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Experienced defender ready for Silver Ferns captaincy

In a nod to the future, the vastly experienced Phoenix Karaka will be joined by two new faces in the Silver Ferns leadership team for next month’s Netball Nations Cup in England.

With the unavailability of Ameliaranne Ekenasio for the early season tour, defender Karaka steps up to the captaincy role for the tour while shooter Grace Nweke and midcourter Kate Heffernan join the leadership group as vice-captains.

"I’m honoured to be the 29th captain of the Silver Ferns,’’ Karaka said. ``It’s an honour to be a part of that small group of strong women who have held the role and I’m just really excited for the opportunity.

"This is now an opportunity for me to bring my own flavour and hopefully help the team get into a space where we can lead ourselves. We have lost a lot of our senior players in recent times and this is an opportunity for us to grow in that space.’’

With the 30-year-old Karaka flanked by the rising fortunes of established duo Heffernan 24, and Nweke, 21, as vice-captains, the Nations Cup provides the perfect launching pad to develop a fresh class of leaders at the start of a new four-year cycle.

"Grace and Kate offer a great balance on the court in terms of the workings of our leadership group,’’ Karaka said.

"A key was making sure our leadership was consistent on court and there are times when I will not be on the court. So, with those two having a quite consistent presence on the court it was a key consideration. And this is also an opportunity for them to grow for the future.

"It’s been seamless since we were given the news and we already have solid and natural relationships that have been built during our previous time together in the Silver Ferns.’’

Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua is excited by the blend of personnel and player make-up of her new-look leadership group.

"Phoenix has been in the Silver Ferns for several years now and has competed in three World Cups, so she definitely has senior status,’’ Taurua said.

"Her ability to work the collective is one of her strong points, she knows where she fits and is strong in how she builds relationships. She’s a very safe pair of hands, and with her, and Grace and Kate, who have been named as vice-captains, I think it’s a beautiful balance.’’

Rising through the New Zealand U21 and NZ Secondary School teams, Karaka has built on a strong pedigree after first starting out as a 2013 World Youth Cup winner.

Vice-captain for this year’s Netball World Cup, the athletic defender has built an enviable reputation for her work ethic, all-round skill-set and powerful court movement. She has forged a strong resume in accumulating 64 test caps which include being a World Cup winner with the Silver Ferns in 2019 and silver medallist at the 2015 event.

With regular assistant coach Debbie Fuller unavailable for the Nations Cup tour, Sydney-sider Briony Akle will join the team as a specialist coach.

"I refer to her (Akle) as being a master coach,’’ Taurua said.

"When I did my stint with the Sunshine Coast Lightning (Australian League), I competed against her – she was with the NSW Swifts – and I always admired the teams she coached, that hard, no nonsense Australian style but she was really innovative as well.

"I’m really looking forward to working with her. To some degree it is a pd (personal development) for me and I know it is for her as well while we set about working on and defining what we can do with this current new crop of players coming through and to get a bit of Australian hardness into our team. I’m really looking forward to that.’’