Eye off the ball: Why did Netball NZ let our winningest coach get away?

by Fiona Barber / 23 May, 2018
Former Magic coach Noeline Taurua (right) with her team.

Former Magic coach Noeline Taurua (right) with her team.

RelatedArticlesModule - Sport

After the Silver Ferns’ Commonwealth Games clobbering, Fiona Barber asks why Netball New Zealand let our winningest coach get away.

So often in sport, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. New Zealand is an incubator for talent and in codes such as rugby league, teens brimming with promise are pounced on by Aussie scouts and whisked across the Tasman before you can say, “Here’s a one-way ticket and an NRL contract, young man.”

But in netball master-coach Noeline Taurua, we knew exactly what we had. In 2015, she and her impressive record with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic were in clear view – but the sport’s powers-that-be let her go, anyway.

Incredibly, Taurua – the only Kiwi coach to win the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship, in 2012 – didn’t even make the final cut when Netball New Zealand was selecting a new Silver Ferns head coach. Fans and those in the netball know were baffled; Taurua, it was reported, considered the snub a “kick in the guts”.

Stuff sports writer Dana Johannsen has ventured that Taurua and the other top candidate to miss out, Australian Julie Fitzgerald, were overlooked for “reasons unrelated to performance”. Which raises the question, if not performance at elite representative level, then what? Surely it can’t have been lack of player support, given Kiwi netball greats’ public backing for the woman they call “Noels”.

In the end, Netball New Zealand threw its weight behind Southern Steel coach Janine Southby, a Kiwi with less experience and a patchier record in the ANZ Championship.

It would be fascinating to know what was going through the minds of the selectors, including then-CEO Hilary Poole and high-performance manager Steve Lancaster – both now gone from the sport. Their decision was confounding at the time, but in the tear-blurred hindsight following the Ferns’ all-time-low performances at the April Commonwealth Games (no medal and losses to, among others, Malawi and Jamaica), it seems nothing short of bonkers. The words chickens and roost spring to mind.

I wonder if Netball New Zealand’s independent review of the disastrous campaign, due for release in June, sheds some light on why Taurua didn’t get a look in. She had the pedigree (a former Silver Fern), the qualifications (a Master of Science in Performance Coaching) and, crucially, the track record.

If you’d been among the almost-9000 netball fans in the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on 17 June last year, you would have witnessed her team trounce the opposition in the grand final of Australia’s inaugural Suncorp Super Netball competition, regarded as the best league in the world.

After the Netball New Zealand rebuff and a season in which Taurua coached Southby’s old team, the Southern Sting, Australia came calling. Start-up club the Sunshine Coast Lightning beat other franchises for Taurua’s signature, so she packed up her family – she has five children – and life and shifted to Queensland. The move, said Johannsen, writing for the New Zealand Herald at the time, was “a slap in the face Netball NZ deserves”.

Although a new club, the Lightning’s rapid trajectory should surprise no one. It is a joint venture between the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Melbourne Storm, a brutally efficient NRL club with hard-nosed administrators who demand excellence and recognise a good thing when they see it. The Lightning recently extended Taurua’s contract to the end of 2019, with CEO Danielle Smith telling the Brisbane Courier Mail, “Noeline’s record spoke for itself before she got to the club and winning a premiership in her first year here only adds to that.”

Seems Taurua has the backing of the locker room, too – all but one of the international players she assembled have returned to defend their title. The exception, Kiwi mid-court maestro Laura Langman, decided to return home.

One of the most ominous signals that New Zealand had got it horribly wrong came last year when former Australia netball captain Liz Ellis told Māori Television: “I think that Noeline Taurua is hugely influential now in terms of the [Australian] Diamonds because she’s got these players and she’s teaching them all these sorts of things. They’ve had a pretty good look at what a Kiwi coach can do, so I think she’s going to end up being really valuable on this side of the ditch for us.”

And she is. This year, Taurua has been busy establishing an academy to feed talent into her team. Her Australian team.

There’s no suggestion Taurua won’t ever come home, but I’m sure she’ll be keeping a close eye on what happens when the Netball New Zealand findings are released. With the World Championships just a year away, and Kiwi international netball in the dark place, we all will. 

Noeline Taurua with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, who she led to victory in the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship – the only Kiwi team to claim the title.

This was published in the June 2018 issue of North & South.

Latest

Mapping the second brain: The latest science on the effect of your gut bacteria
104884 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Health

Mapping the second brain: The latest science on th…

by Donna Chisholm

Most of us have heard the five-plus-a-day message for fruit and vegetables. But new research into gut health suggests that advice may need tweaking.

Read more
How a mother and daughter changed their diet to manage irritable bowel syndrome
104896 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Nutrition

How a mother and daughter changed their diet to ma…

by Donna Chisholm

A mother and daughter with irritable bowel syndrome say that diet was the missing ingredient in controlling the condition.

Read more
Lack of humility is Simon Bridges' fatal flaw
104881 2019-04-23 00:00:00Z Politics

Lack of humility is Simon Bridges' fatal flaw

by Graham Adams

After low polling and even louder caucus rumblings, you’d expect to see at least a flicker of fear in the eyes of someone threatened with an axe.

Read more
Sri Lankan government's social media ban wrong move after terror attacks
104949 2019-04-23 00:00:00Z World

Sri Lankan government's social media ban wrong mov…

by Meera Selva

Sri Lanka has temporarily banned social media and messaging apps in the wake of the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels.

Read more
Why do some dramas require the female protagonists to be total idiots?
104764 2019-04-23 00:00:00Z Television

Why do some dramas require the female protagonists…

by Diana Wichtel

Diana Wichtel reviews SoHo 2’s Cheat and Lightbox’s BBC thriller Trust Me.

Read more
Why the typical NZ household is undergoing a revolution
104877 2019-04-23 00:00:00Z Property

Why the typical NZ household is undergoing a revol…

by Shamubeel Eaqub

We’re living in different places, having fewer kids, living longer and getting older, perhaps lonelier, and the idea of a family has become more fluid

Read more
Detour off E Street: Steven Van Zandt’s solo excursion to NZ
104828 2019-04-22 00:00:00Z Profiles

Detour off E Street: Steven Van Zandt’s solo excur…

by Russell Baillie

The Springsteen sideman and ‘Sopranos’ star is reviving his own music career.

Read more
Rethinking the Kiwi dream: How New Zealanders live now
104848 2019-04-22 00:00:00Z Property

Rethinking the Kiwi dream: How New Zealanders live…

by Sharon Stephenson

Would you live with your ex? New Zealanders increasingly live alone or find creative ways to house themselves.

Read more