Michael O'Keeffe: Five reasons why Silver Ferns will win Netball World Cup

OPINION: Well, that's a statement I never thought I'd write two years ago... even one year ago.

But as the Silver Ferns prepare to open their 2019 Netball World Cup campaign against Malawi on Friday, here are five reasons why I think they can win the tournament.

Noeline Taurua

 

The road to this World Cup started after the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, when Taurua was tasked with turning this Silver Ferns side around.

It was a tall order, especially considering how little time she had, but I like what she's done.

Firstly, she's been ruthless in her selections. Taurua left out experienced campaigners Katrina Rore and Bailey Mes from her first NZ squad.

Then, she imposed a fitness standard that had to be reached to make the squad. That no-BS attitude has changed netball in this country and restored the mongrel that's been missing form this side for some time.

On the court, Taurua's first few campaigns returned little in the way of results, but she's always kept the bigger picture in mind.

Noeline Taurua isn't afraid to get in her players' faces.
Noeline Taurua isn't afraid to get in her players' faces. Photo credit: Photosport

There's been steady progress under her guidance and while they lost twice to the NZ men's side, that was the best I've seen them perform - and they were still trialing combinations and getting familiar with one another.

More importantly, Taurua has a track record of winning. Taking a new team - the Sunshine Coast Lightning - to the Australian championship title in their first year was nothing to scoff at.

She followed that up by defending the title, despite losing their first three games of the season.

Taurua also remains the only person to coach an NZ team to the old trans-Tasman competition title.

She knows how to win and she'll help do it again at this World Cup.

Langman at centre

 

There's no hiding the fact that Laura Langman is New Zealand's best player, but she's even more valuable when playing centre.

Since returning to the black dress, Langman's flitted between both wing defence and centre.

The only time they've beaten Australia in the past year - game three of the Constellation Cup - Langman played centre.

The difference between the Ferns' Quad Series games against England (loss by 13) and the Diamonds (loss by three) was Langman played WD in the first game and C in the second.

NZ are better when Langman wears 'C'
NZ are better when Langman wears 'C'. Photo credit: Photosport

Without getting too bogged down in numbers, they're just better with Langman at centre and Taurua's confirmation that the New Zealand captain will play there is a boost for the Ferns chances.

Leadership

 

Langman is also the team captain and will be pivotal in making those oncourt decisions - but she has plenty of support, if needed.

Five of the six ANZ Premiership captains feature in this current squad  - only the Northern Stars' Leanna de Bruin is missing.

Add Langman, who captains the Sunshine Coast Lightning side in Australia, and you have a side that is full of leaders, both on the court and the bench.

Coaches can only do so much from the sidelines. When the game enters crunch-time, players need the composure and poise to manage the game themselves.

Having all those leaders will certainly help.

Experience

 

If you have to lose a World Cup before you win one, this current squad has seven survivors from the 2015 side that finished second to Australia.

Out of the top four sides, New Zealand enter the tournament as the second-most experienced team, behind England.

In total, the Silver Ferns have 14 Netball World Cup appearances among them, with Langman, Casey Kopua and Maria Folau returning for their fourth time.

Casey Kopua provides added leadership and experience to the Silver Ferns
Casey Kopua provides added leadership and experience to the Silver Ferns. Photo credit: Photosport

Those three previous campaigns have producer a lot of heartache - losses to Australia on all three occasions - so you can bet the fire in the belly will be burning for redemption and they'll have plenty of lessons to share with the current squad.

With this likely to be their final tilt at a title, that'll provide extra motivation. It would also be cruel to see such great servants of the game not to go out on a high.

Underdogs

 

Before the Silver Ferns departed for England, coach Noeline Taurua and defender Casey Kopua spoke about how they felt the "fear factor" of the black dress had taken a hit at the Commonwealth Games.

Their ranking reflects that - the Ferns enter the tournament ranked fourth in the world.

Their stocks have never been so low, but sometimes that has a silver lining.

From a psyche point of view, other teams might not prepare the same as they once would have against the Silver Ferns.

The Silver Ferns hit rock bottom at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
The Silver Ferns hit rock bottom at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Photo credit: Photosport

Because of that, New Zealand can also play with the freedom of knowing no-one (except me, apparently) actually expects them to lift the trophy.

At the time of writing, the Ferns were playing $12 at the TAB to win.

New Zealand is a nation that constantly punches above its weight. We flourish with the underdog tag and this is no different.

Prediction

 

The draw also works in New Zealand's favour. A pool-play loss to Australia would see them finish second in their group.

The Silver Ferns will beat England in the semis and do the same against the Diamonds in the final to claim their fifth world title.

Michael O'Keeffe is a Newshub sports reporter.

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