Netball is an integral part of New Zealand’s dynamic sporting culture. Steeped in history, it was introduced to New Zealand as ‘women’s basketball’ in 1906 – a nine-a-side game played on grass, with baskets tied to posts at either end of the court.
The COVID-19 pandemic dominated 2020, resulting in the cancellation of the Beko Netball League, two new domestic competitions planned for 2020, the Netball NZ U18 Champs and the Netball NZ Open Champs, and the national secondary schools’ events. There was a ray of sunshine when a revised ANZ Premiership got the go-ahead. An eventual move to Level 1 meant the league became the first professional women’s sporting competition in the world to return to action in front of crowds since the start of the global lockdown in March. In what had previously seemed unlikely, the Silver Ferns also got to play in front of home crowds. The Cadbury Series, featuring the Silver Ferns, New Zealand Men’s team and NZA was followed by the Taini Jamison series against England, the first international netball tests to be played since the outbreak of COVID-19. Earlier in the year, New Zealand’s most capped netballer, Laura Langman called time on her illustrious 163-test 15-year international career. Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua was acknowledged in the New Year’s Honours with a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to netball.
The impact of the wide-reaching consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic was evident once again in 2021, resulting in another disrupted year for many parts of the netball community. The Silver Ferns were among the casualties after their programme suffered plenty of upheaval, starting with the Constellation Cup series against Australia in March. While the ANZ Premiership, National Netball League and Netball NZ U18 Champs were able to complete their competitions, the inaugural Netball NZ Open Champs and NZ Secondary Schools Champs were not so fortunate. There was further disappointment in March when the Netball World Youth Cup 2021 (NWYC) scheduled for December 2 – 11 in Fiji was also cancelled. Adapting to an ever-changing landscape became part and parcel of life as a Silver Fern, Covid-19 once again being an influencing factor in their end of year programme. The three-test Cadbury Netball Series against the Vitality Roses was staged solely in Christchurch and including matches being played without crowds. There was similar disruption for the second instalment of the Cadbury Netball Series just two weeks later between the Silver Ferns and Aotearoa Men when a change in location was required. The first player to captain the Silver Ferns in New Zealand, Oonah Shannahan (nee Murray) also became the first to turn 100, when she celebrated the rare milestone in September. New Zealand’s Shirley Hooper was elected as the new Vice President of World Netball.
A largely youthful and new-look breed of Silver Ferns overcomes a disrupted build-up to this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which culminated in an all or nothing final match, the team rising to the occasion to clinch a well-merited bronze medal. It was a similar story in Christchurch when after a three-year hiatus, a youthful FAST5 Ferns team was selected to welcome the return of the FAST5 Netball World Series in November. An improving FAST5 Ferns took out the bronze medal. Southland’s Kristie Simpson set a significant personal milestone when she became New Zealand’s most capped national league umpire when recording her 120th match. After three Netball World Cups, three Commonwealth Games and over 200 combined national league games to her name, former Silver Ferns captain Katrina Rore retires. Rore earned 137 caps for the Silver Ferns. When the first whistle blew to start the ANZ Premiership, it also marked the 25th season of elite level netball leagues in New Zealand (1988 – 2022). The Pulse become the most successful team in ANZ Premiership history when winning a third title. Pulse defender Kelly Jury and Mystics shooter Grace Nweke are joint winners of the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award. After featuring for 14 seasons of national league netball, former Silver Ferns defender Anna Harrison calls time on her career. One of the game’s great characters and innovators, the ``Harrison Hoist’’ will forever remain part of Harrison’s legacy while adding to the lustre of her invaluable contribution to netball.