Champion Silver Ferns return home, don't want to wait another 16 years

By James Perry

The first wave of the world champion Silver Ferns landed at Auckland Airport today, bringing with them the Netball World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

Star shooter Ameliaranne Ekanasio was one of five players who returned home from London. She says they've been looking forward to getting home and sharing the success in Liverpool with the country.

"We definitely felt the love over there from Kiwis everywhere, but [it's] nothing like being home so we just couldn't wait to get ourselves back on home soil and bring that trophy home too."

The Netball World Cup hasn't spent too much time in New Zealand.  It has been 16 years since the last time the Ferns won it in 2003, before that it had also been 16 years since the 1987 team won in Glasgow.

The current champions aren't planning on waiting that long again between celebratory drinks.  Netball New Zealand chief executive Jennie Wylie says, "The ANZ Premiership is creating athletes that can compete on the world stage and we're seeing that Kiwi style back in our play.  I think it is a start, but I think that we've got more to give and a legacy to build."

The big question surrounding that legacy, however, is what role, if any Noeline Taurua will play.

Wylie says, "We've always been talking with Noels, it's a regular thing.  But she's always been really upfront and transparent that she wanted to get through the World Cup, she's got to finish her season with the Lightning and do them proud and then she'll take some time to regroup.  But she won't let New Zealand Netball down, I have no doubt about that."

Defender Phoenix Karaka was another who returned home instead of following some of her teammates to take a holiday following their victory.  She says she chose to delay her holiday until later this year in the hopes of heading to Tokyo to support her partner, All Black lock Patrick Tuipulotu although she believes he has some work cut out for him if he's to make it.

"We came back and they played Argentina and I said that wasn't a good enough game for me to get to Tokyo," she laughs, saying the couple enjoy some good banter. 

Karaka says it has been pleasing to both be representing New Zealand at the same time. 

"It's always been one made it, one didn't and that's been a curse that we've had but we've finally broken that," she says.

Karaka is hoping to be in Wellington this weekend to watch Tuipulotu and the All Blacks take on the Springboks on Saturday after spending some time with her family who weren't able to travel to Liverpool to watch the Silver Ferns' triumph.

Ekenasio is also looking forward to getting home to family.  She left her 2-year-old son Ocean at home while away in England but says the support given by the team helped. 

"It is hard being away from your whānau, and doing it all," she says.

The Ngāpuhi attacker is inspired by her teammate, and fellow mother Casey Kopua in recent years, particularly earning of Player of the Match honours in the final on Monday morning. 

"I really love it because it just proves that you can have a baby and come back as well."

The players will have a short break away from the netball court, with some going back to work, before coming together ahead of the Constellation Series against Australia in October.