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One Year Since the 2019 Netball World Cup - Part 1

It has been 12 months since the Silver Ferns were crowned world champions in Liverpool in what became an extraordinary story of belief and PURE determination.

In the first of a two-part series we find out from Netball New Zealand Chief Executive Jennie Wyllie what she witnessed from the sidelines as the Silver Ferns climbed back to the top of world netball.

For one day in Liverpool, Jennie Wyllie was just another ‘netball fanatic’ jumping up and down in her seat and celebrating the team she supports and their remarkable success.

It was a big day. A Netball World Cup finals day. A day when the Netball New Zealand chief executive was filled with pride – pride for a team which beat the odds, pride for a coach who showed an unwavering belief and pride for a netballing nation which came together when it mattered most.

The Silver Ferns had just beaten the Australian Diamonds by one goal – but it wasn’t your typical trans-Tasman nail-biting affair.

The Netball World Cup victory in Liverpool on July 21, 2019 (UK time) meant so much more. It showed how a proud netball nation could turn from its lowest ebb just over 12 months earlier and unite for a common cause.

Wyllie was in the hot seat when the Silver Ferns limped home after a disastrous Commonwealth Games campaign on the Gold Coast in 2018 where they finished, for the first time, without a medal.

Questions were asked from a sporting public not used to seeing New Zealand’s netball team spectacularly stumble on the world stage.

It was up to the entire netball community to find the answers.

“There were uncomfortable truths to be faced and change required before we could hold our heads up going into the Netball World Cup,” Wyllie said.

It needed bold and brave decisions as Netball NZ searched for the coach that would take the Silver Ferns to Liverpool and ultimately restore pride back in the black dress.

The phone call was made to Noeline Taurua and the wheels put in motion to bring the former Fern into the fold as head coach.

But it was not an average recruitment drive with the super coach firmly entrenched in her role guiding the Sunshine Lightning in Australia’s Super Netball league.

Communication lines between Wyllie, Taurua and the Lightning were open and well-oiled as they worked together to bring “the best person for the job” into a position that would work for everyone involved.

“There were a number of stars that needed to align in this,” Wyllie admitted.

“We had faith in Noels, in our relationship, and when she said ‘Jen, I can do it’, well I trusted her completely.”

From the sidelines, Wyllie watched as Taurua began to put the puzzle pieces in place, firstly with the culture that was installed and then the PURE set of values that became part of the Ferns everyday language.

The belief from within grew and Wyllie felt it spread across the country as an “underlying sense of goodwill” bubbled away with the common goal of preparing the Silver Ferns for the Netball World Cup.

There had again been a number of significant decisions made in their build-up including the gruelling camp on the Sunshine Coast as well as the involvement of the New Zealand Men’s Invitational team in an official Cadbury Netball Series for the first time – a move which proved successful with both netball fans and as a crucial final hit-out for the Ferns before leaving for Liverpool.

That feeling of unity was only strengthened as the Silver Ferns gathered for their farewell in Auckland on July 4, 2019.

“You kind of knew something special was happening,” Wyllie said of the occasion.

“It’s really hard to describe but there was a real feeling in the room, a sense of something bigger.”

There was an acknowledgement of the roles that New Zealand netball’s wider systems played in preparing the Ferns for Liverpool, the “clarity of vision” that came from Taurua and the willingness the players had shown to do the hard yards.

“It all adds up to a pretty potent combination,” Wyllie said.

But there were still some rather big hurdles to clear when the Silver Ferns finally suited up for the 15th edition of the Netball World Cup in England.

A key pool play match against Australia was the moment when Wyllie, who could be found sitting in the stands alongside NNZ board chair Allison Ferguson for much of the tournament, saw the true mental fitness of the women wearing the Fern.

The team was down at halftime but fought back and “went over the top of them” to come within one goal of their greatest rivals.

Wyllie had seen enough as seamless substitutions made no difference to the Silver Ferns’ performance and she knew they could deliver more if the two teams were to meet again.

Backing up against the English Roses would be the true test of just how far Taurua had taken this group of athletes and Wyllie admits to feeling her most nerves for the semi-final.

Much of the talk heading into the Netball World Cup had been around a final between the Commonwealth Games champions, England, and Australia.

“They thought it was their time,” Wyllie said of the host’s finals aspirations.

“We changed the course of history there.”

Any anxious moments ahead of the “big dance” against Australia in the final the next day were extinguished early on as the NNZ chief joined the Silver Ferns at the team motel in the morning.

The long arms of ‘fossil’ Casey Kopua draped over Wyllie’s shoulders as the inspirational defender calmly told her “we’ve got this”.

And they did. As Wyllie stood on her seat and danced to celebrate the Silver Ferns one-goal victory she couldn’t help but feel proud of the players, the coaches and the families who had stood firmly in support behind the national team.

As NNZ’s chief, she had been stung hard by the feeling of despair of a failed Commonwealth Games campaign and was driven to help make changes ahead of the Netball World Cup that would hopefully deliver in England and beyond.

To witness the campaign from start to finish had been “epic”, she said.

“It was a stunning turn-around led by an amazing culture, under a great leader, with incredible athletes who did everything they could to win that Netball World Cup.”

Next, we hear from Silver Ferns coach, Dame Noeline Taurua, and her assistant, Debbie Fuller, as they reflect on a Netball World Cup campaign like no other.