Return of Sokolich-Beatson highlights Silver Ferns team
Five years since her last appearance in the black dress, defender Michaela Sokolich-Beatson is set to make a highly anticipated return to international netball after being named in the Silver Ferns side to play at next month’s Netball Nations Cup.Sokolich-Beatson is one of a number of changes to the team which played in October, with fellow defender Phoenix Karaka named as captain for the series where the Silver Ferns will play Australia, England, and Uganda in January 2024.
After a three-day camp in Auckland, which included three trial matches, coach Dame Noeline Taurua and the national selectors confirmed a team of 11 along with three training partners for the series.
There will be a new look to the shooting circle with just three shooters named for the campaign including debutante Amorangi Malesala alongside Grace Nweke and Amelia Walmsley.
The midcourt remains unchanged from last month’s Constellation Cup against Australia while Sokolich-Beatson comes into the defensive mix for Jane Watson, who is taking planned leave next month and is unavailable for the trip to England.
Sokolich-Beatson is no stranger to the black dress having made her debut against Malawi in 2018 and her last extensive time in the Ferns environment was when she was cover for Katrina Rore in the build-up to the 2019 Netball World Cup.
But injury, including two ruptured Achilles within nine months, has meant she has played just 11 Tests in the black dress and has been on a carefully managed return to play programme which culminated in a standout ANZ Premiership campaign for the MG Mystics this year and captaining the FAST5 Ferns at last month’s FAST5 Netball World Series in Christchurch.
Taurua, who will guide the side at the Nations Cup, said there was plenty to be excited about in what was a young and new looking Silver Ferns team, including the return of Sokolich-Beatson and inclusion of Malesala.
“I’m really excited to give these athletes who have hit all our performance goals the chance to make the most of their time with the Silver Ferns at the Nations Cup,” she said.
“Amorangi has worked hard this year and has stood out in the Silver Ferns Development Squad. We are looking forward to bringing her into the Ferns environment and competing against some of the best netballers in the world.
“Michaela will bring another level of leadership to our group, and I’m delighted with how she has been playing following what has been a tough road back from injury. She put her hand up at trials and it will be exciting to have her back in the Silver Ferns.”
Karaka has been named captain for the tour, standing in for Ameliaranne Ekenasio who has opted to sit out the Silver Ferns first international campaign of 2024. She will be joined in the leadership team by two faces of New Zealand’s netball future with Kate Heffernan and Grace Nweke named as her vice-captains.
Taurua said Karaka would lead the Silver Ferns with the same values which had seen her become one of the best defenders in the game.
“Phoenix has represented the Ferns at three Netball World Cups and leads by example with her play on court and her work ethic off the court. She is fiercely proud of wearing the black dress and the mana that it holds,” she said.
“To bring both Kate and Grace into the leadership group is something we have wanted to do as we consider what lies ahead in our four-year cycle.”
The Silver Ferns have also named three training partners for the tour including shooter Georgia Heffernan, midcourter Tayla Earle and defender Kate Burley, with all three players able to be called into the side as injury cover.
There will also be a change in the coaching staff with assistant coach Debbie Fuller unavailable to travel to England. She will be replaced for this tour by specialist coach Briony Akle who guided Tonga at the Netball World Cup and is the NSW Swifts head coach.
The Silver Ferns will play over two weekends in England during the Nations Cup, opening their campaign in London on January 21-22 before moving to Leeds on January 28-29.
Silver Ferns Team - Netball Nations Cup
Amorangi Malesala, Grace Nweke, Amelia Walmsley
Maddy Gordon, Kate Heffernan, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Whitney Souness
Karin Burger, Kelly Jury, Phoenix Karaka (captain), Michaela Sokolich-Beatson
Kate Burley, Tayla Earle, Georgia Heffernan