RSS Archive Page

This is come test content above the rss feed tiles.

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. 

Where is she now? Wendy Sharpe

Football Ferns legend Wendy Sharpe still holds scoring records set three decades ago. A trailblazing mum-athlete, the double international is passing on her rich football wisdom to a new generation.

Wendy Sharpe owns a small handful of New Zealand playing shirts that represent a Football Ferns career spanning 16 years.

It’s not like she’s given away any of the uniform she wore in her 53 appearances.

“In those days, we had to give a lot of the shirts back afterwards,” she says. “And some of those games we played in the men’s kit.”

But at home in Katikati, Sharpe has the shirt she wore as a naïve 16-year-old in her debut against Australia in 1980. She had to return the kit she wore in her last game, also against the Matildas, in 1995.

She also has a blazer, a goblet and a cap presented to her on playing 50 games for New Zealand – becoming the second Football Fern, behind her friend and team-mate Maureen Jacobson, to reach the milestone.

* Football Fern Michele Cox and the miracle medal
* Where is she now? Maia Jackman

But there’s a bit of contention around just how many caps Sharpe has to her name. Records show she made 53 appearances for her country, but around the turn of the millennium, six of those games were taken from her tally of internationals because they weren’t official FIFA-sanctioned games.

Other Football Ferns playing at that time also had alterations to their cap tallies (some of those games were against Taiwan B and Hawaii).

“I’m still not happy about it,” Sharpe says.

“I know I earned 50 caps – our games were few and far between, so it took me 16 years to get them, where it would take four years today. So they can’t deny me that honour.

“Officially it’s documented these caps have been taken off us. But I’m not accepting that. I played these games and they are still on my personal tally.”

Wendy Sharpe before her 50th game for the Football Ferns (in a shirt she had to return). Photo: supplied. 

Sharpe admits she had to battle to earn those caps, too.

She was an absolute scoring weapon for the Football Ferns – and still holds records almost 30 years after her last international. Her swag of 34 international goals stood as the highest by a New Zealand woman until 2012, when it was surpassed by Amber Hearn (who scored 54 times in 125 games).

Sharpe still holds the best scoring rate for a Football Fern (with over 10 caps) at 0.7 goals a game.

But she admits she was never a very skilled or technical footballer – growing up playing rugby in all-boys teams before she was introduced to soccer at 15.

“I wasn’t gifted with really good football skills, so I had to fight hard to keep my place in the team. I was raw, I had a big ticker, I’d run all day, and I’d score goals,” she says.  

A double international – she also played touch for New Zealand – Sharpe was a trailblazer in another sense.

She was unknowingly pregnant with her first child when she scored eight goals to help New Zealand win the Oceania Women’s Nations Cup, and qualify for the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.

It meant she missed being part of that World Cup, but quickly returned to her best – playing in the national tournament three months after daughter Chanelle was born.

“I was still breastfeeding, so Mum came to the games as my nanny, and I’d come off at halftime, top the baby up and run back on again. All the players accepted that’s what I had to do, and it was fine,” Sharpe recalls.

“I got the New Zealand player’s player of the year that year. Chanelle was six months old when I took her to the awards night in Wellington.”

Wendy Sharpe with daughter, Chanelle, on the sideline. Photo: supplied. 

In 1994, Sharpe was a single mum of two girls under two – and still playing international football. “Brittany was nine months old when I stopped breastfeeding so I could tour India,” she says. Her parents were a huge help.

“I think I was one of the first Football Ferns to play with virtually new-born babies. I don’t think you could do it today with football at international level,” Sharpe says. “Players are still at their peak of their careers overseas in their 30s. They’re making a living out of it – we weren’t paid to play back then.”

Today, the roles have been reversed.

Sharpe is now on the sideline, helping to coach Chanelle and the Waihi women’s football team. She’s been coaching Chanelle’s kids – Blake (10) and eight-year-old twins Ivy and Ella – since they were pre-schoolers.

She usually works weekends in her job at the Radius Lexham Park rest home in Katikati, but she’d swap out her Saturdays in winter to watch or coach from the sidelines. “I did it because of my love of football,” she says. “It’s all voluntary.”

But this year Sharpe, turning 60 next month, has decided to tour the world again. “I got my first trip overseas in 1980 and then it was all I wanted to do – play for my country and see the rest of the world,” she says.

She’ll be home when the FIFA World Cup is played here in July and August, but she’s not certain she’ll be at the games. But if she goes, she’ll wear a new Football Ferns jersey – organised by former Ferns Wendi Henderson and Kim Nye – with her unique number on the back. Football Fern #25.

Wendy Sharpe with her grandchildren - Ivy, Ella and Blake. Photo: supplied. 

As a girl growing up in the Auckland suburb of Penrose, Sharpe first ran with an oval ball.

“I played rugby for Mt Wellington boys and I think I was the first girl registered in New Zealand to play rugby,” she says.

“Dad was a league man. And I was a real tomboy, blessed to be above average at every sport I played.”

While league clubs turned her away, the Mt Wellington Rugby Club welcomed her. “I won trophies in my first two years,” she says. “I was blessed with pace and good reflexes. And I had no fear.”

At 12, her rugby career came to an end. “The boys were getting really big and I wasn’t allowed in the changing sheds,” Sharpe says. “My primary teacher told me it was time I started wearing dresses and playing a girls’ sport, so I took up netball.”

Then in her first year at Penrose High School, her form teacher Sally Robbins – who played football for Ellerslie – recognised her potential and invited her to play for the school’s football team.

The late Eric Pritchard, a huge supporter of the women’s game, saw Sharpe play - “in sandshoes” - and invited her to join his Mt Wellington women’s team.

A defiant but shy 15-year-old, Sharpe had to be dragged to the club by her dad - “I turned up in bare feet and jeans” – and was convinced to play for the team. That was 1979; the following year, she was playing for New Zealand.

Wendy Sharpe playing for Auckland women. Photo: supplied. 

Before she’d even turned out for Auckland (she’d go on to play 90 games and score 113 goals), Sharpe was selected to play against Australia in a three-match series.

She came on as a sub in the first game but was in the starting line-up in the second – and scored her first international goal in a 1-1 draw with the Matildas. “That opened the doors in my career,” she says.

There was one “horrid year” in her career – 1987, when her sister Trudi was killed in a car accident. Sharpe was devastated.

“I didn’t train, I put on weight, I didn’t take football seriously,” she says.

But the New Zealand team manager, Roy Cox, gave Sharpe time and space to grieve, and Cox’s wife, Barbara, captain of the Football Ferns, was like “a second mum” to her. 

“I was a fiery kid and they helped me channel my aggression in the right way. They helped mould me into the person I am today,” she says. “I’ve definitely mellowed.”

Sharpe returned to play at the 1987 women’s world invitational tournament in Taiwan (a precursor to World Cups), and played a huge role in New Zealand’s 1-0 victory over the United States – still the Ferns only win over the football giants.

The US side included football legends Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers. The Ferns also beat Australia and Canada to finish second overall.

Sharpe remembers the racket playing in front of 35,000-strong Taiwanese crowds: “It was scary, especially when you met the home team.”

Team photo of the 1987 Football Ferns bound for Taiwan. Photo: supplied. 

Around that time Sharpe also represented New Zealand in touch – playing in the national mixed team from 1988 to 1991, and also selected in the world mixed team after a tournament in Australia.

“My rugby skills came out on the touch field,” she says. “I loved the pace of it, and the mixed game was more competitive for me.”

For a few years, she was able to play both sports until their seasons overlapped. “My football tours were covered then, but I had to pay my own way with touch,” she says.

In Sydney in 1991, Sharpe scored the goal in a 1-0 victory over Australia at the Nations Cup, which ultimately sealed New Zealand’s spot at the first World Cup in China (where they finished 11th).

She’s watched the current crop of Football Ferns struggling in recent games to post a win or get the ball in the back of the net. She feels for the team.

“It’s a very different game today to my era. No one misses goals on purpose, and there’s a lot of pressure on these players who are really scrutinised now,” she says.

“You either have the instinct to score, or you haven’t. We lived on risk and instinct, making something out of nothing; we played a more physical game. The players now are more technically advanced, and so focused on structure and shape. A few games I’ve watched them they were too possession-based.”

Soon after she played her 50th football game in the New Zealand shirt, Sharpe tore her ACL in a club game for the Waihi women, ending her career.

She’s now waiting for a knee replacement. “But I still kick a ball around with the kids in the backyard, and I get out there with my boots on at trainings and show them what I expect of them,” she says.

Wendy Sharpe is now sharing her coaching knowledge with others. Photo: supplied. 

She’s passing on her coaching knowledge to others, like the Waihi women’s team. “I’m teaching their coach now on how I run sessions,” she says. Last season she ran a Girls and Women’s event in Katikati, and she takes a select group of kids for indoor football.

She loves her work as a healthcare assistant at the rest home, working with stroke and palliative care patients.

During her football career, she had many different jobs – working at a biscuit factory when she left school at 15, then on the factory floor of a manufacturing company: “I liked the physical work”. Working for a pharmaceutical company, she got to travel with the Football Ferns on full pay – and it was the same when she worked for a company installing fire sprinklers.

A cancer scare took her off the tools, and she became a courier driver. That’s when she found out she was pregnant with Chanelle. Sharpe has three children and three grandchildren.

She’s unsure whether she will be at the World Cup games in July and August. Past Football Ferns have been offered free tickets to New Zealand’s pool games against the Philippines in Wellington, and Switzerland in Dunedin.

But she’d like to take her daughters and granddaughters to the opening game of the tournament, when the Football Ferns take on Norway on July 20 at Eden Park: “I want to sit in the stands with them, and soak it all in.”

Portrait of the novelist as a young athlete

Sport is damaging the health of our peak performance female athletes

I was a competitive swimmer as a teenager. Every change in my growing body exposed in a tight, skimpy swimsuit. People weren’t shy to comment. When I look back at that time, I wonder at what moment did my own eating disorder take root? When did I start to feel as though my body were betraying me? When did I stop treating myself with the respect I deserved? I wanted to swim faster, I wanted to look different. I began to hate my body, like many women before me.

My new novel Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts is about a runner called Mickey. It's not based on my life. I’m taller than she is, I’m not dyslexic, I cannot run as fast as she can. Our lives mirror each other in mostly insignificant ways, and yet – of course some of me is in there. That raging shame of my own lifetime of body dysmorphia and disordered eating fuels the emotional truth of my novel.

Whenever I read another woman discussing her feelings about her body and how it’s been disparaged by coaches or fellow athletes, especially all the incredible and inspiring contemporary New Zealand runners like Lydia O’Donnell and Esther Keown (the founders of Femmi, a running coaching business that puts the holistic well-being of female-identifying runners at its heart), it becomes more clear that we must do something to stop this cycle. It’s devastating to see so many people go through this. To watch as they hurt themselves, to witness another person suffering.

In 2019, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by Mary Cain. Mary had been a prodigy – as a teenager, she set records running track and beating women much older than her. Watching her run was mesmerising. She was fast and so graceful, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the top coach, Albert Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project, asked her to join his team. The NYT piece was headlined "I was the fastest girl in America, until I joined Nike".

There’s a video alongside the opinion piece. Mary sits talking, while video and photographic footage of her and the Nike Oregon Project plays occasionally. It’s gruelling to listen to Mary tell her story: public humiliation, no support, a sadistic obsession with getting her as thin as possible, terrible results, her body breaking – literally, her brittle bones breaking due to the syndrome RED-S.

I read and watched Mary’s story after I’d written the first draft of my book, and I was struck with the realisation that although everything about their stories was tragic, the most tragic element to me was that this story of women in sports is far too common.

Josie Shapiro, at 15: "I was really big in my swimming at this time"

It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people in Aotearoa struggle with disordered eating. Along with breathing, and drinking water, eating is essential for life. We need it for nourishment, for energy, for pleasure. Imagine a baby, five or six months old, desperate for solids, tilting their head toward the spoon held to their mouth. Consider how twisted and perverted the pressure that must be exerted to shift this mindset from curiosity and genuine delight in food to disgust and revulsion. Imagine of the misery that compels someone to refuse the base instinct of hunger. Imagine living as though your body is a prison. Imagine more than 100,000 people feeling this way.

There’s a global narrative that skinny is best, and it’s been around for some time, harming generation after generation. And while eating disorders aren’t a diagnosis only given to athletes, when it’s combined with intense exercise and focus on the body the result can be vicious. The physical body is under credible scrutiny in sport: it’s the performance vehicle. Measuring the strength of the body is important, the malleability, the resilience. In some sports, weightlifting and boxing for example, weight is a feature of competition criteria, but weight is measured in many sports, mostly unnecessarily.

The way we’re policing bodies isn’t benefiting women’s performance, it’s causing harm. The results of a survey published in 2021 by Healthy Women In Sport, a group that works and reports to High Performance Sport New Zealand, said that 15 percent of surveyed female athletes responded saying they’d experienced disordered eating, and almost three quarters of respondents thought that sport was damaging their health.

It’s interesting to discover what makes me feel good now, what keeps the shadows of my mental illness at bay, is exercise. Sweat. I need to sweat. Every day if I can. Research published earlier this year suggests that exercise regimes that last for 12 weeks or longer might be the most effective way to manage depression and anxiety, even more effective than most medications and counselling. There’s a desperate need to keep people active, especially girls, who stop participating in sports in startling numbers after the age of 17. But this must run alongside a change of attitude toward the way we understand and control our bodies. The human body is not broken. It's not in need of repair. It’s good just the way it is.


Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro (Allen & Unwin, $35) is available in bookstores nationwide. It was the inaugural winner of the 2022 Allen & Unwin Commercial Fiction Prize.

Report card for netball's top league

After a closely-fought ANZ Premiership regular season, three teams remain to contest the trophy. Merryn Anderson takes a look at how they got there, who missed out - and why. 

In 12 days, the Northern Mystics will line up in Hamilton in hopes of taking home the 2023 ANZ Premiership title. But who will they face, and how did they get there? 

The defending champions Pulse will host the Stars in the elimination final in Porirua on Sunday, with the winner going through to the grand final on June 4.

A Stars victory this weekend would make it the first all-Auckland final in the league's history. And neither team could claim to have a home-town advantage, with the game set in stone for Hamilton. 

It’s been one of the closest seasons, the top four teams separated by just eight points, with the make-up of the elimination final not known until the final game of pool play (which ended up going to extra time).  

*A Silver Ferns squad to win the Netball World Cup
*The hunt for the 100% goal shoot

The Tactix pushed the Mystics to extra time in their final game on Monday night, but still fell short of making the elimination final, losing by three - when they needed to win by at least 12. But it may have been a lack of bonus points during the season that ultimately cost the Tactix.

LockerRoom takes a look at all six teams, what went right - or wrong - this season, and gives them a report grade for their regular season performances. 

Mystics: A

The Mystics secured their spot in the grand final last Sunday, with a five-goal win over the Stars. The winners in 2021, new head coach Tia Winikerei led the team to 11 wins and just four losses (three of which were within five goals).  

Always a star for their team, Grace Nweke finished the regular season with the most goals - 755, at an accuracy of 92 percent. 

The Mystics’ defence was strong this season, not missing a beat when Sulu Fitzpatrick was on the bench injured. Young Carys Stythe slipped in alongside Phoenix Karaka - the trio able to rotate seamlessly. 

Despite leading most of their final game, the Mystics were pushed beyond the regular 60 minutes by a Tactix side desperate to stay alive in the competition. But they still look strong to win the grand final. 

A rest week could benefit the Mystics greatly, with a few players who've been battling injuries or illness this season. 

If they can field a fully fit team, they’re hard to stop - the Nweke/Peta Toeava connection is yet to find its match defensively, and centre Tayla Earle won’t run out of energy any time soon. 

And what better way to farewell Fitzpatrick than with a title - with over 150 domestic matches to her name, the Mystics would love nothing more than to send their captain off in style. 

The strong Mystics defence are capable of throwing off the Pulse shooters. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Pulse: A -

The first team to secure a place in the finals series, the Pulse finished second on the ladder, therefore securing the rights to host this weekend’s elimination final against the Stars. 

It was a different looking line-up for the Pulse this year, as Aliyah Dunn departed to the Tactix and Malawi’s Joyce Mvula was brought in as an import player. 

Many expected Mvula to fill Dunn's shoes as the dominant goal shoot. But it was 19-year-old Amelia Walmsley who stepped up, finishing her debut regular season with the third-most goals of any ANZ Premiership shooter. 

Kelly Jury was phenomenal as usual at the back - her deflections, rebounds and intercepts all throwing off opposing attackers. 

In order to make the grand final and have a chance of defending the title they won in 2019, 2020 and 2022, Walmsley needs to not be rattled by any defensive opponent, and her shooting partner Tiana Metuarau will have to step up and provide more volume and feeds. 

Stars: B +

Despite a mid-season lull, where the Stars suffered some heavy defeats, last season’s finalists bounced back to win nine games. 

The ever-important bonus points were their saving grace, as they came back from a 10-goal deficit to draw within five of the Mystics on Sunday. With just over three minutes left on the clock, the Stars scored the five goals of the match - Amorangi Malesala sinking the crucial goal right on full-time. They celebrated like they'd won the game. 

Maia Wilson was the most accurate shooter of the competition, finishing on 94 percent accuracy, with the second-highest volume.

With Malesala in great form, the Stars shooting circle looks strong, but their defensive end needs to be tidier, and get more clean intercepts to send down to their shooters if they're to progress past the elimination final. 

Tactix: B

Going into the final round, the Tactix needed two wins to have a real hope of making the finals series. An unexpected nine-goal win over the Pulse on Saturday meant the Tactix had to have a comprehensive win over the Mystics - 12 goals or more, depending on what the Mystics scored. 

They managed to come back from a seven-goal deficit to push the minor premiership champions, but a sizeable win never seemed likely, eventually ending their season with a 64-61 defeat. 

The Tactix were the only team this season to not receive a bonus point. With all other teams having three or four, the Tactix would have been in finals contention if a few of their losses had been closer. 

Aliyah Dunn (left) finished her first season with the Tactix with 470 goals at 92 percent accuracy. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

The Tactix had a strong roster, especially defensively, with Jane Watson and Karin Burger reunited. A season-ending injury to Greer Sinclair (who was having a great season) wasn’t detrimental to the team, as Paris Lokotui stepped in, finishing her rehab from ACL surgery.

Aliyah Dunn’s first season in red was fine - she had good accuracy but less volume than usual, as she was ably supported by Te Paea Selby-Rickit - who’s known to share the load well for a goal attack. 

Magic: B -

It was a mixed bag of a season for the Magic - six wins, nine losses and four bonus points. They looked like they had a chance of making the elimination finals early on, but a few heavy losses pushed them out of finals contention. 

The combination of Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes worked well for the Magic, averaging 89 percent accuracy. Mes had one of her best domestic seasons, signing off from professional netball over the weekend on a high. 

Tears from Claire Kersten after their final match suggested she may be departing the Magic as well, her domestic retirement confirmed after the game, leaving the team who were rebuilding so well from a difficult few seasons in a bit more trouble. 

But Simmon Wilbore and Georgie Edgecombe’s connection in the midcourt grew every game, helping the Magic push through, and even beat some of the top teams. It was just consistency mid-season their team were missing. 

Steel: C

The Steel are history-makers - the first ever ANZ Premiership winners. And they also now have the unfortunate title of being the only team to go through a season without a win. 

So what went wrong? The initial Steel team on paper looked strong, the loss of Shannon Saunders expecting her first baby offset by the pick-up of Magic middie Sam Winders. 

The Steel were caught behind this season, unable to win a game. Photo: Getty Images

But when George Fisher went down with an ACL injury in a pre-season match, so did the Steel’s hopes. Their game plan had to change, and the Southerners weren’t quick enough to adjust. 

Despite goal shoot Saviour Tui doing her best while recovering from her own minor knee injury, the Steel finished the season with zero wins from 15 games, gaining four bonus points, but with a goal difference of -206. 

They looked close to securing their first win in their final game against the Magic, in front of their ever loyal Invercargill crowd, but fell just one goal short - the story of their season. 

And spare a thought for Winders - the former Magic captain has won just seven of her last 60 ANZ Premiership games after going winless with the Steel this season. 

*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. 

Cricket coach takes a big risk at 50

Justine Dunce 'just loves coaching cricket' so has upped sticks and headed for the English summer

Upper Hutt to Hertfordshire, England, isn’t the most obvious journey for a cricket coach, but for Justine Dunce, it’s about all seizing the opportunity.

Dunce has always been based in Wellington, but thought it was time to have a look at what else was out there. She spoke to former Scottish international cricketer Kari Carswell who confirmed that there were always opportunities in England for female coaches.

Berkhamstead Cricket Club were one of the options presented to Dunce. They were looking for someone to look after their women’s team and develop their younger female players. She applied and part of that package was also to work at Berkhamstead School, with their young female and male cricketers.

Her husband Graeme has joined her in Berkhamstead for the English summer, a town approximately 40 km north-west of London and with the school year ending in July, club commitments will continue until the end of the season and many of those school children will come and play for the club during the school holidays.

“Sometimes, I can’t believe I’ve actually done it, but why shouldn’t I do it?” says Dunce.

“Going overseas at 50, it seems, is silly, but no matter how different, or what it is, just do those things that might come up and take a bit of a risk, take a chance. You never know what comes out of them,” she says.

“I suppose what it’s reinforced is that I actually just love coaching cricket. I love coaching full stop and cricket just happens to be the sport I coach in. I love interaction and when someone does something well.”

Back home in New Zealand, Dunce is the Cricket Development Officer for Upper Hutt United Cricket Club, where she supports 50 coaches across junior and senior teams. She coaches multiple teams herself and is one of the few coaches to take both a Premier Women’s and Premier Men’s team. She is also a Cricket Wellington Female Pathway Coach and a Coach Developer for the New Zealand Cricket Women in Coaching initiative.

Earlier this year, Dunce, a former White Fern, who played three Test Matches and seven One Day Internationals for her country, was awarded the Outstanding Contribution and Services to Coaching award at the New Zealand Cricket awards in Auckland. It was a well-deserved award for someone who has dedicated so much of her life to coaching and coach development.

“I took my son [to the ceremony] who was thrilled and loved the whole thing. There are some amazing people in the community. You couldn’t do without those people,” she says.

When Dunce returns to Upper Hutt after the English season ends, it’ll be straight into pre-season in September, with the new season starting in October. Dunce has been finishing her Level 3 Certificate in Sport Coaching and even with all her experience, it’s given her plenty of food for thought.

“It’s just re-emphasised that you can be a performance coach of any player, regardless of whether they are high performance or not,” says Dunce.

Netball, rather than cricket, was Dunce’s first coaching role, when she was just 15 years old. Her parents always coached, raising her to know how important it was to give back. She has also coached touch, basketball and swimming. For her, being a good coach, whatever the sport, whatever the level, is about making sure the athlete is at the centre of any decision being made.

“I can still apply a performance coach approach to anything. It’s just about those small improvements and helping them be better and I can do that with anyone, whatever level they’re at,” she says.

With her vast experience, Dunce is quick to recognise that development and success is relative and comes in many forms.

“You have your own goals, regardless of the outcome. You have your own wins. Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with whether you win or lose a game. Those small week to week things, that’s as good a focus as anything,” she says.

As a former player and current coach, Dunce is well positioned to analyse the development of women’s cricket here in New Zealand and how things are looking moving forward. With women players now receiving the same match fees as men across all formats and competitions, and equity in matters such as travel and accommodation, things are a far cry from when Dunce was playing.

“There’s just so much more cricket available [than when I was playing]. The pathway is quite well defined. There are opportunities to play in different countries. It’s really well supported from New Zealand Cricket even down to the club level. People are more aware of girl’s and women’s cricket now and the opportunities that are available. It’s really well run. We’ve got really good people in the community that are really positive about cricket with girls and women. It can only be on the rise.”

Champion Pulse coach bows out to run new school

Yvette McCausland-Durie wants to end her national league coaching days as a four-time champion with the Pulse. She tells Suzanne McFadden about her next challenge restarting a historic Māori boys’ school and a possible future with the Silver Ferns.

It’s hard to imagine, but in a year from now, Yvette McCausland-Durie could be busy cleaning dorm rooms at a revived Māori boys’ school nestled in the Bombay Hills.

It's certainly an adjustment from her high-performance coaching life, nurturing and training some of the country’s top netballers within the Pulse franchise in Wellington - and her career as hands-down the most successful coach in the ANZ Premiership.

But this role as a school head will be the next phase in the life of McCausland-Durie - from promising international sprinter and netballer to transformational teacher, mother of two and victorious netball coach, on the verge of an unprecedented fourth national league title.

At the end of this premiership season, just over a fortnight away, McCausland-Durie will wrap up her ninth and final campaign with the Pulse (she also ‘finished up’ at the end of 2020, but was drawn back for two more seasons).

Where is she now? Linda Vagana
* Parris Mason: The queen of two courts

She then heads to Fiji to work with their national Pearls side before joining them at the Netball World Cup in Cape Town in July as a specialist coach.

And then she can start packing. She’ll move from Palmerston North to Auckland at the end of the year with husband, Nathan Durie, and together they’ll run the resurrected Tīpene School – the Māori boys boarding school also known as St Stephen’s in its previous life, that sat derelict for two decades.

Trailer for 'The Mana Enhancer - Yvette McCausland-Durie' documentary

In a way, it’s like going home. The couple, who also co-founded Manukura School in the Manawatu, used to live on the St Stephen’s grounds in Bombay when Nathan – a former student - was the assistant principal there, and Yvette taught at Rosehill School in nearby Papakura.

It's a “really big challenge” that means so much to them.

“I can’t wait,” says McCausland-Durie (who’s Ngāti Awa and Ngāpuhi). “I love starting projects, I love having that ability and some autonomy to create things and get them to a point where it’s good to go and someone else can pick it up.

“And it’s so important for that shift for Māori boys – they are so far behind, they have so much potential.”

St Stephen’s closed its doors in 2000, after more than 150 years teaching young Māori. The school has sat idle ever since. But many of its old boys have banded together to rebuild it – again as a Māori boys boarding school - and reopen in February next year.

“I’ll do a bit of everything there initially,” 51-year-old McCausland-Durie says. “I’ll do lots of admin, planning and curriculum stuff. Some days I’ll be working in the hostel, even as a cleaner or a gardener. We’ll do a bit of everything and anything. That’s what we love about it.”

Yvette McCausland-Durie first coached the Pulse from 2009-11 in the ANZ Championship. Photo: Getty Images. 

She’ll miss a lot about working in high-performance netball, having been involved in sport most of her life. She was first a top youth track and field athlete, sprinting at the 1990 junior world champs, then became an exceptional netballer – part of the New Zealand U21 side who won the World Youth Cup in 1992. She first coached Special Olympics athletes before giving netball coaching a go, mentored by Silver Ferns coach Leigh Gibbs.

She’s also a firm believer that once you’re a coach, it’s a role for life.

“There’s always a team who need a coach, eh?” she laughs. “I’ll go and coach out in Counties. I’ll be back into school netball, standing out in the rain on a Saturday in my big coat. I love it.

“I love seeing the growth of young people and the joy they get from netball. Whatever it looks like, I’ll keep involved.”

At the same time, she’s not ruling out returning to the international coaching realm. The former New Zealand U21 and New Zealand A coach, McCausland-Durie was also the Silver Ferns assistant coach during Janine Southby’s head coach reign (infamous for the Ferns’ fourth place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games).

“I’d never say no to any opportunity. Every time I coach it’s about evolving and I don’t think I’m ever perfect. But I’ve really enjoyed coaching at that level, and the growth I’ve had from the Comm Games through to this point, so I would never say never. I will always look at things,” she says.

2017 Silver Ferns coaches Yvette McCausland-Durie (left) and Janine Southby with Ferns feeder Gina Crampton. Photo: Getty Images. 

But she’s aware, too, of the “busyness” of running a school. The couple helped set up Tū Toa Academy school back in 2005 (McCausland-Durie took their netball team to be national secondary school champions). In 2013, they created Manukura School - focusing on academics, sport and te ao Māori – and will finish up there this year to work at Tīpene.

“I want to be able to commit fully to this and support Nathan – it’s something he’s always wanted to do,” McCausland-Durie says. “So I’ve been away faffing around doing my thing for long enough, I better go and try to be helpful.”

Kristina Sue, the Black Fern and Sky rugby commentator who’s an educator and coach at Manukura, says she’s been privileged to be guided by the Duries. 

“They are real problem solvers and they are doers,” Sue says, in a new documentary on McCausland-Durie made by the Coach for Life Foundation. “Nathan and Yvette have really led by example; they are people who care about everyone they meet.”

McCausland-Durie has no doubt her two careers are intertwined.

“I think there’s a really neat synergy between teaching and coaching and that opportunity to try to make a positive difference to people,” she says.

“You look at players or young people as they go on in their careers, or have families, and seeing them as really positive citizens, happy in what they’re doing. That’s what it’s about – having more good humans in the world contributing.”

She’s hugely proud, she says, to see students she’s taught go on to become top netballers – like Pulse defender Parris Mason. “She has something about her that makes you want to play for her,” Mason says of McCausland-Durie in the documentary.

And shooter Emma-May Murray-Fifita, who helped Central Manawa to win this year’s NNL final (the competition just below the ANZ Premiership). “She was our Manukura captain years ago, and she had a player of the match performance,” McCausland-Durie says. “They know how to play and rise to an occasion. It’s really cool to see.”

McCausland-Durie and Pulse captains Kelly Jury (left) and Tiana Metuarau with the ANZP spoils in 2022. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

After winning back-to-back premiership titles in 2020, McCausland-Durie left the Pulse and went back to teaching. But when the team dived to fifth the following year, she came back – hungry to coach again.

This time around, she led the youngest team in the premiership right back to the top in 2022, and this season, the Pulse are the first franchise to reach the finals series. It’s now down to a shoot-out this weekend between the next three teams – the Mystics, Stars and Tactix – to find out who claims the remaining two spots in the play-offs.

“I left [the Pulse] loving it and it will be the same this time,” McCausland-Durie says. “I absolutely love it, especially working with the people here. And I actually really enjoy being in pressure situations and trying to take a group to a place where they’re not expected to be - to help them stretch.”

Up against it last year, she saw huge potential in the players she had – on and off the court.

“I wanted to make sure they knew how good they were, what they bring to the game and as people to the environment they’re in. But one of my ultimate goals over that two-year period was to develop young leaders,” she says.

“We’d lost a lot of experience when a lot of our older players moved on. So it was a really big mission for me to grow a group of leaders.” And she's done that with Kelly Jury, Tiana Metuarau, Whitney Souness and Maddy Gordon.

“I’m really proud of the leadership that’s evolved from the group, and that for me is the most important thing. No matter what happens, they know they have a voice, a way to shift and change things.

“Winning grand finals is amazing, but it’s all the effort that goes into growing the ability to make decisions under pressure, to be the best team-mates they can be to each other, and be mana enhancing in the way they behave.

“I feel really confident this group can go on and be an amazing team for years to come.”

McCausland-Durie has been a successful blend of development and performance coach. Photo: Andy Radka Photography

While the Pulse have been improving incrementally this season – to the point of defeating previous table-toppers the Mystics by six goals in their eighth win on the trot last weekend – McCausland-Durie doesn’t believe they've played to their full potential yet.

“I thought the same at this point last year,” she says. “And then in the grand final we played the most consistent netball – our best netball – and that’s amazing.

“I’m really proud of the little bits of growth they’ve made this season. So now it’s helping them stay confident, keep accentuating the things they’re good at. And about delivering consistency under pressure.”

Her specialist role with the Fiji Pearls at the World Cup, alongside head coach Una Rokoura, will be a different test – they’re ranked 19th in the world, and McCausland-Durie wants to help them finish in the top 12 in Cape Town.

“It’s going to be tough. You look at the lack of resource they have, but then the huge resource they have in their people; their resilience,” she says. “It’s about building confidence and courage, what have we got to lose?

“It’s an event I’ve never coached at, so I need to be challenged on the ground; learning on the spot.”

Then McCausland-Durie is looking forward to moving north and being closer to “home” – she grew up in the small rural settlement of Tangiteroria, between Whangārei and Dargaville.

“My daughter lives down here in Wellington with me at the moment, but she’s thinking of coming with us, too,” she says. “Our son is a farmer in the Wairarapa and he will stay down there; he can’t stand the city.”

She’s prepared for the “massive challenge on different levels” that come with reviving an historic boys’ boarding school.  “Firstly, in the physical space, getting the buildings and the hostel up to spec, then making sure we have programmes 24/7 that are engaging and being really creative in presenting learning in another way, not just the 9-to-3 model,” she says.

But then McCausland-Durie has never been afraid of tackling a challenge.

* For more on McCausland-Durie's philosophy of growing better people first, athletes second, watch The Mana Enhancer - premiering this Saturday, 9pm, on Sky Sport 2 and on from 9.30pm

Fern juggles player and coach roles

Adding to her extensive CV, Annalie Longo’s new coaching role is helping her Football Ferns career - as she strives to play in her sixth FIFA World Cup.

Annalie Longo has become not only an expert juggler with a football, but also with her career.

A current Football Ferns centurion, a coach and commentator, she's also the women’s development manager at New Zealand Football. 

But when the chance to be part of the Te Hāpaitanga women's coaching initiative came up - to add another element to her juggling act - she couldn’t say no. 

“Has it fallen on the busiest year I could have of my life? Yes,” Longo laughs. 

“Did I anticipate that I was going to do my ACL and try and make a World Cup squad and have a full time role at New Zealand Football? No.

“But I think sometimes you can’t turn down these types of opportunities.” 

*Football’s Flea leaps between roles in women’s game
*Longo bides her time to pull on Phoenix jersey

Longo tore her ACL in a Football Ferns game against Mexico last September, beginning a race against time to be back and fully fit for the FIFA Women’s World Cup beginning in July. 

“If you had asked me probably a year and a half ago, the ultimate dream was to go to a home World Cup and retire on what would have been a full circle moment with me,” Longo says. 

Now it's touch and go, with the opening match just over two months away. But she is doing all she can to make it happen. 

Longo has 127 Football Ferns caps. Photo: Getty Images

Longo made her Football Ferns debut in 2006, aged just 15, and became the youngest New Zealand player to make a senior international team - men’s or women’s. 

The midfielder was part of the inaugural U17 Women’s World Cup, hosted in New Zealand in 2008 and scored New Zealand’s first goal of the tournament. 

The chance to close out her playing career in similar fashion is still there: Longo back in the Ferns camp this month, but building her way up to the “big carrot” of the World Cup. 

“Unfortunately things were taken out of my control and the last year has been a very different one than what I had hoped,” she explains. 

“For me, the first goal is to make that squad and be back on the field and hopefully one day represent New Zealand again.” 

The Ferns would love to have her experience, her 127 caps putting her fifth on the all-time most-capped list for the side - behind Ria Percival (also returning from an ACL injury), captain Ali Riley, recently-retired Abby Erceg, and Betsy Hassett. 

While Longo was on the sidelines, she was working full-time as NZ Football's women’s development manager, a role she’s had for more than a year. 

“A lot of my role is around the community side of the game, so around growing female participation, female coaches, female leaders, getting more females into administration roles, onto boards and things like that,” she explains. 

Currently just one in five football players in New Zealand are women, which inspired one of their latest programmes, Fantails. 

“Fantails is a junior participation programme, it’s providing a fun and safe environment for girls to come and try in more of a social setting,” Longo explains. 

“It’s based on not just football basics but a lot around movement. For me, what is really important is those life skills, so the ability for the girls to create friendships and networks as well as obviously play football and have fun.” 

Longo coaching girls in the new Fantails programme. Photo: Phototek

Longo has always had a passion for coaching, and applied for High Performance Sport New Zealand’s Te Hāpaitanga programme for their last intake. 

Te Hāpaitanga is a holistic programme designed to develop female coaches, giving them connections in the sector and helping them pursue high performance sport coaching. 

Longo missed out that year, but having the initiative highly recommended by friends and colleagues, she reapplied and became a member of the third intake. 

“Although coaching at the moment isn’t my direct focus, I think after the World Cup, it's something I’ll be able to concentrate on and put some time into,” she says. 

Her mentor is Tactix netball coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek, and Longo has already taken much away from the programme. 

“We’ve so far done one residential together as a group, and I came away feeling really enlightened and enthusiastic,” she says. 

“It certainly gives you a lot of energy when you’ve got a whole bunch of females in the room who are all very good at what they do in terms of coaching, and  are just so passionate about women in sport. I left feeling really empowered.” 

Longo is adamant her coaching experience helps her playing skills as well. 

“That’s probably the biggest thing that I think has helped my football career - is that knowledge of coaching,” she says. 

“The more you analyse and learn the game, it certainly helps you become an all-rounded player and now I’m just more aware of the four corners of the game. 

“Obviously the tactical side and technical side, but more how you communicate with players, how you drive players, learning about your players. Those things you kind of take for granted as a player, you don’t really realise. 

“Now I see just how important those relationships and networks are and creating a really good culture to be able to perform so I think coaching and playing goes together.” 

Longo could make her sixth senior World Cup this year. Photo: NZ Football

Longo’s in-depth knowledge of the game meant an opportunity in TV commentary, and a role presenting for Sky Sport came her way when recovering from her injury. “Add another thing into the mix,” she jokes. 

It was a silver lining from the injury, and she was assisted by experienced presenters. 

“It was a way that I felt I could still be involved in football and the team,” says Longo, who was at Eden Park when the attendance record for a women’s game in New Zealand was broken as 12,721 fans watched the Football Ferns take on the United States. 

“I would have loved to be on the pitch. But I think when you know you can’t be there, that it was never going to be physically possible to play, it was just nice to be part of celebrating, creating a bit of history.” 

She says she’s almost more nervous commentating than playing. “But I think, hopefully, I’ve got better and I’ve actually really enjoyed the experience.” 

Longo has stepped down to working part-time at New Zealand Football, to focus more on recovery and her goal of standing out in the middle at Eden Park on July 20 for the opening match of the World Cup. 

She’s trying not to put pressure on herself to be ready, but having played in five senior World Cups. she knows just how big the occasion will be for New Zealand.

“I can remember walking out of a hotel overseas, we were playing the Netherlands that game, and I saw a sea of about 35,000 fans travelling down the road, all in orange,” Longo recalls. 

“It was just a feeling of excitement, everyone was proud to be representing their country." 

With the colour, culture and energy a global tournament brings, Longo says the quality of football is its own showcase. 

“A lot of people wouldn’t have been able to witness women’s football in particular at this level, so it’s an opportunity for people to see and witness that in person. And obviously there’s some of the best players in the world here in New Zealand," she says.

“It’s certainly not an experience anyone would want to miss. We always talk about ‘I don’t think people quite know what’s coming to New Zealand’ and I still agree with that. 

“From having witnessed a few World Cups now, I’m certainly hoping the public don’t miss out on this experience because it truly is once in a lifetime.” 

Click here for more news articles.

Youth Rugby

Know more about Youth Rugby in Hong Kong