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Football Fern's unique double allegiance

Indiah-Paige Riley can lay claim to having played for both host nations at the FIFA Women's World Cup - but it's the black jersey she wants to wear come July. 

Time for women to fly in America's Cup

Will the inaugural women's America's Cup pave the way for female sailors to compete for the Auld Mug? Team NZ can see the path clearly, Suzanne McFadden discovers. 

'Still a kid' but driving up a storm

From riding in her Dad's rally car aged 12, school girl Bella Haggarty is now co-driving in some of the country's biggest events.

Edwards back following that black line in the pool

Swimmer Chelsey Edwards nearly gave the sport away twice, but with help from a pyschologist and a new training environment she's back competing for NZ

Fairytale may not be over yet for Fitzpatrick

Departing Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick ended her ANZ Premiership career on the highest note, but the fairytale may not end there - on the cusp of her first World Cup side for the Silver Ferns.

“Everyone wants the fairytale but it can only happen to one team.” 

So reflected Stars coach Kiri Wills, denied the perfect ending for a second year running, as her Stars lost the ANZ Premiership grand final on Sunday to the Northern Mystics, 74-56. The Mystics steadily piled on the goals throughout the game in Hamilton to claim their second league championship, never relinquishing the lead they took seconds after the first whistle, never letting the Stars draw closer than within two.

But the fairytale ending truly belonged to Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick, who retired from ANZ Premiership netball on a high. She played 43 minutes at goal keep, up against Stars goal shoot Maia Wilson - fierce rivals on the court, close friends off it. 

Wilson may have done enough to cement a spot on the plane to Cape Town for her very first Netball World Cup in July, ending up as the most accurate shooter in the league in one of the best seasons of her career.

And Fitzpatrick will also discover on Wednesday if she’ll play at her last World Cup - which unbelievably in a 13-year elite career would also be her Cup debut. 

*Rhapsody in blue - Sulu hits 150
*Silver Ferns shooter ready for first big dance

The two captains may have been at different ends of the spectrum in terms of the result, but shared the exact same thoughts. 

Fitzpatrick has 27 Silver Ferns caps since she made her debut in 2011, but is yet to make a World Cup team. She sat out five rounds due to a knee injury this season, but came back just as strong. Her return to the court was timed perfectly - the defender's leadership and on-court presence guiding the Mystics' final run to victory. 

When asked if she thinks she had done enough to make the Silver Ferns bound for South Africa, Fitzpatrick was diplomatic. 

“I think the selections are just going to be how are they going to fit the pieces of the puzzle,” she says. “So it’s not a reflection of if you’re good enough or not, it’s just what the fit is so it’s not up to us.” 

Wilson had similar thoughts. “I hope I get a really cool phone call on Wednesday, wishing me all the best and saying I’m on a plane,” she smiles. 

“But I’m at a space where even if it doesn’t go my way, I feel I’ve done everything I can to book myself a ticket. If it doesn’t happen, that’s all good, I’m just not right for that time. But I can be proud of the product I’ve produced this year.” 

Fitzpatrick won't return to the blue dress next year, whereas Wilson could be seen in purple for many more years. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

With the retirement of Bailey Mes, Wilson may have done enough to make the Silver Ferns World Cup team. Wilson shot 38/42 in the final, and had a season-long accuracy of 94 percent - the highest in the competition. 

The 25-year-old believes there are a few reasons why she’s had a stellar season. 

“First and foremost I feel really comfortable in my leadership,” she says. 

“I’ve been really well supported by not just the other three people in our leadership group, but actually our whole team. I feel very secure in myself, I think that translates to my leadership and being on court. 

“I’m proud of my contribution to this team, I am every year but for some reason, something magical’s come out of it and it set me in a comfortable place.” 

The game started and ended in tears for Fitzpatrick. Her twins, Tevita and Theresa, delivered the ball to Mystics centre Tayla Earle, creating an overwhelming wave of emotion for their mum, and didn’t end there.

“I was coming in and out of emotions during the whole game but I was always looking at my teammates and we had each other’s backs,” Fitzpatrick says. 

“Sometimes you just know, and I just knew because you could see it in everyone’s eyes. Even some of those loose balls where we had no right to get it, somehow one of us picked it up which shows how much we love each other.” 

That echoed what Stars coach Kiri Wills had said earlier: “Every now and then the bounce wouldn’t go our way, which was a little bit unlucky with some of the loose stuff.” 

The Stars lost last year’s grand final to the Central Pulse by 19 goals, and this year’s margin was 18, but Wills said this year didn’t feel as bad. 

“Last year, it was a bit of ‘throw the baby out with the bath water, let’s start again, let’s start new’. This year it will be ‘build’,” she says, noting how her team couldn’t stop the ball into Mystics goal shoot Grace Nweke. 

The match’s MVP, Nweke was on fire from the first whistle, sitting at 20 from 20 at the first quarter break, and finishing with a massive 70 goals. 

The final's MVP, Grace Nweke, with the ANZ Premiership trophy. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

She was well supported by Filda Vui, who forced an early change in the Stars’ defence, bringing on Holly Fowler on to shut her down at the centre pass. 

There were swarms of purple throughout the stadium, but both teams had equally loud supporters - making the trip south to Hamilton, the final played on neutral ground. 

By halfway through the final quarter, the win was well and truly sealed for the Mystics, and head coach Tia Winikerei took the chance to put all 11 of her players out on court. 

Getting the win in her very first season as head coach, Winikerei says it means a lot to her to be able to have the whole squad play.

“We’ve worked really hard to make sure people are confident and ready to go on the court whenever we’ve needed them and we’ve needed everybody to get here,” she says. 

The Mystics had injuries, illness and pregnancy all affecting player availability this season, but it didn’t affect the team, players like Katie Te Ao and Carys Stythe (predicted by many to be a future Ferns star) able to slot in seamlessly. 

“We’ve got developing players in our team but those players are supported and they’re confident to go on,” Winikerei says. 

“It’s a privilege and it delights me to be able to give those players that opportunity. What we’re seeing from them is that they are good enough and they’re going to be exceptional with time. It’s really cool.” 

*The Silver Ferns 2023 Netball World Cup team will be named at 1pm on Wednesday, live on Sky Sport 1.

Bunge's bold football dream for Aotearoa

A lack of female football stars in the media didn't stop Claudia Bunge on her journey to the top; now the Football Fern hopes a new campaign helps girls see what they can become

The first time Claudia Bunge watched a women’s football game, it featured some of the Football Ferns she now calls her team-mates. 

Playing with boys until around the age of 14, Bunge didn’t have too many football role models growing up, rarely seeing the Football Ferns on TV or in the media.

But when she went to see the U17 Women’s World Cup in 2008, when New Zealand hosted the inaugural tournament, it changed her life.  

“That was the first time I went to a women’s football game and I thought it was awesome,” Bunge says, just nine years old at the time. 

“Some of the girls I play with now were on that team … seeing them play was really cool for me and kind of got me into it.” 

*Dame Valerie Adams plays on
*Rosie White out to draw line under craziest of years

Current Football Ferns Annalie Longo, Katie Bowen and Vic Esson were all part of that team, plus recently-retired Rosie White – one of Bunge’s first role models. 

“Rosie came to one of our national talent centres and we did a Q&A with her and that was like the first time meeting a Fern up close,” she says. 

Bunge (Ngāi Tūhoe) moved clubs to play with more girls, and was part of an all-girls team who played in a boys' league when she was around 15. 

But around that age, there was “a massive drop-off” in participation numbers. 

“A lot of girls would go play other sports, or didn’t really see where football could take them,” Bunge explains. 

“The paths were pretty limited and if you weren’t watching the Ferns, you didn’t really have anyone to inspire to be. There were heaps of girls who were dropping out.” 

Bunge (right) is involved in Visa's PlayOn campaign, helping to inspire girls to continue with sport. Photo: Supplied

This aligns with the recent research that inspired Visa’s PlayOn campaign, which features Bunge, with a goal to make female role models more visible and encourage more girls to stay in sport. 

From their young female respondents, it was found 64 percent don’t have a female sports star to look up to. Fifteen is the peak age girls drop out of sports, citing reasons like lack of role models, body confidence and social and study commitments. 

Bunge can see why these things would cause girls to give up, finding the balance most difficult after she left school. 

Not sure what she wanted to study, she would work from 7am-3pm in an office job, customer-facing for a nursing service company, before going to training in the evenings. 

“Balancing that with going to trainings, that was pretty hard mentally and physically,” Bunge recalls. 

“You had to be pretty switched on, you were dealing with unhappy clients and unhappy families so it was quite a lot to do at a young age.” 

A gifted athlete, Bunge chose football over tennis when she was a teenager, partly due to the team aspect having become close with teammates over the years. 

“For me, the reason why I fell in love with football was because of the people I met and the friendships I made,” Bunge says. 

“I’m best mates with my teammates in the Ferns and overseas too – that’s the real reason why I love the sport.” 

The Visa research, in partnership with Year 13, a digital youth engagement platform, found girls were most influenced by their friends when it came to choosing sport. 

“Us girls, we’re quite social I feel, generally, so I know feeling comfortable and feeling safe around people who you value and you care about is a big thing,” Bunge says. 

“I encourage girls to give it a go; you’ll meet some amazing people along the way. 

“If you’re not enjoying it or there are some things hindering you, there are places and clubs and schools that do value you. So just be brave and if you’re not happy with something, then try go somewhere else.” 

Bunge is hoping to make her first senior World Cup team. Photo: Getty Images

Bunge thinks that while the negative side of social media can see young girls pressured to look a certain way, it can also show women succeeding. 

“We’re starting to come into a new era where you’ve got these amazing women who are winning world titles, like Serena Williams, Val Adams, all those amazing women who are still feminine but also they’re bosses at their sport,” says Bunge. 

The Visa research showed 29 percent of girls who don’t play sport listed body insecurities as a reason for dropping out – or not playing at all. 

“I feel there’s a lot more visibility for those sorts of athletes for younger girls nowadays. But back then, even further along, when they were kids, I just don’t think there was much visibility. 

“There wasn’t a lack of role models but the visibility was lacking for sure, girls didn’t really know what they could be or what they could become.” 

Bunge says it’s important to show a range of role models so girls can find someone who looks like them, or has qualities they can relate to. 

“Having Indigenous players across Australia and Māori players in New Zealand is really big; having players that identify with LGBTQI groups is really big, and something that’s starting to become a bit more normalised now which is really cool,” she says. 

“Representation’s really huge and if people can see athletes who look like them, then it goes to show they can also do that too.” 

Being a part of the Visa Play On campaign alongside Dame Valerie Adams and Matildas player Ellie Carpenter is a privilege for Bunge. 

“I feel very lucky and very privileged to be helping promote this campaign with Visa Play On and hopefully do what I can and be as present as possible. Even if it encourages one person to keep playing, then I see that as a win.” 

Bunge made her Football Ferns debut in 2019 and has 20 senior caps. She was part of the U17 and U20 teams, and the Tokyo Olympic team. 

The opportunity to be selected for the World Cup and play in front of a home crowd would be overwhelming.

“I think I would just cry, I do think about it sometimes and obviously we’ve still got quite a bit of work to do before that opening game … but it would be incredible,” Bunge says. 

“Even playing in Christchurch, at the end of last year, that was my first time playing for the Ferns at home, just to have my parents at that game, to see the kids in the stands was really, really cool, you just feel really proud. 

“We spend so much time playing overseas, with the Ferns, we travel a bit and we play away a lot so to be home is just different, playing in front of a home crowd, so I think the game on the 20th against Norway will be really special.” 

It’s estimated over two billion people will tune in to the World Cup – double the viewership of 2019's Cup in France. They’ve also set a goal of over one million tickets to be sold between New Zealand and Australia. 

At the Rugby World Cup, more than 42,000 fans packed out Eden Park to watch the Black Ferns beat England in the final –something the Football Ferns hope to repeat in their opening match against Norway in July. 

“You saw what the Black Ferns accomplished. Nine months before the World Cup, not many people were on board, they were playing in small stadiums with small crowds, but that can change really quickly,” Bunge says. 

“Obviously them winning the World Cup helped with that, but they had really good role models and amazing athletes and a good team to help drive that.” 

Bunge used to play football with Black Fern Renee Holmes, so followed their whole tournament very closely. 

In Europe in the past year, a number of women’s football matches have drawn more than 80,000 fans, evidence of the recent investment put into the women’s game. 

“We haven’t quite had the same recognition here yet but I think with an event this big, hopefully that can drive a bit more change and New Zealand can get behind us like they did with the Black Ferns,” says Bunge. 

“The fact that Kiwi kids can literally go to games in their local towns, and not even just Ferns games, any game – I really encourage parents to take their kids to any game and hopefully it can inspire some kids to give football a go, or just sport a go in general.” 

The clash of the wingwomen

The ANZ Premiership grand final will be a showdown of netball’s great wingwomen – Mystics’ Michaela Sokolich-Beatson vs Stars’ Gina Crampton. Suzanne McFadden speaks to both athletes, on a common mission.

It’s a gritty battle just too close to call.

Stars wing attack Gina Crampton and Mystics wing defence Michaela Sokolich-Beatson have gone head-to-head multiple times this netball season – and it’s hard to say who’s had the better of whom.

If you factor in pre-season games, this weekend marks the seventh faceoff between the Mystics and the Stars this year – but this is the match that matters most, the ANZ Premiership grand final.

Apart from both having stand-out seasons, there’s so much rival wings Sokolich-Beatson and Crampton share in common.

* Report card for netball's top league
* Rhapsody in blue - Sulu hits 150

They’ve both come back after time away from the game – Crampton taking a sabbatical after last year’s Commonwealth Games, living in New York with her rugby-playing partner, Fa’asiu Fuatai.

And Sokolich-Beatson absent from the court for 26 months recovering from the most unfortunate chain of injuries – rupturing both her Achilles tendons, one after the other.

Both women say they’ve come back reinvigorated, fervent. Better.

They’re also the silent leaders in their ANZ Premiership teams – the perfect wingwomen to their captains, with their own proven leadership skills on the world stage and both quietly leading by example on court.

Silver Ferns captain Gina Crampton leaps to take a ball under stiff English defence at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography.

Crampton captained the Silver Ferns to Commonwealth Games bronze in Birmingham last year, so she’s the perfect sounding board for Stars captain Maia Wilson. Their on-court combination has blossomed this season, too.

“I’ve never had a connection like it with anyone,” goal shoot Wilson says. “It’s seamless, telepathic in some way. And I absolutely love her in a leadership space – she brings so much.”

Sokolich-Beatson led the New Zealand U21 team to victory at the 2017 World Youth Cup, and stepped into the Mystics captain’s shoes early in the ANZ Premiership season, when Sulu Fitzpatrick sat out five rounds with a knee injury.

She'll likely become the captain full-time if she re-signs with the Mystics next season – as Fitzpatrick bows out in her final national league game on Sunday. (Although it's the first all-Auckland final, the game will be played at Hamilton's Glowbox Arena – a decision forced by venue availability.)

Sokolich-Beatson feels she owes Fitzpatrick a lot: “Not only do I think I’m a better leader because of her, but I feel like I’m a better person. Now I take a step back and look at the whole picture rather than what’s happening right in front of me.”

Both Crampton and Sokolich-Beatson hope to be playing on the same team in Cape Town 66 days from now, at the Netball World Cup. But they come at it from very different angles.

Crampton, you’d assume, is a shoo-in. She’s the most experienced Silver Fern still playing, with 63 test caps, and she’s only reinforced her expertise as a feeder this season (she tops the list of feeds in the league with 691).

“It’s hard to get away from the World Cup at the moment – the logo pops up in the corner of the TV in every game, and I understand because it’s a pinnacle year,” she says. “But I learned after missing out on the 2018 Commonwealth Games team that you need to perform well for your franchise if you’re going to make that 15 going to South Africa.

“Having a narrow focus is so important, and you just have to wait to see whether you’ve done enough when they name the team next week.”

Michaela Sokolich-Beatson makes life tough for Pulse's Maddy Gordon in the 2023 league. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Sokolich-Beatson, though, is on the periphery of selection. Her horrid run of injuries mean she hasn’t played for the Silver Ferns since August 2018 in the Constellation Cup. The defender was out of action in 2020 and 2021, and was still rehabbing throughout last season’s comeback.

“Then it seemed like it was never going to happen again,” the 26-year-old says of her Silver Ferns future. “But now I’m back to how I was feeling in 2019. I know I still have more to offer, and I know I can get better.

“So I’d love to go [to the World Cup], but essentially it’s out of my control. I feel like I’ve improved on last year, and if that’s good enough, great. But otherwise, I still have time.

“I’m not in any national squads, so it’s easier for me because I only have the Mystics to focus on.”

As you’d expect, Sokolich-Beatson and Crampton have a healthy dose of respect for each other, too.

The 31-year-old Stars attacker, in her 12th season of elite netball, views her opponent as a “big leader” in the Mystics team, and a master of stealth.  

“She rallies the troops, especially on defence,” Crampton says. “She’s had a really big season and I’m so stoked for her after all she’s been through.

“Her closing speed is probably the best in the competition. You don’t even think she’s there, and then, suddenly, she appears. It’s a strength in her game I need to be well aware of.

“It’s funny – you know all these things and then when you’re actually in the game you sometimes forget. I’ll be really making sure I’m starving her of any opportunity to take the ball off me, because we all know she can.”

Gina Crampton (left) needs a break from Michaela Sokolich-Beatson's intense attention in the ANZP grand final. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Sokolich-Beatson can totally relate to Crampton’s forgetfulness.

“After playing against her for a few years now, you’d think you’d get better at marking her,” Sokolich-Beatson laughs. “You can do all the analysis you like, but when it’s happening in real time, it all goes out the window and just you deal with what you’re dealing with.

“Gina goes about her business well. She doesn’t have many – if any – flaws in her game. She’s cool as a cucumber and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her rattled, not in international netball either.

“So the reality is, you just have to do your business. Last year when I wasn’t feeling too flash, she set the benchmark very high. But the whole Stars attacking end are solid, so even if you shut one player down momentarily, one of the other three will step up.”

Both players, and their teams, seek a kind of redemption from this grand final.

Last year, the Stars toppled the defending champion Mystics, plagued by injuries and illness, in the elimination final. Then the Stars suffered the biggest grand final loss in the league’s history, going down by 19 to the Pulse.

Their come-from-behind 50-49 victory over the Pulse last Sunday to reach this pinnacle match has given Crampton confidence.

“I’m confident in how we’re playing and how we’re able to handle those pressure moments, those crucial situations a lot better now,” she says. “That’s the biggest improvement in our group this year, but you can’t go in too confident.

“Personally, I went through a lull mid-season – I started well and I’m finishing better."

Gina Crampton puts a bounce pass past the Pulse's Maddy Gordon, watched by Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (right). Photo: Michael Bradley

Crampton sings the praises of two Stars players who may have flown under the radar – centre Mila Reuelu-Buchanan for a "rock-solid season" and goal attack Amorangi Malesala.  

“Amo has come up and taken the load off Maia as much as she can and put up the winning shots for us," she says.

Wilson and Malesala have had a stellar season, averaging 59 goals a match – the Stars’ best shooting performance in the premiership’s seven seasons. A self-assured Wilson has shot with more volume and accuracy (94 percent so far) than ever before.

“The team have had a really good season, and hopefully we can still take it one more step on Sunday,” says Crampton. The Stars have never won a premiership title.

The Mystics have also had a field day around the goalpost – averaging 69 goals a game (bettering 58 in their only championship-winning season of 2021). Goal shoot Grace Nweke has been 92 percent accurate, and is easily the most prolific shooter in the competition.

You can expect this final to be tight – the three encounters between these teams in the regular season were all decided by five goals or less (and one went to a rare extended extra time). On the scorecard, the Mystics won two of the three to take home the Northern Challenge Trophy.

But Sokolich-Beatson says this showdown feels different – it’s all or nothing.

“We’re trying not to do anything different, but you still know as an individual what this is,” she says. “I’m glad we get the opportunity to be here. I truly believe we deserve to.

“Our team is pretty much the same as last year, when we were aware those last four rounds we weren’t good enough. This feels like we get that shot we missed out on.

“And I feel like I finally have my body back, which is such a nice feeling.”

Sulu Fitzpatrick goes high for a ball with Steel's Georgia Heffernan in this year's ANZ Premiership. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography.

Of course, the Mystics have another motive to end this season gripping the premiership trophy – it would be the perfect farewell for Fitzpatrick.

The 30-year-old defender has played more than 150 games across five franchises, but all of her milestones have been in the Mystics’ blue dress.

“I will really miss her because I’ve never worked with anyone the way I work with her,” Sokolich-Beatson says.

“As soon as a training finishes, we call each other in the car and discuss how things went, where we felt we could have said or done something differently There’s no need for a filter – you just say it how it is.

“I’ll watch her sometimes and still struggle with how she knows when people need a kick up the arse versus love… nearly every single time she gets it right. I feel lucky I get to witness that." 

*The ANZ Premiership grand final between the Mystics and the Stars is at Hamilton's Globox Arena on Sunday. Coverage begins at 3.30pm live on Sky Sport 1 and free-to-air on Prime. 

Dame Valerie Adams plays on

New research shows a majority of young girls don't have a sporting role model, but a new campaign is aiming to change that - with a very famous face. 

For someone who’s inspired countless Kiwis to pursue their sporting dreams, Dame Valerie Adams never had a sporting role model of her own. 

Adams has won four Olympic shot put medals - two of them gold - but the bronze she claimed in Tokyo, as a mother of two, inspired mums to return to elite sport. 

She’s had to pave her own way to ensure people like her are represented in the media, and visible for girls to look up to. 

New research, by digital youth engagement platform Year13 and Visa, shows 64 percent of girls don’t have a sportswoman they look up to. 

For Adams, now 38, the Kiwi sports stars she recalls watching were boxer David Tua and rugby star Jonah Lomu. She felt there were no sportswomen who looked like her. 

*Girls stepping into Dame Val’s shoes - literally
*Olympic Greatness: Dame Val and her Louloubelle

As a Polynesian woman from south Auckland, Adams found refuge in sport growing up. 

“I lost my mum when I was 15 and, yes, I could have stopped sports quite easily,” the Tongan legend says. 

“But I found sports as a way out for me, and a way to express my grief in a positive way, as opposed to a negative way. Because the normal thing to do if you’re from the community I’m from is to have babies, go on the dole and c’est la vie. 

“But because I had these trauma experiences as a youngster, sport was a way out for me; it was a way to be able to deal with the situation I was in.” 

She finds the results of the research concerning, especially with 15 being the age where most girls are dropping out of sports - for reasons like lack of role models, prioritising study and social activities, and body confidence. 

“Fifteen is such a very tough age for a lot of these young women. There’s a lot of pressure, with things like social media. Society has changed,” Adams explains. 

“The way we were brought up is not the way we’re going to be teaching our kids how to be today. They’re two very different upbringings and we have to acknowledge that and the pressures they’re under as youngsters in this day and age.” 

Adams feels privileged that a broad range of people have been inspired by her journey - even if it’s just to get off their couch and go out for a walk. She retired from shot put last year, but continues to coach younger sister Lisa. 

Adams at the Tokyo Olympics with a picture of her inspiration - her two children. Photo: Getty Images

A “struggling mum” with two young children - daughter Kimoana (5) and son Kepaleli (4) - Adams’ upbringing as a Pasifika woman in south Auckland, losing her parents at a young age and struggling financially as a family was tough. 

“All these life experiences are very real and people on the ground, normal people, can relate to,” she says. 

“That’s what I continue to want to showcase and continue to share that story, but talk to people more in-depth about certain things that, maybe, concern them.” 

Adams didn’t have anyone to turn to with advice on how to be a professional athlete after having children, but has now seen multiple mums return to elite competitions. 

“That just goes to show society has changed, the way we think about women in general has changed, their ability to be able to have a child and come back to the sporting world has changed,” Adams says. 

“There was a time when if you were pregnant, all sponsorships would be cut. Where today, that’s all changing. Our respect for women has risen, but there’s still a lot of work to be done in that space. 

“To be able to do that makes me even more comfortable for the future and any other athletes who want to come through the ranks and have a child.”

Returning to sports as a mum is not only beneficial for the athlete, but also for her children. 

The Visa PlayOn research showed the biggest influence on girls to play sport were their friends, followed by family. But 71 percent of girls had no parents who currently played sport. 

Coming from a very sporty family, that was never a concern for Adams - the financial burden of sports was the biggest struggle for her and her whānau. 

There's a lot of aspects to Adams' identity, which make her relatable to a lot of people. Photo: supplied

Adams has been with Team Visa since 2007, but feels fortunate to be part of this PlayOn campaign during another huge event for women’s sport in Aotearoa, when the FIFA Women’s World Cup takes place in July. 

“It’s a very exciting time for everyone, but I’m hoping we can really see it’s out there, people buy the tickets to go to the games, and they are there, present, to support our girls,” Adams says. 

“They deserve to have Kiwis there supporting them.” 

The Rugby World Cup at the end of last year was an incredible experience for Adams, who presented the Black Ferns with their jerseys for the final. 

“It was such a positive atmosphere, everybody was on a high,” she says. “They were all vibing and it was actually wonderful to be part of it, just for that very short time.”

“To be able to come out and succeed on the world stage here at home was such an exceptional time for us as a country, but also for every female out there - these girls created history here in Aotearoa and it was amazing.” 

It’s Adams’ hope New Zealand can keep momentum going into football’s World Cup, and show some of the Football Ferns stars to the billions around the world watching. The 2019 women’s tournament in France had more than one billion viewers, and FIFA are hoping to double that for this event. 

“New Zealand has a responsibility to take the opportunity that’s been presented to us and do something with it,” Adams says. 

“We have the pleasure of having the US team come down here to New Zealand, and they’re a big team - they’re like badasses - so we need to capitalise on these things. 

“With Visa’s PlayOn campaign, it’s the best time to roll it out, to actually bring light to it, do something about it. And let people know the importance of this and how this could really change that age group of girls and the way they think about sports in general.” 

New Zealand leads the way in visibility of women’s sport in the media, but Adams believes social media also has a big part in how athletes are perceived. 

“There we can share our own journeys and stories and we have control over that, it’s not all done by the media anymore, which makes it better and more powerful because it’s more authentic,” she explains. 

“Those are platforms where you’re able to connect with society, and with young women in particular, about certain issues. That gives us sportspeople and role models out there more control about what we want to share and how we want to share it, and engaging with people all around Aotearoa.” 

Adams says girls look for role models they share qualities with. 

“It’s human nature to see someone in your likeness who you have some things in common with, and then relate to them that way. Then you’re more likely to believe what they say or are interested in what they have to say, it’s just the way humans are. 

There’s a variety of Kiwi sportswomen who girls can look up to from various codes - something Adams is proud of. 

“Whether you’re a team sportsperson or an individual sportsperson, there are a lot of amazing role models out there who set the bar high,” she says. 

“It showcases that you can make it, or this could be a career if you wanted to continue with that, it is possible.” 

Sport changed Adams’ life, and it’s her hope it could do the same for other girls. 

“Find what you love to do, and once you do that, it’s easy to turn up to training, and to participate in sport. If you love what you do, it’s not actually forcing you to do sport,” she says.

"There are a lot of opportunities available out there, you’ve just got to make the first move. But know there are a lot of female sportswomen out there who want you and value you as a person, as young woman of this country.” 

But it’s not just sports, it’s being active and having all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that’s important to Adams. 

“Sports is one thing, but my view on it is bigger than that,” she says. “It’s actually movement and health and mental health - and how can we get girls to continue to be active for the sake of themselves and how they feel about themselves.” 

Pawson battered, broken but unbowed

Veteran cyclist Penny Pawson recovers from the ravages of injury to set a world record on the track

The adage ‘The older I get, the better I was’ definitely doesn’t ring true for world record-setting cyclist Penny Pawson, who like a good wine, just gets better with age.

Cycling has been, and continues to be, a big part of Pawson’s life, with a busy mix of being a mother of two and a doctor. And she’s overcome some terrible breaks to become one of the world’s best in her age group.

As Penny Warring, she represented New Zealand at the turn of the new Millennium in a road cycling team with the likes of Sarah Ulmer and Meshy Holt. But as she was working three jobs at the time, there was precious-little time for significant training.

Having married Commonwealth Games cycling medallist Tim Pawson, Penny stopped riding in 2003 with the birth of their first son, and two years later, a second son.

Now if you’re wondering how much cycling plays a role in the Pawson household, the boys are named Edward (after Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx) and Bernard (after five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault). And Tim has developed a successful bike distribution business.

Progeny and profession were front-and-centre for Penny until Tim suggested they compete in the World Masters Games in Auckland in 2018.

“I hadn’t ridden more than 3km to and from work on a mountain bike,” she says. “But I found time to train and I won the individual time trial and the road race outright across all Masters age groups.”

A surprised Pawson got the bug again, and organised time to train regularly. She was selected for the UCI world masters road championships in Albi, France, where she won a bronze in the time trial (on a road bike) and was eighth in the road race despite a broken derailleur on her bike.

The race was carnage, with many crashes, which led Pawson to consider trying track cycling instead.

In her first time on the velodrome, she broke the national age group pursuit record, and won several races, which encouraged her to compete in the 2019 world track cycling championships in Manchester. She came home with the gold medal and rainbow jersey in the points race and silver in the individual pursuit by 0.17s.

She moved to the 50-54 years age group and narrowly missed several attempts to break the individual pursuit world best time, but she continued with a focus on that mark.

Pawson also returned to the road, competing in Waikato’s Dynamo road race series for open women, winning five of six races – with her teammate, Tokyo Olympic triathlete Ainsley Thorpe. Their plan was for Thorpe to attack with 10kms to go in her bid to win.

Going downhill Thorpe lost control after hitting a pothole, swerving across the hole, and with nowhere to go, Pawson smashed into her bike, and flew over the bars.

“I was knocked out and when I came to, I found my right clavicle up almost through the skin,” Pawson says. “The shoulder and concussion were the worst of my list of injuries.”

Pawson, who’s a GP in Auckland, went back to work after a few weeks off, but surgeons decided the injuries to her arm were too complex to fix and could not provide a range of motion needed to ride a bike.

Pawson about to compete in the Omnium at the Auckland track championships at the Avantidrome. Photo: Cycling NZ

“I had months of physio and by that time I could finally get my arm high enough to allow me to brush my teeth, eat with a spoon and brush my hair,” she says.

Pawson managed to ride one-armed on a trainer and she continued with ongoing rehab. But just when there was light at the end of the tunnel, there was another setback while she and Tim were in Israel, supporting son Edward who was competing at the UCI junior track world championships.

“I had no bike so thought I might run,” Pawson says. “I did a daft thing while out running and over did it, fracturing my tibia, which set me back until the end of 2022.”

Pawson, coached by Olympic cycling great Hayden Roulston, returned to action for the Auckland track championships in February this year - the first time she’d pinned on a number since that fateful day in May 2022.

“That was a bit scary, but I got through and actually found that I was close to the world record which amazed me. And this was without any intensity work because of the broken leg,” she says.

Fellow noted Counties Manukau Cycling Club masters rider Colin Claxton wanted to attempt a world best time at the upcoming national championships, and asked Pawson if she also wanted to do so, and share the cost of drug testing required to authenticate any record.

“Despite a shoulder that’s still separated, which affected any power from a start gate in the pursuit, I decided, why not?” Pawson says.

She trained hard, and in the attempt clocked 2m 30.408s in the 2000m individual pursuit to set the world’s best time for the 50-54 years age group - 0.7s better that the previous world record.

“It was amazing. I don’t know what’s happened under the surface of the water to get there,” Pawson says.

“There’s this myth that it’s somehow easier to break a world record when you’re a master, especially for timed events. Many times I’ve heard that from younger riders.

“But it just doesn’t work like that. As our bodies get older, those times and speeds look like they might be easier to accomplish, but it’s just as hard as it is for an elite.

“To be best in the world as a master, you probably need to have been one of the best as an elite, or somehow you have missed your calling and picked up the sport later.”

What lies ahead for Pawson, with a fully repaired and healthy body? No-one would doubt her faculty or fighting qualities.

Water polo star's childhood tricks pay off

One of NZ's top water polo players, Bernadette Doyle's childhood enthusiasm hasn't waned, helping her team to the World Cup super final.

If any Auckland water polo teams were short on players, they only had to look to the side of the pool.   

Bernadette Doyle would be there, ready with her togs. 

The youngster would turn up to the pool prepared, even when she wasn’t playing for any teams, just in case she could have the chance to fill in. 

Her commitment to the sport even saw her trying to trick organisers at development camps. 

“I would lie about my age so I could go with the older kids cause I wanted to learn and improve,” Doyle laughs. 

“It was also really funny because I was so short, everybody knew I was too young.” 

*Years of training solo mould a Kiwi water polo star
*How Kiwi water polo star won Olympic bronze

Even before she started playing water polo at the age of eight, she knew all the rules, watching her three older siblings in the pool. 

“I used to go on trips watching them, I loved it and I wanted to play,” says Doyle, known as Bernie to her friends. 

Now 22, Doyle is one of the most experienced players in the New Zealand team, making her senior debut in 2017. 

The New Zealand women’s team have just qualified for the FINA Women's Water Polo World Cup super final, to be held in California in June. It will be the team’s first time competing in the event in 13 years. 

They went through their Division Two World Cup matches in Berlin in May undefeated to qualify for the finals, where they'll meet seven of the world's top teams. Doyle was named most valuable player for their 12-6 win over Germany, scoring four goals. 

“It’s a big milestone to play against these big teams again, because we have all been training really hard and we do want to be competitive against these teams and see where we’re at,” says Doyle. 

New Zealand are not in the top 20 of the world rankings at the moment, partly due to a lack of competition during Covid, while the country was still in lockdown with heavy travel restrictions. 

“Usually we don’t get any of these kinds of games before world champs, because these teams, they kind-of do their own separate tournaments that New Zealand is not usually included in,” Doyle explains. NZ is going up against the top three ranked teams at the World Cup - Hungary, the United States and Spain. 

“So it’s a really big opportunity and I think we’re all really excited to do our best and show how hard we’ve been working.” 

“If we don’t achieve the scores or the results we want, at least we get the opportunity to play these teams, work on what we need to before we go to that world champs.” 

Doyle's passion for water polo started even before she started playing. Photo: Natasha Boshkovski

No New Zealand water polo team has ever qualified for an Olympic Games, with the sport being contested for men at the Games since 1900, and women since 2000. 

Doyle says making an Olympic Games is not only a huge personal goal, but also something the team has been working towards. 

“It’s definitely a really big goal for a lot of us in the squad, we really want to get there,” she says, the closest being Paris in 2024. 

The number of Kiwi water polo players going overseas has risen in the past few years, with a handful in Europe and dozens in the US. 

Now home in Auckland for a short stay before heading to the World Cup in the US, Doyle believes the standard of water polo in New Zealand has increased exponentially, partly thanks to the opportunities available for players to train overseas, but also due to the options at home. 

“Even when I look back at when I was in school, so five years ago now, there was only one premier water polo team,” she says. 

“But now there’s six or seven senior teams, which is crazy - it’s crazy to me that there’s that growth.” 

Doyle played water polo in Hawaii after leaving school, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

“That was a last minute decision for me, usually it happens when I see lots of girls in our national programme continuing to improve that I don’t want to miss out,” Doyle says, her competitive nature and drive to be the best inspiring the move. 

She’s looking for a club to play for overseas, having spent time playing in Greece lately, but she’s still a big team player when it comes to representing New Zealand. 

“You don’t want to go unless it’s going to be something that helps you improve to help the team, so you just have to be careful what clubs you do sign to.” 

The New Zealand women's water polo team after qualifying for the World Cup finals. 

Doyle was an athletically talented child, playing all the sports she could, including competitive swimming since she was six. 

Around Year 7, she started to take water polo more seriously, trying out for New Zealand age groups well above her age.  

“I think at one stage, having all these sports helped me a lot. I did gymnastics for a little bit, even that helped me, just with my core strength and that kind of stuff, but it did get to a point when I was way too busy,” Doyle says. 

“One of the coaches had said to somebody I know, ‘Oh we don’t want to pick her because we think she’s going to go off and do triathlon or something’. That’s when I had in my head, okay, I’m not going to stop doing all my other sports but I’m going to make sure I’m focusing on playing water polo and showing that I’m committed to it.” 

Doyle has played at North Harbour Water Polo Club for 15 years, and moved from Westlake Girls High School to St Cuthbert's College when she was in Year 11. 

The move to the private school meant training for water polo became a lot easier, with Doyle training in the pool every day, sometimes even multiple times a day. 

Doyle had to return home from Hawaii when Covid hit, after doing three semesters of an animation course - which was hard to do online. She transferred her degree to New Zealand, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Photo Media. 

She managed to finish her degree by November last year, so she could play in Greece for the NO Patras team, who compete in the A1 Ethniki league, the highest professional water polo league in Greece. 

“It was a half season but I just really wanted to make sure I got those games in for all our tournaments coming up,” explains Doyle. 

“It’s getting quite competitive in our squad, so I didn’t want to slack behind with lots of the other girls.” 

She met up with her teammates in Germany in May for the Division Two World Cup games, only for a short time before they all went their separate ways again. 

“We didn’t do anything other than train, eat and play the games,” says Doyle. 

“But it was really just fun being around people who had the same goal as you, just hearing about their experiences overseas in the teams they’re playing. Just being with a group of girls that care for you but also care for the programme was really fun.” 

Doyle was a bit nervous to compete, feeling a little unprepared due to the lack of international games over the past few years. 

“You’re isolated and you don’t know how your training is paying off, because you’re playing in a different league…you work as hard as you possibly can, but you don’t know if it’s the right level,” she explains. 

“So I think there were quite a few girls in Europe who knew they’d been training hard but were just nervous to come back into the squad and see how we perform together without a lot of training together.” 

Doyle says the team is like a family, with a lot of the athletes having played together since they were 11, growing a strong team culture. 

Bernadette being the fourth of five Doyle siblings, one goal is getting that team to the Paris Olympics, another is to play alongside younger sister Gabrielle in the New Zealand senior team.

*The Women’s Water Polo World Cup super final begins on June 23 in California, as New Zealand take on the Netherlands in their quarterfinal. 

Black Ferns' fitness weapon - the 'bomb squad'

He helped get them fit enough to be world champions, now Craig Twentyman is relishing the next phase for rugby's Black Ferns

The Black Ferns World Cup win last year was as much a rugby miracle as it was a fitness miracle. Meet Craig Twentyman - the Kiwi strength and fitness coach who helped condition the Black Ferns to play fast, with many methods learned across the Tasman.

In 2013, Twentyman was instrumental in the creation and delivery of the first centralised, fulltime, professional women’s rugby sevens training programme in Australia. The strength and conditioning coach helped the Aussies win the inaugural Olympic sevens gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

By 2019, he’d jumped ship to the Wallabies, a part of Michael Cheika’s staff at the World Cup.

The Hawkes Bay native always had an eye on home, but even when he tried to leave Australia, he couldn’t.

A meeting with Stephen Kearney resulted in work with the Warriors. During the 2020 NRL season, the Warriors were forced to isolate in a Covid bubble in Australia. After two coaches and a mere eight wins from 24 matches, Twentyman was even more determined to return to New Zealand.

An opening emerged with New Zealand Rugby. Twentyman joined the Black Ferns in late 2021, but they were in worse condition than the Warriors.

A disastrous Northern Tour saw record losses to England and France and a public falling out between players and coaches. Did he consider crossing the Tasman again?

“The Northern Tour was terrible from a results point of view, but it’s important to look at it in context,” Twentyman says.

“It was poorly resourced with some ladies having only played two club games the whole year, contrasted with the professional set-ups in England and France. Except for one of two staff, the rest of us were part-time, battling through Covid and full time jobs. The girls were lambs to the slaughter. It was hard to take because of the proud legacy of the Black Ferns.”

Coach Glenn Moore resigned and in came Black Ferns director of rugby Wayne Smith, who was keen to implement a new strategy: 'True to the New Zealand way', ‘Number 8 wire,’ ‘Innovation,’ ‘Disrupt the opposition,’ ‘All-out attack.' were among the mantras.

A fast, skillful, intuitive, ambitious and unorthodox approach was the only way to topple Northern Hemisphere might.

Twentyman with Black Ferns former assistant coach Whitney Hansen. Photo: Getty Images

Trouble was, the Black Ferns were seriously unfit.

“The first thing we did was a gap analysis to see where the squad was at physically, technically, and tactically. Then we asked where they needed to be,” Twentyman says

“The lack of time proved to be a blessing in disguise. It forced us to zero-in on the absolute necessities. We knew we weren’t going to achieve world class standards in conventional fitness metrics in the time we had, but we had to be fit for purpose.

"Getting the tight five group fit for the game we wanted to play for 80 minutes was going to be tough, so we prepared some players for high tempo 40 to 50 minute bursts. We joked about having a ‘bomb’ squad like the Springboks.

“We had to be mindful of how much high tempo training the players could tolerate. Yes, it was intense, but we couldn’t be pedal-to-the-metal all the time. Recovery and sleep before afternoon trainings were very important.”

GPS data proved vital in understanding what games look like in different phases. How does the hardest 30-second period compare with a block of 20-minutes of work? Breaking down specific fitness demands within a game, translating those demands into training scenarios and devising desired targets to reach optimum performance in key moments was a focus rather than impressive scores in the gym.

“Our key training session was on a Thursday, and we’d over-distort different game moments demanding skills be executed at a higher speed than what they would be in an actual game. Combined with longer recovery periods, we found the girls were soon able to execute better and better, quicker and quicker. This is not dissimilar to sprint training,” Twentyman explains.

“We mixed Thursday sessions up. Sometimes we’d train a period where the ball was in play 75 percent of the time, an embellishment of reality. And then we’d concentrate on specific skills like transition from defence to attack, catch-pass or line speed.”

Perhaps the most important factor in the Black Ferns' renewed fitness vigour was what Smith calls BIGGA - that is, "Back in the game, go again'. Keeping the game moving rapidly requires the athlete to be present and, on their feet, all the time.

“Getting up quick is a dynamic movement best achieved with technicalities around leading up with the hips rather than relying solely on upper body strength. We really focused on training the techniques and increasing upper body strength and repeatability,” Twentyman explains.

“If you’re on the ground you're invariably absent from the game. Taking that little rest after a tackle means holes appear in the defensive line. If you’re on your feet with strong body language, you might be buggered, but the opposition doesn’t necessarily know that.”

In 2011, when the All Blacks won the World Cup, BIGGA was vital to their success.

Wayne Smith reflected: “In 2011, we were typically 40 percent quick-off-the-ground, that is back to our feet in under three seconds. In the final we were 64 percent off-the-ground which was the best we’d ever seen and miles better than anyone else. Now you’d use 80 percent as a yardstick. That’s how data can change the game.”

Wayne Smith with adviser Sir Graham Henry.  Photo: Getty Images

The dōjō is another Smith innovation. What did the Black Ferns' dōjō look like for Twentyman?

“It was really effective because it separated normal contact training with more specific types of contact," he says. "The padded flooring removed some of the harshness and allowed us to focus on technical aspects and repeat more often. We could mix things up, one-on-one, three-on-two, what do you do before, during and after contact? What is the role of the support player? We were always careful to make these sessions as transferable to the game as possible.”

After a sluggish start in the opening match of the World Cup against Australia, the Black Ferns found their groove with three consecutive 50-point wins. With easy wins, how were bad habits avoided?

“I was really impressed with the girls' concentration and willingness to learn," Twentyman says. "Women tend to ask more questions than men and they’re often very specific. That makes you a better coach.

"You must justify things and think more about the purpose of your methodology. If they understand entirely what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll get real buy-in. This was true of the Australian Sevens too.”

Twentyman was most anxious during the World Cup semifinal. The opening 20 minutes against France, who led 10-0, was the highest tempo the Black Ferns were exposed to in the tournament but removing the grind from daily routine eventually bore fruit.

What does a typical day look like for Twentyman? "I’m up early and like to train myself before breakfast. I’m not one of those blokes who stands there and shouts at people running around for no good purpose. There are always discussions about individual athletics and addressing what their needs are, juxtaposed besides the team.

"We’ll set up for a training session, deliver that session, debrief and do it all again in the afternoon.” 

After Havelock North High School, Twentyman completed a physical education degree at Otago University. He was taken by the high octane approach of Otago rugby teams in the mid to late 90s. All Blacks Jeff Wilson, Marc Ellis and John Timu were guaranteed excitement.

Twentyman moved to Sydney in 2002, and completed his Masters in PE at Sydney University in 2006. After long, and often voluntary, stints with Australian rugby clubs, he eventually broke into the Australian system. Australian Sevens coach Tim Walsh and Dean Benton - an athletics, union, and league performance coach - were key mentors.

He’s a disciple of Tactical Periodisation (TP) a conceptual framework developed by Professor Vitór Frade from the University of Porto, that was initially designed for soccer training and popularised by high-profile coaches like José Mourinho. TP has been adopted by other sports like rugby and tennis.

The premise of the original Tactical Periodisation model is that soccer should be trained with respect to its logical structure of four game ‘moments’: offensive organisation, defensive organisation, transition from defence to attack, and transition from attack to defence.

One of the key principles is that the tactical, technical, physical and physiological components are never trained in isolation and are always integrated to the training of at least one of the four game moments.

The Black Ferns' next game moment is on July 29 when they travel to Brisbane to play Australia in the first test of the Laurie O’Reilly Trophy series. It will be their first international in 229 days since winning the World Cup final against England at Eden Park on November 12, 2022.

Twentyman is looking forward to working with a new coaching staff and playing group. (The new coaches will have the mentoring of one Wayne Smith, who this week was appointed to a new role by NZR helping both Black Ferns' Allan Bunting and All Blacks coach Scott Robertson.)

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in women’s rugby," he says. "The bar has been lifted so that creates pressure but also opportunity. The pathways are getting stronger and younger athletes are slowly learning what being an everyday professional athlete really looks like.”

English Rose blooms downunder

As the Tactix go their separate ways with their ANZ Premiership season over, centre Laura Malcolm heads home to the UK, before a special trip to South Africa. 

Laura Malcolm’s brave move to the other side of the world paid off well before an unforgettable phone call came through. 

At the age of 32, Malcolm will make her Netball World Cup debut for the England Roses in July, after spending a season with the Mainland Tactix this year to further grow her game. 

When the 53-capped midcourter’s phone rang a couple of weeks ago, with England head coach Jess Thirlby on the line, Malcolm demanded the news straight away. 

“I told her off last time for faffing around and talking to me, so I’m like ‘Give me the information, in or not in?’,” Malcolm laughs. 

*Defender finds permanent colours at Tactix
*The long road to Paris’ rebound

Even before making the squad, Malcolm felt she'd learned and grown so much from her season in New Zealand, especially with the high calibre of competition in the tightly-contested ANZ Premiership this year. 

She’s still lost for words about what the chance to represent her country in Cape Town this July means to her. “I'm just really happy and feel really proud and can’t wait to get out there and get going with the Roses.” 

In New Zealand since February, Malcolm says it’s been “really weird” being so far away from the English team before a pinnacle event. She was worried she might not make the squad due to her distance from the UK. 

“I know how competitive it is in our squad, there are just so many good players, there are so many good midcourters,” she says (Jade Clarke - who incidentally played two seasons for the Tactix - has 200 international caps to her name). 

Malcolm surrounded by Silver Ferns, some becoming teammates this year. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Nursing a hot water bottle in the chill of Christchurch, Malcolm explains the opportunity to play overseas was always something she’d hoped to do, to experience a different style of coaching, playing and thinking within the game. 

“When I spoke to Mitts [Tactix coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek], there was so much talk about a growth mindset,” Malcolm says. 

“That’s just something that really hits home with me and is one of my core values. It just really felt right, so I just took ‘em up and I went for it.” 

A couple of days before leaving for New Zealand, Malcolm’s partner proposed - “I think he got scared,” she jokes. He managed to visit her for a few weeks mid-season.  

She’ll be heading back to England and her fiancé soon, after the Tactix just missed out on the ANZ Premiership elimination final. 

It’s been a season of opposites for Malcolm, spending the New Zealand winter adjusting to not only the Kiwi style of play, but how the Kiwi culture affects game day. 

“Everyone’s very chilled, I’ll say that for free,” laughs Malcolm. 

“It's a different vibe and it’s been good for me actually. Even just around games, I’m very used to really hyping up, and lots of noise, energy and then going on to perform. 

“These guys have elements of that but actually it’s just very much turning up to do business, a little bit calmer and a lot more chilled. That was something really, really weird for me when I first came here.” 

Malcolm initially wasn’t sure whether to bring her energy, or embrace the calm nature of the Tactix. 

“I've eventually brought some little bits [of energy] in. But I found it nice coming into games being quite calm and still trying to turn up when it comes to the actual crunch time,” she says. 

“It’s done me some good in terms of my attack and how I go on court. It’s given me things to think about in terms of my match prep.” 

The bubbly and chatty middie has been living with her Tactix teammates Greer Sinclair and Aliyah Dunn - different ends of the spectrum in terms of energy and personality, where Malcolm loves being in the middle.

Another balancing act is the different style of play the Kiwis are known for - their zone defence. Malcolm is used to the man-on-man defence, and has primarily been known as a wing defence in England. 

Out of the 780 minutes Malcolm played of the ANZ Premiership, she played wing defence for just eight of them - spending the other 712 minutes at centre. 

“It’s been great to play a lot of centre this season, there’s no denying that. Back home, I’m seen by a lot of clubs as a wing defence, so coming out here and playing centre has been really good,” she says. 

With Kimiora Poi also playing a less familiar position at wing attack, Malcolm says it’s been great to figure out their new roles together. 

“I think getting in that centre position has definitely been something I might not have got back home and I really have appreciated and enjoyed out here,” Malcolm says. 

Malcolm spent most of her time at centre with the Tactix, proving herself in the role. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

While she anticipated and expected the contrasting styles of play to be a challenge for her, Malcolm embraced the opportunity to add new skills to her repertoire. 

“I’ve played in that style for a very, very long time so attacking-wise, you get used to attacking against that and defensively, you get used to running those defensive lines as well,” she says of the man-on-man defence she’s used to. 

“So coming over here, especially at the Tactix, it’s like polar opposites. We do do some bits of that man-on-man style, but it’s a lot about the space and confusing it and how we create intercepts for each other. 

“It’s been great to get used to feeding with it, to seeing where the space is in comparison to when somebody’s really on the body. So I’ve been working on polar opposites but it's a challenge I knew I was going to get and a challenge I’ve really enjoyed working through.” 

Malcolm's first pinnacle event with the Roses was last year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, where they eventually lost to the Silver Ferns, 55-48, in the bronze medal match. 

Not playing with or against any of her Roses teammates was initially seen by Malcolm as a negative, and a barrier to making the Roses squad, but it turned into a positive. 

“The defenders here in general are just bigger, taller, can cover more space,” she explains. 

“So even when teams try and replicate that style at home, I don’t think they can do it in the same way because they haven’t actually got the physique to do that. 

“I’ve loved it, I’ve really enjoyed trying to figure that out and work against that and I think it’s improved throughout the season.” 

Playing against the zone defence weekly has also prepared her for going up against different styles of play at the World Cup. 

“I think the way I’ve been attacking through this zonal play and seeing the spaces, both in where I move as an attacker and where I see the space for feeding as well is where I’ve really improved,” she says. 

“That's really something you just cannot get at home.” 

Malcolm at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Photo: Getty Images

A self-described “massive netball geek”, Malcolm can’t wait to be involved in her first World Cup. 

“I’m always watching netball across the board and I feel very, very privileged to have experienced and trained with some great players in the Ferns,” she says. 

“How often do you get these opportunities? It’s so rare, so it’s been a real privilege.” 

Malcolm also feels lucky to have competed in such a close league, with the ANZ Premiership elimination finalists not known until the last game of the season (the Tactix taking the Mystics into extra time). 

“How cool is it the league is so tight? It’s just wicked because we just don’t get that at home,” she says. 

“Every game has mattered from the very start of the season, so that experience in itself is just amazing. You can’t replicate that in any sort of way. So that’s a credit to the league itself, it’s really great.” 

Malcolm is obviously backing the Roses to win their first Netball World Cup - their best result was second in 1975, with three consecutive third-place finishes since 2011. 

“Looking across the board, I’m thinking there’s a lot of strength everywhere to be honest with you,” says Malcolm. 

“I think it’s going to be a really good World Cup, and yeah, I can’t wait to get going. It's as simple as that.” 

As for her plans for next year? Malcolm laughs when asked if the Tactix might tempt her back for another season. 

“We’ve not really had any conversations about it as of yet, but I have had a really great year,” she says. 

“The girls are lovely and the club has been very supportive to me so we will just wait and see, I’ve definitely enjoyed my time.” 

Right now, Malcolm’s focus is on the Netball World Cup - she admits that even her wedding isn’t in her thoughts yet. 

But it’s her focus and commitment to netball that’s paid off, with her ticket to Cape Town just two months away.  

*The ANZ Premiership elimination final between the Pulse and the Stars is this Sunday, with coverage from 3.30pm on Sky Sport 1 and free-to-air on Prime. 

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