thrilled she’s back and so excited to have her back next year.”
Manu’a, who returned from Australia to dress for the Pulse this season, was also grateful to McCausland-Durie. “She’s been absolutely amazing giving me a chance to come here to Wellington and play,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
With the announcement of Silver Ferns coaches on Wednesday, Pulse goalkeeper Kelly Jury would no doubt have caught the eye of coach Dame Noeline Taurua, sitting in the noisy, sold-out crowd.
The game’s MVP, Jury played all but three minutes and had eight wins, four steals and seven deflections. She limited normally dominant Stars shooter Maia Wilson to just nine goals in the first half.
One of the stars of the season, Jury (who is only 25 by the way) was almost speechless after the win. “All season we’ve been looking for that all-around performance and what day to bring it,” she said.
Despite being on the losing side, Stars goalkeeper Elle Temu still put up a good showing in her black dress chase, finishing the match with six wins and six deflects.
The emotion was visible on all the Stars’ faces, but none more so than Anna Harrison, who officially confirmed her retirement from netball at 39.
Stars coach Kiri Wills was quick to reflect on the season as a whole. “We could very well be at home watching this on TV, but we’re here and we’ve fought very hard to get to this point,” she said after the game.
“My team will be able to hold their heads high over time as they have played brilliant netball this year.”