Silver Ferns v Jamaica: Coach Dame Noeline Taurua eases expectations on returning skipper Ameliaranne Ekenasio

Coach Dame Noeline Taurua has eased expectations on returning Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio, as she dons the black dress for the first time in 18 months.

Ekenasio, 31, hasn't played for the Silver Ferns since the start of 2021, when she went on maternity leave and then failed to regain fitness for this year's Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

But recalled to face Jamaica in three tests next week, the World Cup-winning shooter adds much-needed experience to a side missing senior players Gina Crampton and Karin Burger.

Amelianne Ekenasio.
Amelianne Ekenasio. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

Although Dame Noeline welcomes her back with open arms, she insists Ekenasio needs time to readjust to the rigours of the international game. 

"Not only her leadership, on and off the court, but her calming influence," Dame Noeline said. "And of course, that shot is beautiful.

"We're also wary she's coming off having 18 months off, so we're not packing on the expectation for her - even though we are.

"Also, we know there may be a bit of a transition period. I'm looking forward to seeing her out there."

Despite that readjustment, Dame Noeline admits Ekenasio won't be eased back into the swing of things either and hopes to make the most of having her star shooter available again.

"I'd like to play her a lot, but once again, we're building every day," she said. "I'm really happy with what she is currently doing. 

Ameliaranne Ekenasio for Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.
Ameliaranne Ekenasio for Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic. Photo credit: Image - Photosport

"Definitely, she'll be out on court, so we'll see what that looks like, as we get closer."

The build-up to this series has hardly followed the script the Silver Ferns would have wanted.

The 'Sunshine Girls' have named a squad containing just three players from their run to the Commonwealth Games final, where they lost to Australia and settled for silver - their best-ever placing at the event.

Netball NZ has had to delay the series, with Jamaica still travelling to Aotearoa, after passport delays in the USA.

But for Dame Noeline, subterfuge is not unexpected, as New Zealand try to win the Taini Jamison Trophy, which they surrendered to England in 2021.

"I don't feel insulted," she said. "I take it with a grain of salt. 

"To be honest, we probably expect they'd put out a bit of curlies or something that's different that we're not expecting.

"This is one of those things, but once again, our focus is on us.

"It gives the opportunity to get out there and still be better, knowing that our last experience with them was not so good."

Jamaica beat the Silver Ferns in the Birmingham semi-finals and also won their first Taini Jamison series in the build-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. 

Join us from 4pm Sunday for live updates of the first Silver Ferns v Jamaica test