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The rise to Silver Fern in-waiting for dynamic young midcourter Whitney Souness has highlighted the depth of elite netball talent emerging from Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse.
Following a breakthrough year when they made the post-season for the first time in their history, eventually finishing runners-up in the inaugural ANZ Premiership, the Pulse thrived in the new era which was reflected with a strong showing at the recent national trials.
Souness, captain Katrina Grant and her defensive partner Phoenix Karaka, made the cut for the 16-strong Silver Ferns squad while late bloomer Claire Kersten, 28, teenaged shooter Tiana Metuarau, 16, and new mum Ameliaranne Ekenasio, 26, were rewarded with spots in the 10-man Silver Ferns development squad.
"There’s a total of 26 players (across both squads) and we provided six, so you have to be pleased with that. It’s a pretty significant number,’’ Netball Central High Performance Director Wai Taumaunu said.
Souness, 21, who missed all of last year through injury, made up for lost time in style but was still surprised with her rapid elevation to the top echelon. Not so Taumaunu, who has watched her from afar for many years.
"Whitney is where I would have expected her to be," she said. "The fact that she’s had to overcome some injury issues have probably delayed her progress somewhat but she’s been an outstanding player for some years.
"She’s now starting to realise her potential but in many ways, she’s still very young because a couple of years out with injury means she doesn’t have court time behind her."
With Karaka moving back to her home city of Auckland, Taumaunu said the emphasis was now on helping the three development squad members push on while building next year’s team and incorporating the new personnel.
"They’ve clearly all got things they need to work on otherwise they’d be in the Silver Ferns squad -- Ameliaranne is coming back from a baby, there’s Tiana’s youth and Claire’s relative inexperience,’’ she said of the development trio.
"They are all things we can work on in the Pulse next year to help them. They’re knocking on the door and hopefully with some ongoing work we can push them to the next step. It’s great that they’re there because it’s quite a limited number in that squad.’’
For the understated Souness, it’s been a whirlwind year and one she’s still coming to terms with. Named in the Silver Ferns selection for the Quad Series, featuring Australia, England and South Africa starting later this month, she is virtually assured of court time as the team management looks to establish their playing personnel ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games.
"It was a really tough week and I didn’t know what to expect coming into it," she said of the trials. "It was my first time but the environment was really cool and all the girls were great so it got less scary as the week went on.
"After doing a lot of hard work with my rehab last year, I just wanted to focus on having a good season and seeing what I could actually do and it’s turned out far better than expected."
Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie was full of praise for her little pivot and what she has achieved in the space of a year.
"For a long time, she’s been in the wings as one of the most promising players that people have sat and watched and waited to see what was going to happen," she said.
"It wasn’t always easy for her this year. She’s predominantly been a centre in the past and realistically hasn’t had a lot of time at wing attack, so what she has done this year is huge. It’s a tactical position and you’ve got very little time and space to do what you need to do but is critical in terms of setting the attacking plays.’’
Pulse Website (February, 2018)
Less than five months after the birth of her first baby, silky-skilled shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio is set for an international return at the Fast5 World Netball Series in late October.
Fellow Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse team-mate Whitney Souness will join Ekenasio in the 10-strong FAST5 Ferns team for the Melbourne-hosted event.
Following the birth of her son Ocean, it is the first step on the comeback trail to elite level netball for Ekenasio, 26, while fleet-footed midcourter Souness, 21, continues her stellar climb after debuting for the Silver Ferns in the recent Quad Series.
"This is something I originally wanted to work towards but just never knew if it was going to be a possibility, if I’d even be able to be selected, so obviously I’m over the moon,’’ Ekenasio said.
Back into fulltime training and playing netball again at club level just eight weeks after her baby’s birth, Ekenasio felt Fast5 was the perfect way to get back into the groove at the top level.
The 12-cap Silver Fern was forced to withdraw from last year’s FAST5 Ferns team but has always had a hankering to play the shortened version of the game.
"This will be a big challenge but it’s really cool and something to work towards so soon after baby,’’ she said.
"I’m just doing the best I can every day and knowing I’m getting closer every day. It’s going to be tough but I’ve got to get back in there somehow. And this is probably the best type of competition for me to play initially because of its format with the rolling subs and the fun factor.’’
Informed a few weeks prior that she was on the long list, Souness, another Fast5 novice, was delighted to make the final selection in what has been a memorable year in pushing her case for higher honours.
"I’ve always wanted to try Fast5," she said. "I’ve watched it and like the look of the pace it’s played and the different aspects to the format.
"I like playing a fast-paced game so I think the Fast5 style will suit me, it’s just another great opportunity. While still having that emphasis on competitiveness and winning, there is also a fun element attached to the format which I’m looking forward to."
Defending champions, the FAST5 Ferns have dominated the event since its inception in 2009, winning six out of the seven titles on offer. No event was held in 2015 due to the Netball World Cup while England, the only other successful team, scooped the title in 2011.
The Fast5 Netball World Series will be played in Melbourne on October 28-29.
Jamie Hume, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Monica Falkner, Maia Wilson, Erikana Pederson, Whitney Souness, Kayla Cullen, Storm Purvis (C), Zoe Walker, Temalisi Fakahokatau.
Coach: Kiri Wills
Assistant coach: Margaret Forsyth
Pulse Website (February, 2018)
A whirlwind three days has delivered Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse midcourter Claire Kersten the unexpected surprise of her first international netball cap and now she wants more.
After a stellar season with the Pulse, the hard-working and consistent Kersten was desperately unlucky to miss the Silver Ferns final cut, instead named in the Silver Ferns Development squad.
There has, however, been a silver lining, a surprise late call-up to train alongside the team ahead of today’s second test against the England Roses resulting in inclusion in the match-day 12 and fulfilling a dream which not so long ago had seemed out of reach.
Despite the series now going to a decider in the third and final test in Hamilton on Wednesday after England’s three-goal win today, Kersten’s contribution during the second half of the match did her cause no harm.
"Growing up when you’re a competitive netballer, playing for the Silver Ferns is the dream for a lot of young girls and you go through a lot of ups and downs along the way,’’ she said.
"Sometimes you feel like it’s out of reach and certainly things over the last year or so have changed quite dramatically for me, in terms of netball and it’s pretty exciting for me to be here at the moment.’’
Taking a little time to find her feet, the tenacious Kersten did not look at all out of place and by the time a tense and pulsating fourth quarter was playing out, the 28-year-old Newlands College secondary school teacher was in her element and in the thick of action in a torrid and tense showdown.
"I definitely had no idea this opportunity would come so quickly,’’ she said.
"People tell you to make sure you keep training, keep on top of things and make sure that you’re ready but you never think it’s going to happen like it has. So, the phone call on Friday morning from Janine Southby (Silver Ferns coach) was a bit of a surprise.
"I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was at work and she just asked if I wanted to come up to Napier and train alongside the group and it just developed from that. A week ago, I was playing in our club final (for Wellington East), so this was a bit of a stark contrast.’’
Having spent her early years in Hawke’s Bay, it was fitting for Kersten that her international debut took place in the province and extra special that her parents were on hand for the occasion.
Having her Pulse team-mate and Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant behind her in the defence line helped settle the nerves, her 30 minutes on court over all too quickly but fuelling the desire to grab a more permanent spot.
"You could definitely feel a step up in terms of intensity and now afterwards, there’s mixed emotions,’’ she said.
"It’s exciting to get out there, it’s disappointing not to get a win and left lots of things to think about and work on going forward. It has absolutely whetted my appetite for more. Once you get that little taste, I think it’s pretty natural to just want to keep going forward with it.’’
Kersten was on the team bus headed for Hamilton post-match, a decision on her involvement with the team heading into Wednesday’s decider still to be made.
Whatever the outcome, it’s a case of just pushing on for Kersten and chipping away while awaiting her next opportunity.
"Things haven’t really stopped too much since (Silver Ferns) trials. A group of us back in Wellington have been back training pretty hard, so that just continues and ensures you’re ready if anything comes up. After what’s happened for me, it makes you aware you’ve got to be prepared for anything,’’ she said.
Pulse Website (February, 2018)
The potential of talented teens Elle Temu and Ainsleyana Puleiata has been highlighted following their selection as Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse training partners ahead of the 2018 ANZ Premiership netball competition.
Becoming a training partner is a key component for players who are considered strong prospects of moving through to the top ranks in the foreseeable future and is an integral part of the Netball Central high performance programme. Both youngsters come armed with impressive pedigrees at this stage of their careers.
Former New Zealand Secondary School player, Temu, 19, a 1.89m in-circle defender, will make the move from Auckland to the Capital to further her netball career in 2018. In the first year of a double degree in Business and Sport & Recreation, Temu played for the Marvels in this year’s Beko Netball League and is a product of Mount Albert Grammar School which has proved a fruitful nursery for budding netball talent over the years.
"It was a big decision and I’m still trying to get my head around it because it all happened so quickly but it’s very exciting,’’ Temu said. ``To get offered a training partner role, that’s obviously a big step towards my aim of playing in the ANZ Premiership, so I had to take it, couldn’t turn it down.’’
Temu is particularly looking forward to rubbing shoulders with and learning from the likes of experienced defenders Katrina Grant and Sulu Fitzpatrick.
"They’re players I have looked up to while growing up,’’ she said. "It’s going to be awesome to be amongst that and just being with a different group of people.’’
Ensconced in another netballing stronghold at St Mary’s College in Wellington, dynamic midcourter Puleiata, 17, who also excels at rugby, captained the New Zealand Secondary Schools team this year while being named Player of the Year at this year’s national championships.
Quick and agile, Puleiata played in Central’s title-winning Beko team this year, her on-court speed and natural flair being hallmarks of her game. She will be back at St Mary’s for her final year of school in 2018.
"Elle and Ainsleyana reflected our ambitions of wanting to grow some strength in the defensive circle and also to develop depth at wing attack,’’ Netball Central High Performance Director Waimarama Taumaunu said. "They were both standouts in those areas.’’
Committed to developing young talent, Netball Central is hoping to emulate the success of this year’s training partners, Kimiora Poi and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, the pair having a year to savour. The midcourt duo were key figures in Central’s unbeaten run to the Beko League title, helped the New Zealand under-21 team win the World Youth Cup and both have since gone on to secure full ANZ Premiership contracts for 2018.
"We have tried really hard to embed the training partners into our programme and make them a tangible and relevant link between the Pulse and the Beko team,’’ Taumaunu said. "We did that well with Mila and Kimi and it’s our intention to do that again next year.’’
Temu and Puleiata will train with the Pulse throughout the pre-season before lining up for Central in the Beko League.
Pulse Website (February, 2018)