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Black Sticks goalie overcoming obstacles

Being an international hockey player and a business owner is busy work for Brooke Roberts, but it's taught her the values of self-belief and looking after yourself. And they're values that the Black Sticks have brought into a partnership with Women's Refuge this weekend. 

When Brooke Roberts was put in her school’s third XI hockey team in Year 9, she still knew she’d be a Black Stick one day. 

The goalkeeper spent two years in the third XI before making the second XI and finally the first XI at Whangārei Girls' High School, and says that setback didn’t deter her from her ultimate goal. 

“I still loved the game and embraced everything about hockey, all the people I got to meet,” Roberts says. 

“It’s just so funny, sitting where I am now and looking down and thinking I was in the third XI once and that just means absolutely nothing to me.” 

It took 27-year-old Roberts six years to get six Black Sticks caps, but she says the challenges she’s faced have made her the player she is today. 

“It just gave me so much resilience and gratitude that I can play hockey and I can move my body,” she says, now amassing 15 Black Sticks caps. 

“No matter what team you’re in, no matter who you’re being coached by, no matter what environment you’re in, you can always learn something. It’s not all about making the best team, it’s all about what you take away from that experience.” 

The Black Sticks women take on Spain in two games in Tauranga this weekend, a series in partnership with Women’s Refuge. 

For all tickets sold, 100 percent of revenue goes towards the Gift a Safe Night initiative, with people able to buy a “non-attending” ticket to make a donation. 

Roberts says it’s an honour for the team to work in partnership with Women’s Refuge. 

“Our team’s values and Women’s Refuge’s values are so aligned and how we bring femininity into our game and into everything we do, day to day,” she explains. 

“It’s just so important for women to stand up, for women to put a hand up and help one another. 

“Domestic violence has no boundaries and it’s also not just physical abuse, it can be financial abuse, it can be mental abuse, so many women can feel trapped. It’s putting it out there and telling people to look for the red flags within your peers and just try and get the word out there about Women’s Refuge.” 

Roberts speaks passionately about the partnership, and how the Black Sticks can help raise both money and awareness for the initiative. 

“If I look around my team, there are so many different women from different backgrounds, different places, different towns,” she says. 

“Every single one of us has a different outreach, through our social medias and through our peers so I think the outreach is going to be awesome, it’s just an absolute pleasure to help them.” 

Brooke Roberts (goalkeeper) and the Black Sticks after a loss at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Photo: Getty Images

The Black Sticks have been through a lot of changes in the past year, with veterans retiring and a new coach. 

New Zealand finished fifth at the Hockey World Cup in July, followed by a narrow loss on penalties in the bronze medal match at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. 

Roberts didn’t expect to get much game time at the World Cup, with Grace O’Hanlon in goal, but was called to step up after an injury to O’Hanlon in their opening game. 

“When I was told ‘You’re playing’, I felt the blood drain from my face, I was just so nervous,” Roberts remembered. 

She’d always struggled with nerves and anxiety when playing, to the point where she wasn’t sure if she could continue playing at the highest level. 

So Roberts called her parents. 

“They just reminded me, you didn’t go through missing so many selections and all that heartbreak over the last six years to not have fun against England tomorrow,” remembers Roberts. 

“They said if you can literally push yourself through six years of waiting for this moment - cause it was so hard waiting and so hard pushing through and so hard to not give up - a 60 minute game against England is nothing. And they were just so right.”

The Black Sticks beat England 3-1 with Roberts in goal, as New Zealand finished top of their pool. 

“Mum said to me, if there’s anything you can go out there and do on the field today, you’re there to smile…you don’t deserve anything else but to go out there and have the time of your life, because there were some pretty dark days there while I was waiting for my chance,” Roberts says. 

“So that’s what I did, and that’s how I look at my hockey now, is you don’t train that hard to not have fun. That’s how I diffuse my nerves and anxiety and pressure, I just go out there and do my thing and it all just seems to end up being enjoyable to me.” 

Roberts hopes her journey and story can inspire the next generation of athletes. 

“I had to go through a lot to get myself to this point of feeling so free and happy and confident in my hockey. I wish those younger athletes can feel that straight away but there’s definitely an amount of adversity you have to go through,” she says. 

“You’ve gotta go through a little bit of tough stuff to realise it’s not all that scary and you’ve got to really back yourself because there’s so many talented athletes in our country.” 

Roberts was balancing working as a nanny with hockey, but the ambitious athlete wanted a challenge, and when the Covid lockdowns hit, she took the opportunity to start a business. 

One of her best friends and fellow hockey player Summer Goodman lost her job as a travel agent so volunteered at a flower shop, and noticed there was a gap in the market for the delivery of gifts and fragile items. 

She came to Roberts with a business idea, who was immediately on board. They started as a flower delivery company, but expanded to include cakes, weddings, chilled goods etc, as well as working with marketing companies. 

“We call ourselves a boujee courier,” Roberts laughs. “We’re the courier of all things nice and all things that need to be treated with love and care because they are quite sentimental, or the items of a brainchild of someone’s hard work.

“We’ve called the company Bespoke To You, bringing bespoke items to you, so it’s really fitting. It’s a company developed to help other New Zealand companies thrive - initially to operate under Covid Level 3 and 4 restrictions is how it started and it just keeps on going and going and we meet amazing people along the way.” 

Owning a business and balancing work with hockey was an overwhelming experience in the first year, but Roberts is grateful for the challenges. 

“Definitely through business, I’ve got a much larger knowledge of pushing women up,” she says. 

“I love working with women, it feels natural, it feels safe and we’re kind of all in the same mindset where you’ve gotta work real hard and you’ve got each other’s backs. 

“That meant I could come into the team and just absolutely push the girls up. In a funny way, it just gives you a set of skills on how to be one another’s biggest cheerleader.” 

The Black Sticks have their Olympic qualifiers in August, playing Australia in the Oceania Cup in Whangārei. 

“We’re really wanting to get people behind to support us because the more supporters, the more empowered we feel to get out there and put all of our practice and leave it all out there,” Roberts says. 

“Looking at the World Cup last year where we came fifth, we’re so proud of ourselves for doing that as such a young team, we’ve got so much to learn, so much building left to do, it’s only just the beginning. 

“To finish fifth and to only just narrowly lose to Germany in our quarterfinal, 1-0, I just think the potential of our team and our future is huge. It’s definitely a team that people need to jump on earlier rather than later and support.” 

*The Black Sticks take on Spain in two matches this weekend, with both games live on Sky Sport Select at 3pm. To buy tickets, or make a donation to Women’s Refuge to gift a safe night, visit

Double duties for Dunedin swimmer

Otago freestyler Ruby Heath has become just the third Kiwi to swim in world championships in both the pool and the ocean. Now she’s aiming to be New Zealand’s first female open water swimmer at an Olympics.  

Ruby Heath had always wanted to represent New Zealand as a distance swimmer. But she struggled to meet selection criteria despite being the country’s top open water swimmer.  

So she made the decision to move cities, and now Heath, 23, is an Aquablack – in both the pool and open water.  

“I didn’t think I’d be in the position to say that I’m both a pool and open water representative,” Dunedin-based Heath says. “I always thought it would be one or the other, but to take both is pretty amazing – it’s pretty surreal.”  

*Neptune Queens reign in NZ swim team
*Bright swimmer looks to mix medicine with water

Heath had successfully defended both her 5km and 10km open water titles last year but had never won a national medal in the pool as a senior swimmer until last year’s trials for the world short course championships, which were held in Melbourne last month.  

She had never competed in a 10km open water event outside the North Island, either.   

But in July, she competed in three events at the world open water championships in Hungary and five months later she swam in Melbourne in a world relay final, collecting a national open record.  

Heath competed in the open water world championships in Hungary in June last year. Photo: Getty Images

In 2021, Heath moved from Wellington to Otago to focus on open water events under Lars Humer, a former open water swimmer and New Zealand swimming’s head coach at the Tokyo Olympics. She had an eye on swimming the 10km event at a world championship.  

“I decided during the first lockdown I wanted to pursue open water swimming,” Heath says. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Lars’ help and guidance. Having that extra background knowledge of open water training and racing, including the endurance to last 10km, is where I feel he’s really knowledgeable.”  

Heath, who has been swimming competitively since the age of seven, now aims to be New Zealand’s first female open water swimmer at an Olympic Games and is eying the World Aquatics (formerly FINA) open water world series later this year in Italy, France and Hong Kong.  

Humer, who was a dual representative in both surf lifesaving and open water swimming, trained under Duncan Laing at the Moana Pool where he now coaches Heath. (Incidentally, Laing was the last coach to take a New Zealand swimmer to an Olympic medal in 1996).    

Heath does all her open water training at Moana Pool. She spends a lot of her time at the pool - she also works there 20 hours a week. She spends an estimated 60 hours a week working, swimming, attending the gym, physio and getting massages. She fits her paid work around her training on days she does not do gym work or on weekends.  

“The pool is very accommodating around my training and swimming schedule,” she says. 

Some of Heath's training partners (from left) - Ruby Heath, Esme Paterson, Caitlin Deans and Erika Fairweather. Photo: supplied

Heath also trains with the top crop of New Zealand’s female swimmers at Moana Pool, two of whom – Olympian Erika Fairweather and Caitlin Deans - were in the record-breaking 4x200m relay team at Melbourne.  

“We train together, and we push each other in training every day,” Heath says.   

Two other women have represented New Zealand in open water and pool world championships.  

In 2006, Cara Baker represented New Zealand in the pool aged 15 and was top 10 in the 5km events at the open water world championships in 2010, 2011 and in 2013 when she was the same age Heath is now.  

Olympian Emma Robinson, who swam for Heath’s former Wellington club Capital, competed in both the pool and in the open water world championships in 2013. She then swam for New Zealand in the pool again at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Rio Olympics in 2016.      

Heath’s approach to competition is simple: “If you have a lane, you have a chance.”   

She is certainly one for taking her chances. Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the 2022 requirement to qualify for the open water world championships was to place top two at nationals and swim a 1500m pool event at trials. In other years it was to place top two locally, and also top five at the tough Australian open water championships, which Heath is attempting to do this week.   

Consequently, qualifying in 2022 was a relatively simple – and less expensive - task for Heath, who has comfortably placed top two in the 10km event for the past three years, successfully defending her title last year.  

It was also easier than qualifying as a junior in the 1500m freestyle. Juniors (under 19) had a tough standard to meet in the 1500m to qualify for the world junior open water championships, whereas seniors did not.  

“I’m not sure why,” Heath says. “It’s not an issue for me. The juniors have got to speak up about it and deal with it.”   

Just weeks after swimming more than 25km in Hungary (where she placed outside the top 35 in her events), Heath had to dive back into the pool and be one of the fastest four and clock her first ever 200m freestyle FINA B standard at trials to qualify for the pool world championships in the 4x200m freestyle relay.   

She unexpectedly did so, placing second - her best result at a national open championship - but says the trials were essentially a fun post-worlds pool competition.  

“The 200m is always a good fun event to have, to help with speed,” she says. 

Heath surprised herself with three other FINA B times at those trials in August.  

“If you’ve got a lane, you’ve got a chance,” Heath emphasises. “I had a lane at nationals and had an opportunity to swim fast, and I did exactly that. The reward was getting on a team that I didn’t really expect to get on to.”   

As well as training 20 hours a week in the pool, Heath competes in three open water 10km events each year. This month she must do two in just over two weeks to try and qualify for her third world championships.  

One was her second place in the 10km national event at Taupo on January 14, also swimming the 5km event where she was fourth, just 16 seconds behind winner Ashleigh Allred. 

But it is Heath’s personal bests in the pool that are creating attention. She also got a further personal best on the way to eighth place in the world championships relay final with her two Neptune clubmates, Fairweather and Deans.  

With Summer Osborne on debut, they took nearly five seconds off a 16-year-old New Zealand relay record.  

“Last year exceeded my expectations,” Heath says. “Racing at the world championships and making a final is an achievement I’ll remember for a long time.  It just goes to show that no matter what discipline you focus on in the sport, anything is possible, and that my training, commitment, and sacrifices are paying off.” 

Not a bad weekend to be a Fern

Our Kiwi wāhine stood tall across a substantial weekend of international sport. And if you didn't have time to be glued to a screen, LockerRoom has you covered. 

From football to cricket to sevens to netball, New Zealand's sporting wāhine enjoyed different degrees of success around the world over the weekend, as many prepare for their looming World Cups.

The Black Ferns Sevens scored a sensational and poignant World Series victory in Hamilton, while the Silver Ferns had a strong start to their 2023 campaign, which includes the defence of their world title. And also in South Africa, the future White Ferns continued their march towards the semifinals of the U19 T20 World Cup. 

Away from the heat of the African summer, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott had a career first, winning the LAAX Open Slopestyle World Cup in Switzerland. 

And while the Football Ferns couldn't match the might of the US, the crowd support was a good sign for the FIFA Women's World Cup, co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia across July and August. 


The Black Ferns Sevens were barely troubled in the final edition of the HSBC Sevens tournament to be held in New Zealand. 

A 58-0 win over Papua New Guinea, 27-0 over the usually strong Fiji and 20-0 against Great Britain sent the Kiwis flying into the semifinals, where Japan became the first team to score against them all weekend.

The 43-12 win over Japan and then a 32-0 victory over Ireland in the semis were easy work for the side, welcoming back Rugby World Cup winners Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, Stacey Fluhler, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Sarah Hirini. 

The final against the USA started strongly for the Ferns, superstar Michaela Blyde scoring within 20 seconds. With the US threatening to score close to halftime, the Black Ferns chose to kick it out, up 14-0. 

The start of the second half echoed the first, Blyde sprinting away to score in less than 20 seconds, and responding to a converted try from the Americans with her third try of the game. The hattrick made Blyde the top try-scorer of the tournament - with 10 - as the Black Ferns Sevens finished 33-7 victors. 


The Silver Ferns opened their Quad Series campaign on Sunday morning (NZ time) with a comfortable win over South Africa, a 20-5 third quarter giving the Ferns a 61-41 win. 

Both Karin Burger and Jane Watson returned to the black dress, with coach Dame Noeline Taurua managing to give all of her 12-strong squad at least 30 minutes on court. 

Grace Nweke continued her outstanding international form, shooting 46 from 47, while Kate Heffernan (the other player to have a full game) was also strong in the midcourt. 

However, the Ferns’ biggest challengers are always Australia and England - the last four Quad Series have been won by the Diamonds, with the English Roses taking second every tournament since 2018. 

The Ferns came out to a good start against Australia on Monday morning, holding a 17-13 lead at quarter time, and extending the lead to eight goals in the second stanza. 

But the Diamonds fought back, thanks to some smooth shooting from Steph Wood and basic errors from the Ferns. Taurua yet again gave her all her squad game time, Nweke on court for a consecutive full game. 

The final score was 59-57 to the Diamonds, the Ferns pulling a few goals back in the final minutes, but unable to draw level. 

In order to make the final for the first time since 2017 (the sole time the Kiwis have won the Quad Series), they'll need to beat the England Roses, who earlier drew with South Africa in a thrilling encounter. 


The Football Ferns had two tough encounters with the USA - the world number one football team - at home over the past week, ultimately ending in two predictable defeats, although keeping the visitors scoreless for a half in the first game was very pleasing for the team. 

Missing a lot of their star players due to the fixtures occurring outside the official FIFA window, it was always going to be a tough challenge for the 24th ranked Ferns. 

When the World Cup kicks off in July, the Ferns will take on Norway (ranked 13th), Switzerland (21st) and the Philippines (53rd) - with their goal to have their first World Cup win and make it through pool play for the first time. 

Despite the 4-0 and 5-0 losses, the Football Ferns saw their biggest home crowds - Wellington breaking the record on Wednesday with 12,508 fans and Auckland’s Eden Park (the home of their opening World Cup match) bettering that with 12,721 in Saturday's match.

Football Ferns captain Ali Riley was optimistic speaking to Sky Sport after the second match. 

“I think that’s the biggest thing that’s so meaningful and powerful to us, is to set a new record," she said. "We’re so grateful, we appreciate the fans here, it gave us a taste of what it’s going to be like when we return here, hopefully to set a new record again.

Ali Riley (left) can't wait to lead the Football Ferns into a home World Cup in July. Photo: Getty Images

“We can take a lot away from these two games, we have things we need to improve on and we’re going to learn from that," said Riley, earning her 149th cap.

"If I know anything about this team, it’s that the next six months, we will do everything we can so that we're ready for that game and we can put on a show for the crowd here.” 

(A special mention must go to the Wellington Phoenix, featuring four Football Ferns, who scored their first win of the season on Sunday, a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Canberra United). 


The New Zealand U19 women’s cricket team faced their toughest challenge yet at the inaugural U19 World Cup in South Africa, coming up against Rwanda after beating Indonesia, Ireland and the West Indies in pool play.

The Kiwis were sent in to bowl first for the fourth consecutive time in the tournament and restricted Rwanda to 95 runs from their 20 overs; Kate Chandler and Olivia Anderson both with two wickets. 

U19s spinner Kate Chandler has been one of the top wicket takers in her two games for New Zealand at the U19 Women's T20 World Cup. Photo: ICC Media

Having only lost one wicket so far in the competition, a silver lining to Rwanda’s strong bowling effort was the chance for more of the New Zealand team to bat. 

White Ferns Georgia Plimmer and Izzy Gaze couldn’t convert their international experience into runs, leaving the chase to 16-year-old Emma McLeod, who scored 59 runs off 39 balls. 

New Zealand won by six wickets, chasing down the total in the 17th over with a boundary from Chandler. 

The Kiwis next face Pakistan on Wednesday morning, looking for a chance to make the semifinals. 

Meanwhile, the White Ferns leave today for their T20 World Cup, also in South Africa, next month - with Bernadine Bezuidenhout receiving a recall after two years away from the crease, to recover from RED-S.

In another big year for women’s sport, with World Cups for cricket, netball and football, this weekend shows that New Zealand has what it takes to compete. 

Burger hungry for Ferns return

The Silver Ferns enter their final matches before defending their Netball World Cup title in July boosted by the return of defender Karin Burger. And Burger herself has a massive boost - with family and friends courtside for the first time. 

The last time Karin Burger visited her home country of South Africa, she was in a moonboot, unable to play netball. 

This time, she'll play in the black dress for the first time in the country where she spent her first 18 years.

And on her next trip, she might leave holding the Netball World Cup. 

The Silver Ferns open their Quad Series campaign on Sunday morning against hosts South Africa. It’s a welcome return to the black dress for star defender Burger, with the added bonus of doing it surrounded by her friends and family. 

*Burger’s down but not defeated by unlucky break
*Joy after loss: Silver Fern Watson’s taking care of baby

The 29-year-old suffered a major setback after the final of the ANZ Premiership last year, an ongoing foot injury requiring surgery and ruling her out of the Silver Ferns for six months.  

One silver lining of the injury meant Burger had time to visit her family in South Africa - something she hadn’t done since before the Covid outbreak. The trip was a welcome distraction she says. 

“It was just nice spending that quality time with them and having that distraction away from netball while I was injured,” Burger says, being able to meet her nephew for the first time. 

“It really helped mentally and possibly physically refresh myself as well, being able to spend that time there. And once I got back, I was mentally in a good space to just hit the ground running and do whatever I needed to recover and get to where I am now.” 

Burger is one of the three athletes returning to the Silver Ferns for the Quad Series, alongside Gina Crampton, who took sabbatical leave after the Commonwealth Games, and Jane Watson, who welcomed her first baby, daughter Tia, in May. 

The return of Watson - Burger's defensive buddy at the Tactix - after a year apart is an exciting prospect for the duo, and Ferns fans alike. 

“Having not played together for a while, obviously there are a few teething issues, like any combo but I feel like we’ll pick up on it quite quickly,” Burger says. 

“We both play very much on feeling - as much as there is structure, it’s very much a feeling thing as well. So we just need to get that feel for each other again and I’m sure it will hopefully look great again.” 

Burger says there’s plenty of competition for baby Tia’s attention, with three other mums in the team and plenty of aunties around. 

“It’s amazing, it’s a good distraction for us as well - being able to see baby and break away from netball for a bit is actually quite nice.

“You can’t walk past her and not smile and play with her.” 

Jane Watson (left) and Karin Burger (centre) will reunite at the Tactix this year, after playing together for the Silver Ferns at the Quad Series. Photo: Getty Images

Burger had a fracture in her navicular bone in her right foot, and had surgery in June to insert a screw and shave a section of bone, with the recovery process taking six months. 

“There was a really, really solid plan put in place for me,” Burger describes of her return to play programme, including building up her fitness to where it was pre-injury. 

“I had the likes of coaches, physios, strength and conditioning coaches, doctors, surgeons and everyone involved in the whole process in making sure the plan was proper and as good as it could possibly be and I was following it.” 

Self-described as someone who hates sitting still, it was a long break from the game for Burger. 

“As frustrating and as slow as it may have felt for me, it was a solid plan,” she says. 

“It felt like I was progressing fast and well enough to ensure the foot recovered really well and I didn’t end up having any other niggles or any other issues.” 

Burger’s six months away from the Ferns environment included missing out on the Commonwealth Games, an underwhelming series against Jamaica and a tightly fought Constellation Cup against Australia. 

“Part of me feels like the time I was away was ages,” she says, noting how quickly things can change and adapt. 

“There were a few things that had evolved in the way we do things, the structures and the language we use that I needed to pick up on quite quickly.

“But in terms of the environment and the people and getting back into things, I felt like I was just slotting back into it and I didn’t feel like I was out of place at all.” 

With the absence of Burger and Watson, Kelly Jury has been a standout in the defensive circle for the Silver Ferns, with young Kate Heffernan making her debut and impressing with the wing defence bib. 

“Since I’ve been out, the likes of Whitney [Souness] and Kate have really stamped their mark out there,” Burger says. 

“It’s amazing for me to learn, to play with them and to understand them as well, as individuals. It’s exciting to have them and their fresh perspective and seeing how the combos work and seeing their athleticism as well.” 

Burger's last outing in the black dress - the 2022 Quad Series. Photo: Getty Images

With the Quad Series likely being the last international hit out for the Silver Ferns before the Netball World Cup begins in July, Burger has set herself some goals to ensure she’s part of the team returning to Cape Town. 

“For me, it’s getting out there and feeling comfortable with my game and obviously solidifying some court time as well so I feel comfortable going into the ANZ season,” she says. 

“Knowing what the little things are that I need to work on to improve my game and be a better player so that when the World Cup comes around, I can overall be a better player and on court, play even better than I am at the moment.

“I think it’s just having patience with myself, knowing this is my first international series in about a year, but I do like challenging myself so I want to be happy with my performance and try solidify some court time.” 

Burger has spent time at both goal and wing defence for the Silver Ferns, and says she has no preference where coach Dame Noeline Taurua places her on court. 

“My goal in terms of playing both positions is regardless of which one I am, I’m focused on that one and giving it my all,” she says. 

“I think that’s my challenge for the ANZ season as well, knowing there’s possibility for a slide and not trying to find my feet in either but doing my job 100 percent when I do get put on either.” 

Burger returned to South Africa last year to reunite with her family. 

Facing the country of her birth on Sunday, Burger will play in front of most of her family and friends for the very first time, a momentous occasion she’s not trying to dwell on too much. 

“I’m trying to not get too distracted by that sort of thing, it’s just amazing getting that family connection and breaking away from netball,” she says, spending her few hours off per day with family. 

“There is that slight pressure in the back of my mind that I want to play good for my family, and the amount of friends and supporters that I know of and heard of that are also coming to watch. 

“It’s that pressure of knowing I want to be my best and play my best in front of them and to show them what I do on a day to day basis but also not letting that distract me from my job and focusing on what I need to do. So it’s finding that fine balance and utilising those emotions to be a better player rather than letting it distract me and affect my game.” 

*The Quad Series begins on Sunday, with the Silver Ferns taking on South Africa at 2.30am NZT on Sky Sport 3. They then play Australia on Monday at 5am, England on Wednesday at 3am with the finals on Thursday. 

'I hope to lead my country so people can see it's such a huge honour'

LA-based football star Ali Riley captains New Zealand's Football Ferns – so it's no surprise what she'll be wishing for as the World Cup comes to New Zealand this year

Comment: In 2022 I got to welcome my New Zealand football family to the city that I call home. The Ford Football Ferns came to Los Angeles to play Iceland, USA, Mexico and the Philippines.

This coming year, we'll be welcoming the whole world to New Zealand, when this country co-hosts the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

In the US, I captain Angel City FC in the United States’ National Women’s Soccer League. It’s honestly still surreal for me. It's been so nice for me to have my two worlds, and two families collide.

* Tory Whanau: I want people to be proud of their city again
* Simon Mackenzie: I am the lineman for the county – let’s work together
* Selah Hart: Don’t be too weak and hōhā to make a difference
* Gretchen Robertson: Dreaming of team, wishing for fish, liking our bikes
* Simon Draper: Let’s rediscover our ambition, Aotearoa
* Dame Therese Walsh: To look into the soul of the universe, wink, and smile

1. Inspire girls and women

My hope for the Football Ferns for 2023 is that we make history for our country. And we are part of this amazing milestone for women's soccer by hosting the best ever women's sporting event in our country. I hope that we live up to the slogan of 'beyond greatness' by creating a legacy for the Ferns who come after us.

But we also honour the Ferns who came before us. And we play with pride and humility, and respect.

'We only have one planet, so we have to treat her right.'

I hope that for football in New Zealand, well, I hope that so many little girls are inspired to pick up a soccer ball and start playing sport – any sport! But of course, I am partial to soccer.

I hope that any girls who are thinking of quitting sport or soccer decide to stay and stick it out.

And I really hope that there are even more women who become referees and coaches and managers, and even owners of football clubs.

2. Set a leadership standard

My club in LA was founded by venture capitalist Kara Nortman, actress Natalie Portman and tech entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, and it has other high-profile owners like tennis legend Serena Williams. Angel City stands for initiatives I'm passionate about like the fight for equal pay and equal media coverage for the women’s game.

The club are also really involved in their community, donating equipment to local players, food to those in need and coaching thousands of young footballers.  

When we wear this crest and go out and play, we want to do well for the club, for the communities, for ourselves, for the city – there’s so many things driving us.

So I hope for the women's game globally that again, this World Cup is a huge milestone and it energises the players to continue pushing for what we deserve.

And that we can make sure that there is a minimum global standard for women's soccer – that players are not only paid what they deserve, but also have the right conditions and feel safe and protected and healthy.

And I hope that we prove to all the doubters that we're amazing athletes and amazing women, and amazing humans who really deserve to be supported and invested in.

3. Reuse, recycle

When Orlando Pride traded me to Angel City, I lived with my parents in LA until I could move into my apartment and my belongings were shipped across the country. For a month, I wore old high school clothes and my soccer gear from college. It really showed me that I have so little need for new clothes!

I also champion sustainable initiatives to get the right gear to girls and women. That means helping them stay comfortable and active during their period, in my support for the Puma x Modibodi active underwear collection.  It also means our club donating equipment to local players and helping to close the circle – for example, as a club we have donated over 15,000 sports bras as part of our Angel City Sponsorship Model, and at the end of the year we hosted a clothing drive where over 2,600 items of clothing were donated.

I hope that in 2023, a lot of people who are cleaning out their closets decide to recycle their clothing and send it to where it is most needed, instead of sending them to landfill.

4. Play for our country, eat for our planet

Last year, Toni Pressley and I launched vegan cooking show 'Girls Gone Veg’ to promote plant-based foods for athletes. We’re also writing a cookbook, which will be published in September.

My diet helps improve my athletic performance; limiting my dependence on meat-based products is good for my health and good for the environment.

I hope that maybe anyone who is thinking about trying to eat less meat or become vegetarian gets the courage and motivation to do so.

And you know, we only have one planet, so we have to treat her right.

5. Make my family and fans proud

My personal wish is to have a healthy 2023 so I can lead my country at our home World Cup in front of my family.

I may have been born and raised in Los Angeles, but I am so proud to be a Kiwi. It’s such a huge honour to play for New Zealand and represent this country on the world stage.

I think this tournament will be the greatest women’s sporting event in history, and as hosts we play such a unique and amazing role in that. It is something many players will never get to experience. 

My goal is to meet and engage with as many fans as possible and inspire the next generation of Football Ferns.

As told to Suzanne McFadden and Merryn Anderson

Rugby’s first Dame caps off incredible year

As New Zealand celebrates an incredible year for women’s sport, some of the country’s most influential women in sport have been recognised for their efforts. 

After a mammoth push to back the Black Ferns and women’s rugby for the Rugby World Cup, Dame Professor Farah Palmer receives the highest honour in the 2023 New Year Honours list. 

Eleven Kiwi women in sport, including Olympic champion Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, have been celebrated on this year’s list.

Dame Professor Farah Palmer, Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit

To the casual observer, it may have seemed like the surge in interest in women’s rugby came overnight, as the Black Ferns sold out Eden Park and lifted the Rugby World Cup trophy in front of 42,000 adoring fans in November. 

But it’s all thanks to some of the pioneers of the sport, including Dame Professor Farah Palmer. 

Palmer captained the Black Ferns to three World Cup titles – in 1998, 2002 and 2006, with 35 appearances in the black jersey over 10 years. 

But it’s also her work after her retirement in 2006 that make her worthy of this recognition for her services to sport, particularly rugby. 

Where is she now? Farah Palmer
* Kereyn Smith: The woman setting a new course for NZ cycling

In 2016, she became the first woman to be appointed to the New Zealand Rugby Board, and will be deputy chair next year, as Dame Patsy Reddy takes the reins as the first female chair. 

Palmer (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato) is passionate about women’s rugby and Māori rugby and is a senior lecturer at Massey University, spreading her expertise to the next generation of leaders. 

From L-R, three legends of New Zealand netball - Leigh Gibbs, Ruth Aitken and Casey Kopua. Photo: Getty Images

Leigh Gibbs, Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit 

Leigh Gibbs was the sixth Silver Ferns coach, leading the team from 1994-1997, a mere seven years after her retirement from the side. 

Amassing 61 test caps, Gibbs spent two years as captain of the Ferns, including leading the team to Netball World Cup victory in 1987. 

A dynamo at wing defence, the Cantabrian is a legend of her region, coaching the Canterbury Flames and Tactix, and now works as the general manager of Nelson Netball Centre. 

Kereyn Smith, Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit 

The CEO of the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) for 11 years, Kereyn Smith had a goal to increase women in leadership positions across sport in New Zealand. 

Working with NZOC for three Summer Olympics, two Winter, two Commonwealth Games and a pandemic, Smith’s influence saw New Zealand slowly but steadily increase the percentage of women athletes competing on the global scale. Her legacy continues, with 53 percent of Kiwi athletes at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games being women. 

Smith stepped down at the end of 2021, and in May became the transformation director at Cycling New Zealand, charged with driving change in a sport shaken by the report into its culture and athlete wellbeing. She was also a driving force for Auckland to host the IWG World Conference on Women and Sport in November. 

Kereyn Smith at the IWG Conference in November. Photo: Getty Images

Pānia Papa, Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit  

Papa receives her honour for services to Māori language education and broadcasting, but also was a talented netballer, playing two games for the Silver Ferns in 1990. 

A champion for the revitalisation of te reo Māori, Papa (Ngāti Korokī-Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) has worked as a television presenter, translator, and lectured at the University of Waikato for 10 years. Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is running a two year master’s degree for te reo, of which Papa is a faculty member for, a course with very high demand, as interest in learning the language increases. 

Anna Harrison, Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit 

After 20 years, Anna Harrison retired from domestic netball this year, the rangy Silver Ferns defender finishing a stellar career with a World Cup gold and two Commonwealth Games gold medals. The 39-year-old still is involved in sport, playing both indoor and beach volleyball – sports she started as a teenager. 

Anna Harrison, (right) with team-mate and new Silver Fern Elle Temu, in her last season for the Northern Stars. Photo: Merryn Anderson

Dayle Jackson, Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

Dayle Jackson’s 40 years in education, including as principal of Kelson School in Lower Hutt, involved coaching various sports. Jackson was also the manager of the Black Sticks hockey team, as well as a player and coach for Hockey New Zealand, and a bowls umpire and coach at Bowls Wellington. 

Melony O’Connor, Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

O’Connor is one of the leading basketball referees in New Zealand, and was the first woman to officiate 400 men’s National Basketball League (NBL) games, putting her third on the most games refereed list. O’Connor (Ngāti Porou) was NBL Referee of the Year for the last three years, and works with Māori Basketball New Zealand to develop referees. 

Melony O'Connor was the NBL referee of the year. 

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

The first Kiwi to win a Winter Olympic gold medal, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott made history twice in Beijing this year when she collected a silver – the first New Zealand athlete to win two medals at a Games. A role model to young Wānaka athletes, the 21-year-old also received the Lonsdale Cup this year, the NZOC’s most prestigious award to an athlete who has made the most outstanding contribution to an Olympic or Commonwealth sport. 

Cheryl Smith, Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

Cheryl Smith (Ngāpuhi) has given thousands of children the opportunity to be involved in sports in Northland over the past 25 years. The community connector for Sport Northland, Smith also won two Rugby World Cups as a Black Fern, and coached both men’s and women’s teams in Northland, including Northland Kauri team in the Farah Palmer Cup. 

Noeline Jeffries, Queen’s Service Medal

An advocate for safety in the equestrian community, Noeline Jeffries is a rider, instructor and judge. She also volunteers and is a leader of efforts to commemorate the war horses of New Zealand. 

Carol Martin, Queen’s Service Medal

Carol Martin has been involved with Hokitika Netball for almost 40 years, in a variety of roles. She also has worked in education, helping construct facilities for schools and sports teams. 

Following the Journey North

The ups and downs of an amateur women's club football side in Wellington have been chronicled in a docoseries, The Journey North, with the theme 'If you can see it, you can be it'. Aiden McLaughlin reports. 

When Kimberley Kan took a year off playing football for the North Wellington FC women’s premier team, she didn’t know her teammates would soon become the subject of her new creative project. 

Kan had a rough end to 2021. Her grandmother passed away and she struggled with her mental health. Her team had been promoted to the Ultra Football Women’s Capital Premier division, but, after just four years playing the game, the thought of playing at that level was daunting for her. 

Even after deciding not to play in 2022, she was still involved with the club – the professional videographer producing graphics for the top men's and women's teams at North Wellington.

Her coach, Paul Hallett, had previously watched a British series about non-league football called ‘Bunch of Amateurs’ and discussed the concept with Kan. But with her playing, there wasn’t an opportunity to take the idea forward – until now. 

“Paul and I were talking about how this could be an opportunity for us to create a docuseries surrounding the women’s game at an amateur level, because there are quite a few already out there about the men’s game, but there are very few about women,” says Kan. 

*Rugby’s success sets bar high for FIFA World Cup
*Building on the Lionesses’ pride

The result of those discussions is the 14-part docuseries called ‘The Journey North’. It’s helped Kan remember why she played - the overall hauora (health and wellbeing) benefits, the social benefits, being around people who support you and are there for you, an escape, and a place to work on your own football journey. 

“I wanted to create more visibility for women’s sport in the media and I really wanted to encourage people to get into football,” says Kan. 

“With players from this level we wanted to make it relatable to your everyday person, so they could see themselves in those players. As the saying goes: If you can see it, you can be it.” 

Kan became interested in football watching the US women’s national team on YouTube.   

“I see what they do in America with the national team. They put out such incredible stuff,” she says. “That visibility, that promotion, it gets you all hyped – it got me hyped. I just hope that New Zealand Football and all the smaller federations get on board and realise that media and video is such an important way to get involved in the game.” 

As Kan developed her vision for the series, she reached out to New Zealand Football, Capital Football and the Oceania Football Confederation for funding, with no joy. With costs to meet and a passion project to produce, she set up a Givealittle page with a target of $14,000. She took two weeks’ unpaid leave to complete the series. 

Episodes of ‘The Journey North’ were released weekly on YouTube, and Capital Football have got on board, promoting the series. 

The 2022 North Wellington FC women’s premier team. Photo: Kimberley Kan/Chromazura Productions

The first takes us to the start of the women’s premier season. Following their promotion from division one in 2021, there’s a mix of returning and new players as their campaign gets underway. After an introduction to the new season from coach Hallett, it dives into the action of the first game. 

From then on, each episode starts with an interview with one of the North Wellington players before featuring insights from another of their matches. It’s a chance to learn about the players within the group and understand their backgrounds and motivations for being a part of the team, while also tracking their overall season. 

“Learning all these stories has been incredible,” says Kan. “I felt for everyone it was a little therapy session. People do have stories and genuinely want to share them. I think it was quite a nice reflective thing for everyone who took part. 

“It really made me realise all the different reasons why people get into football. Yes, there’s the fitness side of things, but [it can be an] escape from everyday life, and you can gain a new social group.” 

Rowan Harvey returned to football after having three children. Photo: Kimberley Kan/Chromazura Productions

Episode three introduces Rowan Harvey, one of the team’s central midfielders. A wife to Jake and a mother to Imogen, Lexie and Georgia, Harvey also works as a product manager at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. 

Harvey started playing football when she was 13 and played all through high school and university. When she started to work, she switched to indoor football, but after having her children, football took a back seat. About three years ago, she realised she wasn’t done playing the game and joined North Wellington. 

“In the rest of my life I’m always being something for someone, so I wanted something that was just purely for me,” says Harvey. 

“That means I get my time to go training, [it] gets me out of the door to make sure I actually commit to having that me time, which is super important I think for mental health.” 

For Harvey, it was really interesting to uncover some of the stories the squad didn’t know about each other. They also adjusted to being filmed and interviewed as time went on. 

“Overall, there was excitement and enthusiasm for sure. It was a bit weird when Kim started [filming] but we all got used to it. I was really excited and I guess it lent a legitimacy to what we were doing,” Harvey says.  

“Traditionally the women’s side just doesn’t get as much [coverage] as the men’s side. To have this as part of our team was awesome.” 

North Wellington's Jenny Guptar eludes her opposition. Photo: Kimberley Kan/Chromazura Productions

An important result of Harvey’s involvement in the series was that her children got to understand more about what football meant to her. 

“It was empowering. It gave visibility to everyone and everything. It was awesome for my kids to see that come out,” she says. “They could see that mum is part of something and all those other girls are part of something and that doing this is normal.” 

The profile of women’s football in New Zealand is expected to grow hugely in 2023 with the FIFA Women's World Cup here and in Australia in July and August. Sports Minister Grant Robertson confirmed nearly $19 million has been put aside to upgrade sporting facilities earmarked for the tournament, not only in the regions that will host matches (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Dunedin) but also the regions that will only host team camps (Napier, Christchurch, Tauranga and Palmerston North). 

"These upgrades are critical to ensure the success of the tournament, but will also benefit local communities, football clubs and many different sporting codes that use these facilities, which is another great reason to invest in them," Robertson said.  

The Journey North's creator, Kimberley Kan. Photo: Michelle Kan

For Kan, and all involved in the game in New Zealand, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the world’s largest women’s sporting event on home soil. 

“With the women’s World Cup coming up next year, that is massive and I hope people get involved in the game, especially in the lead-up,” says Kan.  

“I had the amazing opportunity to see the last World Cup in France [in 2019], and it’s such an incredible environment. All the teams coming in, all the supporters coming in. 

“New Zealand has such an incredible opportunity next year and I just really hope people can get along and experience it when it happens.” 

*All episodes of ‘The Journey North’ are available to watch now on YouTube

Schoolgirl cricketer's time to shine on world stage

Kate Chandler is used to playing cricket with the boys, but the Wellington teen has the chance to shine amongst the best young women cricketers in the world at the inaugural U19 T20 World Cup next month, Merryn Anderson writes.

Wellington Girls' College student Kate Chandler had one of the best weeks of her life earlier this month, when she won the national U19 women’s cricket tournament. 

But with the 16-year-old selected in the New Zealand team to contest the inaugural U19 Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa next month, that favourite moment could soon be overtaken.

Chandler is one of the youngest players in the New Zealand side, but age has never daunted her. She made her debut for the Wellington Blaze just weeks after turning 14, and impressed early, taking five wickets in a Hallyburton Johnstone Shield game against the Canterbury Magicians - only her fourth game. 

Two of her five wickets were White Ferns (she caught out a third), and the Blaze went on to win by eight wickets, with 107 balls to spare. 

“That was awesome, it was a bit surreal looking back at it. It was one of those days where everything just goes to plan,” Chandler remembers. 

“And when you’re in an environment like the Blaze, you’ve got the best fielders, the best keeper, the best catchers; the best of everything. It’s an easy environment to do well in.” 

This season, the Blaze have six contracted White Ferns players, which gives room for players like Chandler to have more game time when the Ferns leave for their T20 World Cup, also in South Africa, in February. 

Being in the same environment with the likes of Sophie Devine and Melie Kerr has been amazing for the young leg spinner. 

“They’re some of the best players in the world, so it’s really cool to have them in the same team - just watching how they go about their business,” she says. 

Chandler was one of the top players at the NZ U19 tournament. Photo: PhotosportNZ

Chandler took nine wickets for Wellington in the U19 national tournament at Lincoln earlier this month, but it was her batting that impressed most. 

She finished with an average of 63.75, with a highest score of 67 not out. Across the tournament, she scored 255 runs, the third-highest total. 

“I’ve definitely worked a lot on my batting the last couple of seasons trying not slip into just becoming a bowler, to really become an all-rounder,” Chandler says. 

She was one of the top run-scorers in her first HBJ match for the Blaze this season, scoring 29 runs at number seven in a comprehensive win over the Magicians. 

Chandler continued that trend in her second game yesterday, scoring 32 not out, and sharing a 61-run partnership with Thamsyn Newton, as the Blaze defeated the Sparks. 

After feeling little pressure in her first season with the Blaze - “If I didn’t get any wickets, then oh well; and if I did, that’s an added bonus” - Chandler says now she feels a bit more responsibility to perform with the ball. 

“A lot of the time, it’s just what you put on yourself to get out there and take wickets cause that’s the role you’ve got," she says. 

“I actually do get a bit excited, sometimes I get caught up a little bit but I try to stay calm and stay in the moment.” 

Kate Chandler took five wickets in one of her first games for the Wellington Blaze, at just 14 years old. Photo: Getty Images

Chandler started playing cricket around the age of five at her local club; her three older brothers all cricketers also. 

“It was either play cricket or watch them play cricket,” Chandler laughs. 

Playing in all boys teams until the end of last year, Chandler played for Wellington College for a few years, and had no problem being the only girl in a team. 

“It was just normal, cause they were just my mates,” she says. 

She also plays hockey in winter, playing for as long as she has been with cricket. “I really love hockey, especially in the wintertime, to take a break from cricket and get stuck in to something else,” Chandler says. 

Is there ever too much on her plate? Definitely not, she says.

“Playing sport’s not something that’s a chore - it’s a lot of fun every time I go out and play hockey or cricket or any social sport.” 

Chandler has just finished Year 11 at Wellington Girls’ College, and admits she’s unsure what she wants to do after high school, but says it’s exciting to know cricket could be a career for her. 

“Especially with all the stuff that’s happening with women’s cricket at the moment, it’s pretty cool for that to be an actual career path,” she says.

Chandler is a gifted hockey player as well, playing for her school's first XI

Chandler was at cricket practice with her school when she got the call saying she had made the U19 team for the World Cup. 

“I was pretty stoked, it was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t 100 percent thinking  I was going to be in the frame for it so it was pretty cool to get the call,” she says. 

There are four Wellington players in the squad, coached by former White Fern Sara McGlashan. 

“It’s cool to see quite a few girls from Wellington getting in. I’ve been playing with some of them for quite a while now so it’ll be nice to have them alongside me,” Chandler says. 

New Zealand play Indonesia, Ireland and the West Indies in pool play, with their first match on January 16 (NZT). 

Three players in the team have White Ferns experience - Fran Jonas (22 caps), Izzy Gaze (13) and Georgia Plimmer (13) were all part of the bronze medal-winning Commonwealth Games team, and the recent West Indies tour in Antigua. 

Jonas and Plimmer also played in the World Cup in New Zealand in March, while Gaze was part of the development team who toured India last month. 

That makes the New Zealand team one of the strongest in terms of international experience, something Chandler says will be very helpful. 

“Not many girls have gone and played cricket overseas, or had the pressure of playing in a World Cup so it’ll be good to have those three there," she says.

“There are lots of different countries going, so it’ll be awesome.” 

Eight lives saved is White Fern's hope

As the White Ferns go into their final game of 2022, Melie Kerr tells Kristy Havill how she's surprised herself this year, and how she hopes her video series on mental health will have saved at least eight lives.

It’s been just over 12 months since LockerRoom published the first detailed story of White Fern Melie Kerr’s brave battle with mental health and the courageous decisions she had to make to overcome her demons.

The 21-year-old pledged during our chat to do anything she could to make an impact in the mental health space. Just exactly what it looked like, she wasn’t so sure.

Fast forward to now, and she's just released the final episode of her video series, Treading Water, where she interviews seven people about their mental health struggles.

Not long after we’d wrapped up our Zoom interview, Kerr messages me to share an example of how the series is having an impact. She’d just had a note from a relative in Australia, who shared the link to the Treading Water videos with a mother battling with her mental health.

The woman then went to a hospital to get the help she needed.

* Amelia Kerr: My family saved my life
* It's all going swimmingly for Kerr

“With the range of different stories, if that’s one different person saved for each video then that’s eight lives saved,” says Kerr, whose own monologue is included in the series.

“For me, that’s why I did it, because I know when you’re going through something how alone you feel. I wanted to raise awareness for the people feeling alone that it’s not just you, and these stories show hope we can get better.

"So I hope if someone is struggling and watches those videos, they can hang onto the hope that saved all of us and helped be where we are today.”

Melie Kerr (left) with her White Ferns sister, Jess, during the NZ series against India in February. Photo: supplied. 

Over the last 12 months, Kerr has returned to cricket with a newfound confidence, after fearing she would struggle being away from her family and support network. "But now I know that with the White Ferns, I’m going to be ok because it’s like family," she says.

It was during the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup back in March when the cogs started turning in Kerr’s head about what she wanted to do.

“After the summer of cricket and the World Cup finished, the idea just came to me. I shared it with Mum, who said it was really good, and then I got in touch with a psychologist who put me in touch with Mike King," Kerr says.  A tireless mental health advocate, King runs the I Am Hope charity. 

The purpose of Treading Water is to continue the conversations about mental health, and signal to those watching there's always hope to navigate through whatever life throws you.

There’s a mixture of family, friends and strangers among the videos. Some faces you will recognise, some you may not.

Partnering with I Am Hope was a logical move for Kerr, with the charity at the forefront of changing the dialogue around mental health and providing free counselling to young people.

It has been a passion project which Kerr worked on personally from all corners of the globe during her busy cricket schedule.

“I got the full publish of every trailer, every video and monologue when I first got to England, and very quickly got Covid soon after,” Kerr recalls, referring to her arrival in the UK in July ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

“I had a week in my hotel room, so that kept me busy."

A preview of Melie Kerr's monologue in the Treading Water series

While she was busy securing a bronze medal in Birmingham with her White Ferns teammates, then playing for London Spirit in The Hundred, she was also having a website built to house the videos and further establish her online presence.

By the time she linked back up with the Ferns in the West Indies in September, Kerr had something tangible off the field to sink her teeth into.

“With the release plan and adding stuff to the website, when I wasn’t at cricket I had a lot to do,” Kerr says. “I really enjoyed it, and it was easy to enjoy because it was work I liked and work that I’m proud of.

"I’ve done a few uni papers on tour before and that can feel like a drain at times.”

It demonstrates her growth and how far she's come that Kerr spent three months overseas before returning home for 24 hours, then jetting off again to Australia for the Women’s Big Bash League  with the Brisbane Heat.

It was only last year when venturing away from her support system seemed an overwhelming prospect, and she withdrew from the tour of England.

“Before the India series [in NZ in February] and the World Cup I was nervous to get back on tour again,” Kerr reveals. “I was scared being back in a hotel room alone again that those bad thoughts would creep back in.

"They didn’t, and I love being with the White Ferns again. It’s been a hectic year, and I’ve surprised myself. I thought I was really going to struggle being away for so long.

"But I knew this time around if I did struggle I could talk about it or get home to my family.”

Melie Kerr bowling during the White Ferns 2nd ODI v Bangladesh on Wednesday. Photo: Getty Images. 

It’s that same progress and development at the cornerstone of the Treading Water series, each video demonstrating there's always hope to move through life’s difficulties and find support.

In terms of making the series, there was the minor matter of not just finding a videographer who could shoot and edit the content, but someone who could carry out the vision of the idea. And Kerr didn’t need to look far to find the man she wanted for the job.

“I always knew I wanted Hamish Johns to film it and work alongside me,” Kerr explains.

“He knew exactly what I wanted, and said he could see it straightaway. He’s done a few interviews for Cricket Wellington which have been epic, and his photography and stuff he’s done with film is incredible.”

Normally the one being interviewed in her day job, Kerr reversed the roles this project. Having confessed she doesn’t enjoy being in front of the camera, Kerr doesn’t doubt she's grown personally and professionally after taking herself out of her comfort zone. She found the process of telling her story therapeutic.

Treating each person with respect and delicacy was of the utmost importance, as some stories and experiences can be triggering for the individual recounting them. So she sought additional support and education to prepare herself as the interviewer.

She worked with Suzie McDonald, who runs the Headfirst programme at New Zealand Rugby around safe storytelling. And also with the Mental Health Foundation, who "helped with the ethical side of things of how to interview someone about this topic, and some safe questions to ask," Kerr says. 

Choosing the people to be interviewed for the series was one of the most important factors Kerr considered, wanting as many different aspects of mental health issues to be discussed from a variety of individuals.

“I’d noticed more people in the media were speaking about mental health, but I also know how individual it is,” Kerr says. “Sometimes people who don’t have that profile don’t necessarily have a voice to share their stories to a wider range of people.”

The Kerr sisters, with dad Robbie, playing for Tawa College in 2014. Photo: supplied. 

Whether you’re a parent who doesn’t know how to best support their child like Kerr’s father Robbie, stuck in a career you don't love and experiencing burnout like Leigh Westley was, or grappling with an eating disorder as Rosa Flanagan did, a variety of topics are covered.

It was a priority for Kerr to have a rapport with each of her guests, where trust could be developed for a meaningful conversation. Some of these solid foundations she already had, such as with her father, her best friend, Dan Fouhy, and her cousin Eli Knox.

But for other guests like Two Raw Sisters co-founder and former NZ middle distance runner Flanagan, Wellington Saints basketballer Rangimarie Mita and former corporate employee Westley, there were a few coffees and lunches before the cameras started rolling.

“We just chatted more about life and what they do, nothing really about the interview, it was all about building that relationship and trust,” Kerr shares.

“From there we communicated about what they wanted to tell in their story, and what they don’t, and also making it clear they had full rights to cut anything out they didn’t like."

Perhaps the most high profile guest is Hurricanes flanker and Wellington Lions captain Du’Plessis Kirifi, who Kerr had met a few times and been impressed by his leadership and work in the Wellington region.

“His story is incredible,” Kerr says. “There’s so many young boys in New Zealand who look up to rugby players, and he shows that if you play sport you don’t have to pretend to be tough and not show emotion.”

A snippet from Wellington Lions captain Du’Plessis Kirifi's episode of Treading Water

There's one interview which sticks out clearly as the most difficult for Kerr and Johns to film. Her childhood best friend, Dan Fouhy. 

“Dan came to me and said he wanted to be a part of it,” Kerr says. “I’d suggested it, but wasn’t too sure because it is the heaviest topic as it discusses suicide."

Fouhy lost his younger brother, Shaun, in 2020.

"We did his interview last, and that was important because Hamish and I felt we would have learnt as much as we could to prepare ourselves.

"We took a lot of breaks in the interview. There was a moment where Dan’s crying, I’m in tears, and you’re just going back and reliving the most terrible thing that’s ever happened to you and your family.

"I was around during the funeral and when it happened, around at their house a fair bit. It takes you back to those memories and all the pain it caused. I drove Dan home afterwards, and when I got home to my flat I just burst into tears. But it’s such an important story and one that’s very close to my heart.”

Each episode is raw, vulnerable, confronting at times, and inspiring. The courage of the guests to share their experiences is palpable, and all of the episodes are underpinned by a sense of gratitude  they got the help they needed – in whatever form it came.

“If I get the funding, I’d jump at doing part two straight away”

Kerr has another busy summer ahead as the ODI series against Bangladesh wraps up this weekend, before joining the Wellington Blaze for the Dream11 Super Smash and beginning preparations for the T20 World Cup in February in South Africa.

“You play around the world now and with different teams, but there’s nothing better than playing for the White Ferns,” Kerr says.

“The culture we have and the people, I love being in that environment. Same with being back with Wellington and playing in the Super Smash, I absolutely love it.”

Kerr’s excitement and energy for the summer of cricket at home and spending time with loved ones can be felt through the screen.

When asked if there’s any chance of her having to take a break from cricket at some stage, Kerr concedes she will definitely be enjoying her leave period when it arrives after the World Cup.

“Normally I go straight back into training, but I should probably take some time off bowling and hitting balls this time around,” Kerr chuckles.

For all of her on-field accomplishments, these videos and the impact they’re having could live longer in the memory than her cricketing exploits.

It's surely up there with the most powerful digital and social media projects of the year in New Zealand, and is definitely one of Kerr’s proudest achievements.

So can we expect to see Treading Water part two, or any other projects in the future? “If I get the funding I’d jump at doing part two straight away”, Kerr says.

“Film’s very expensive, and all of the production for it, but it’s definitely something I’d like to keep doing. That’s where Mike King and I Am Hope helped me out this time around, otherwise I didn’t really know how to fund it.

"There are some amazing stories out there, and a lot of people I couldn't interview, because of heading away to England for cricket, are really keen to get their story out there.”

Whenever the time comes for part two, or another Kerr initiative, those who struggle with mental health or are associated with someone who does will know they have a lifelong ally and advocate in one extraordinary young woman.

* The White Ferns and Bangladesh play their third and final ODI in Hamilton on Saturday, from 1.30pm on Spark Sport

** To make a $3 donation to I Am Hope, text HOPE to 469

Sport's best 22 from 2022

From podiums, to pay parity, paddle wars to poi, 2022 has been quite a year for our sportswomen. LockerRoom writer Sarah Cowley Ross lines up her 22 highlights. 

1. The exceptional Zoi Sadowski-Synnott secured NZ’s first Winter Olympics gold medal with a clutch back-to-back double cork 1080 trick in her last run in slopestyle. The pile-up of hugs by her fellow competitors after nailing her final trick was heartwarming, recognising the challenge of the trick and the Kiwi snowboard star for pulling it off. The 21-year-old from Wanaka went on to secure silver in the big air competition, too - making her the first Kiwi to win two medals at one Games. 

2. The first of the “Big Four” global women's events in Aotearoa, the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup was held in extraordinarily challenging circumstances across the country. All seven visiting nations went through MIQ on arrival (which seems foreign now) and the majority of the tournament was played with limited crowds in the traffic light settings (remember them?).

The triumphant Australian Cricket World Cup team. Photo: ICC Media

A sold-out Hagley Park final between Australia and England saw the Aussies (led by Alyssa Healy scoring a remarkable 170) take the title. The White Ferns promised a lot over the summer but were unable to deliver in some intense final over heartbreaks in their pool matches. A bronze at the Commonwealth Games T20 competition in August was a fitting redemption for the Kiwi side.

3. The New Zealand team turnaround of this century? The Black Ferns. Punished by England and France in the end-of-year tour of 2021 - and now world champions at home. Their fairytale journey had it all - a 'professor' came to the rescue, helped by some old All Black friends; some legends of the game missed selection; world record crowds; an aggressive attacking strategy; and the miracle hand of Joanah Ngan-Woo in the final line-out. Arise, mana wāhine, the Black Ferns.

With a sixth world title came a gargantuan shift in how New Zealand values women's rugby. Now, increased investment must follow.

The Black Ferns went on to sweep the World Rugby Awards with co-captain Ruahei Demant winning World 15s player of the year; coach of the year went to Wayne Smith; and break-out player of the year to none other than the vivacious Ruby Tui (who turned 31 this week, and received a birthday cake from the Prime Minister). 

Black Ferns co-captain Ruahei Demant also won the Kelvin R Tremain NZ Player of the Year. 

4. The family festival nature of the Rugby World Cup. Guess what? People LOVE women’s sport and women’s rugby! I’ll let Tui say it for me, with her acceptance speech for the player of the match in the first pool game: “People said we shouldn’t, many said that we wouldn't. But the ones that pissed me off the most were they said we couldn’t, but we did it. We sold out Eden Park.” And big ups to the 42,579 poi-twirling fans who filled the Garden of Eden for the World Cup final - a world record crowd for a women's rugby match. 

5. Following up her silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Ellesse Andrews lit up the Lee Valley Velodrome at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games winning the sprint, keirin and combining with teammates Rebecca Petch and Olivia King to take the team sprint gold. After a hugely traumatic year for Cycling NZ, it was so good to see these smiling faces on the podium. 

A nod, too, to Bryony Botha - gold in the individual pursuit in a Games record and beating her Aussie rival by 8.6 seconds. Botha is now the national record holder in the gruelling 3000m individual pursuit, taking that record from Sarah Ulmer earlier in the year. Botha also went on to silver in the pursuit at the world championships in Paris.

6. Ngā Pou Hapai (flagbearer) of the New Zealand Team at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Joelle King finishes the PSA World Tour year ranked 4th - winning the Singapore Open and Manchester Open in 2022. After a disappointing singles campaign in Birmingham, she joined forces with her friend and doubles partner Amanda Landers-Murphy (who came out of retirement for the Games) to claim gold.

7. A breakthrough international year for sprinter Zoe Hobbs - semifinalist at the world athletics championships in Oregon in July, and then finalist at the Commonwealth Games in August. From 11.27s to 11.08s in 2022 might sound like a small improvement, but really, it’s massive.

Zoe Hobbs (No.6) reaches the semifinals of the 100m at the world champs in Oregon this year.

8. Those who wore the fern and are now opening a new chapter. Notable retirements in 2022 included Dame Valerie Adams after an illustrious shotput career (now captured in film), Black Sticks captain Stacey Michelsen, world champion netballer Katrina Rore, and rowing Olympic and world champion Grace Prendergast

Globally we said haere ra to tennis GOAT Serena Williams and sprint star Allyson Felix.

9. The milestone parity agreement from New Zealand Cricket will see the White Ferns and our domestic women’s players receiving the same match fees as the men across all formats and competitions. An equitable outcome to be celebrated.

10. The inaugural season of the Tauihi Basketball League. A professional pathway at home for our female ballers. Bravo to the Tokomanawa Queens for taking the first title coached by former Tall Fern and Olympian, Tania Tupu

11. The announcement of Crystal Kaua and Victoria Grant as head coaches for the Chiefs Manawa and Wellington Poua in the Super Rugby Aupiki, set to be played over five weeks in 2023. Kaua and Grant are the first wāhine to be head coaches at a franchise level. 

It was also brilliant to see Whitney Hansen given the opportunity of assistant coach of the Black Ferns throughout the Rugby World Cup campaign. 

12. The 1200 delegates at the IWG World Conference on Women and Sport in New Zealand to advance women’s sport. An inspiring four days which closed with the powerful keynote speaker Arizona Leger giving her call to action. "What type of ancestor will you be?,” asked Leger, the RWC content creator and director on the Counties Manukau Rugby Board. 

Arizona Leger (centre) gave a powerful closing address at the IWG World Conference on Women and Sport. Photo: Suzanne McFadden

"The biggest move we can make is to resource the next generation, ask them how we can help, and then move out of the way as they unleash their potential."

13. Kerri Williams (nee Gowler) and Grace Prendergast winning the women’s pair at the world rowing championships - going out in style after a long and successful partnership together. Their first world title of five was in 2014 in the coxless four.

After silver in the single scull at the world championships, Olympic champion Emma Twigg went on to win the world coastal rowing championships, which has been announced as an event at the 2026 Commonwealth Games. 

14. The power of representation in our female broadcasters: Honey Hireme-Smiler on the primary All Blacks commentary panel speaking with such mana - and becoming the first woman to commentate on an NRL game; Rikki Swannell continuing to dominate World Rugby commentary feeds; and the ongoing contribution of the likes of Kirstie Stanway at Sky Sport; and Sene Nauopu and the Spark Sport crew who led the Rugby World Cup coverage. 

There are many wāhine behind the camera involved in the production of the broadcasts and soundwaves and it matters in how sportswomen are represented in media coverage. 

15. The magical Grace Nweke and Peta Toeava combination going off in the first two tests of the Constellation Cup. Full send and more please, Dame Noels. Great to see the Silver Ferns get up for bronze in Birmingham, too. A big first half of the year with the Quad Series and the ANZ Premiership looms heading into the Ferns' defence of the 2023 World Cup in South Africa.

From the Mystics to the Silver Ferns, Nweke and Toeava have an electric connection. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

16. SailGP launched the Women’s Pathway in 2021, providing a pathway for women sailors. And in 2022, more Kiwi women - Jo Aleh, Liv Mackay and Erica Dawson - were on board New Zealand’s boat with improving results, including two event victories. Bring on the New Zealand leg of the series in Lyttleton in March 2023.

17. Paralympic cyclist Nicole Murray won two world titles (as well as a silver and bronze) in the Para cycling world champs in Paris, in the C5 scratch race and C5 omnium. 

18. A massive 87,192 fans filled Wembley Stadium for the UEFA Women’s Euro Final in July to see the England Lioness’s win 2-1 against Germany. A moment of the shifting of the dial not only in the football-mad host country, but an indication of what lies ahead when New Zealand and Australia co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year.

19. Lyds to the KO! Lydia Ko is back to being the world's number 1 female golfer - a position she last held in 2017. It’s hard to believe Ko is just 25, but she’s back to her best collecting her 19th LPGA win this year. 

Ko won three titles in 2022 - at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, the BMW Ladies Championship and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship to clinch the top spot. The last victory came with a handy US$2m cheque. 

20. Beach volleyballers Shauna Polley and Alice Zeimann winning the Asian beach volleyball championships in Thailand in September. The pair were beaten in the playoffs for bronze in Birmingham but bounced back with the Thailand victory - which is significant in their campaign to qualify for the Paris Olympics 2024 (with the competition venue beneath the Eiffel Tower).

21. The showdown of 2022 - world champion paddlers Dame Lisa Carrington and Aimee Fisher. Fisher won the national title leading into a three-race series trial for the K1500m spot for the world championships. Multiple Olympic champion, Dame Lisa is not one to be trifled with, took out the last two trial races and went on to win both the K1200m and K1500m titles in Canada in August - remarkably her 11th and 12th world championship titles. 

22. And finally to our loyal LockerRoom readers - ngā mihi ki a koutou. Thanks for joining us in 2022, reading the stories that would otherwise not see the light of day, and for celebrating with us the beauty of sport. 

Keep moving, keep reading and see y’all in 2023. 

Pulling women's cricket back from brink of extinction

Six years on from the report revealing the dire state of women's cricket in NZ, an update shows the game to be much healthier - but with still much work to do to achieve equity, Suzanne McFadden writes.

Sarah Beaman is relieved. It’s six years since she released her Women and Cricket report into the bleak state of the game in New Zealand, when she feared female cricket was dying.

“What I discovered was women having virtually no voice in the governance or leadership of cricket, few women coaching or umpiring, and female players a species on the verge of extinction,” she wrote at the time.

But she’s now seen the work New Zealand Cricket have done to address the 17 areas of concern she highlighted, brought on by 'decades of under-investment and neglect', and she’s satisfied women’s cricket is now well on the path to gender equity in the sport. 

“You can do a review for an organisation, and they can accept it, and then things don’t really change too much,” says Beaman, a former New Zealand U23 captain and now a professional business consultant. “But it’s been really interesting seeing what has been done, the progress across all areas, because a lot of it hasn’t been that visible.”

The update on the 2016 report shows all 17 of Beaman’s recommendations have received attention, but none of the problem areas have been completely resolved. It’s a work in progress, says New Zealand Cricket’s network transformation lead, Nicole Dunn.

* Inventive Frankie takes waterslide to cricket pitch
* New head of women's cricket far from Green

“There’s no end point with this; there’s not a destination. Women’s cricket will be a continual focus for us,” she says.

But the next six months will be critical – to build on the success of the Cricket World Cup played in New Zealand last summer, and draw back the girls who couldn’t play when programmes were cancelled by Covid.

Girls playing cricket on the bank during the Cricket World Cup opener at Mt Maunganui. Photo: Suzanne McFadden

There are some heartening statistics in the update.

  • Women on boards within NZ cricket has risen from six percent to 38 percent.
  • In 2016, only 42 percent of clubs offered cricket for girls and women; now 81 percent of clubs do.
  • The number of female cricketers grew from 31,800 to 43,600 in 202021 (but dropped dramatically to 25,000 last season when Covid severely impacted cricket programmes)
  • The number of female coaches has increased 19 percent
  • Social media following for the White Ferns jumped from 64,000 to 194,000 fans

But there’s no argument there’s still a lot of work to do until there’s gender equity across the board in cricket, and girls and women want to stick with, or return to, the game – as players, coaches, officials or directors.

“It’s tough making change at the grassroot level,” Beaman says. “A lot of the gender diversity inclusion stuff is a societal shift for people.

“So it’s been cool for me to see they’re on the journey. Even if they’ve still got a long way to go. I certainly see cricket further along the journey than a lot of other sports are.”

The drive to have more women in decision-making roles on cricket boards around the country has seen one of the biggest shifts in the last six years. Lifting the proportion of females in cricket governance was Beaman’s first recommendation and she’s since been involved in helping drive the change.

NZ Cricket introduced their Women in Cricket Governance project in 2017, and the following year a target was set for every board in the country, right down to district associations, to have at least two female directors by the end of 2019. That changed to 40 percent (in line with the Sport New Zealand mandate) at the end of last year.

There was initially some resistance to a “quota”, but the number of female directors throughout the country has leapt from 11 women in 2016 to 82 today. The NZ Cricket board have four women among their eight directors, as well as a new female president, Lesley Murdoch. (Beaman joined the NZC board last month).

Some district associations still lag behind – of their 161 directors, just 56 are females (35 percent).

“It’s been extremely successful at a national and major association level, and now it’s filtering down to impact everything below it,” says Dunn.

Beaman didn’t expect gender equity in governance to happen quickly. “It’s really hard to change the habits of a lifetime, in experiences, perceptions and unconscious bias,” she says.

“When you have greater diversity it can be harder, because you have different opinions and the discussions are longer. It’s accepting that’s okay, and that takes skills as a chair to facilitate those often tricky decisions, but then you get to a better decision.”

Introducing the first joint Master Agreement, representing both women and men cricketers this year has gone a long way to meeting Beaman’s recommendation to value and support the White Ferns and emerging players.

The agreement provides our top women’s cricketers the same money for the same day’s work as their male counterparts for the first time in New Zealand cricket history. They also now get the same high performance training facilities, the same wraparound services and the same kit as the Black Caps.

The White Ferns, currently in a home series against Bangladesh, have become household names in the past year. Photo: Getty Images.

In 2017 there were just 15 contracts for White Ferns – now there are 17 players contracted fulltime, and 72 women with domestic contracts for five months of the year.

The top-ranked White Fern can now collect around $163,000 for a season – almost double what they received under their old contracts (just as a comparison, the top-ranked Black Cap gets a maximum of $523,000). A leading domestic player now gets $19,000 – around $15,000 more than before.

White Ferns captain Sophie Devine called the agreement a 'game-changer' for women playing cricket in New Zealand: "It's a massive step forward and will be a huge drawcard for young women and girls."

The White Ferns have more visibility – the average live audience of White Ferns games grew from 31,000 in 2016 to 190,000 last summer. That will have multiplied with the Cricket World Cup coverage too, which attracted a 230 million global audience.

They're also receiving greater media attention - women's cricket coverage in New Zealand media increased 67 percent in 2021, and during the World Cup, women's sport commanded 33 percent of all sports news coverage.

But the World Cup results, where New Zealand failed to make the semifinals, also reflected how Australia and England are “reaping the benefits of having started this Women and Cricket journey ahead of us,” Beaman says.

So NZ Cricket asked women and girls how they wanted to play cricket, not just delivering it the ‘way it’s always been done’.

Participation is an area Dunn is particularly pleased to see change.  

“One stat that stands out to me is the percentage of clubs who didn’t have anything for women and girls to now – it’s a real key indicator of progress being made at grassroots,” she says. In 2016, 58 percent of clubs didn’t offer cricket for girls or women (now only 19 percent don’t), and over 90 percent of clubs didn’t have any girls-only teams.

A key recommendation from the report was to ‘grow female participation in positive cricket playing experiences throughout New Zealand by targeting females connected to the cricket family’.

Dunn’s main focus in in community cricket, where junior cricket is almost 50:50 girls and boys participation. The ongoing struggle, though, is to keep players as they move into youth and senior cricket.

“We know there will always be a drop-off of teenagers. But an area we can continue to grow is providing opportunities for young females to play across New Zealand, both in a social context and the performance space. We need to keep them engaged and playing,” she says.

So NZ Cricket asked women and girls how they wanted to play cricket, not just delivering it the ‘way it’s always been done’. Yeah! Girls is part of the solution.

Girls learn cricket skills while having fun in the Yeah! Girl programme. Photo: NZ Cricket.

Created for 10-17 year old girls, the Yeah! Girls programme doesn’t have team selection, provides girls with all playing equipment, and has 60-minute modified cricket games over a six-week stint. It engaged over 3000 girls last season; 60 percent of them were new to cricket.

“It’s certainly showed us if we create initiatives that offer cricket in a way girls want to play then they actually play it,” Dunn says. “So how do we keep them involved year or year, and how are our clubs are mirroring that setting, so if the girls also want to join a club team there’s still a fun, social option too.”

Otago Cricket has come with their own answer – Girls Smash, a six-a-side game for primary school girls. Where they had just two junior girls-only teams in 2015, they now have 124 teams throughout Otago.

Cricket has done well to attract those young players, Beaman says. But she’s also concerned about how to keep them in the sport.  

“It’s always been about ‘how do we get them onto the high performance pathway?’ It’s a real challenge because you want some of them on that pathway otherwise you don’t have the White Ferns,” she says. “But there are a lot who don’t want to go over there, and you lose them if you push them. That’s what’s happened in cricket in the past.

“I still had hoped that more girls would go on to club cricket, but another half of me who did all the research knows they don’t want that. So the question is how do you get both and make it sustainable?”

Author of the original Women and Cricket report, Sarah Beaman. Photo: supplied. 

Beaman wants to see more former players encouraged to return to the sport. "The reality for women is that you have other stuff going on in your life, whether it's uni or having children. And that’s hard for traditional sports systems to deal with and accept it’s okay for them to play for four years, go away, then come back again. We want them to feel there are offerings for them to return as a player, a match referee or a coach," she says.

And she'd also like to see some of those former players help break down the misconception that male coaches know more than females.

“When I did the research, I interviewed current first class players and U21s, and it was 50:50 who wanted a female coach and who didn’t,” says Beaman, who’s coached the Auckland Hearts. “We want to develop female coaches, but there’s a really important societal thing going on … ‘as a female player I must need a male coach because they must know more’.

“It’s not true, it’s the best person for the job. There are a lot of female coaches who have the knowledge and experience, but I feel there’s still a barrier to aspiring coaches going along the coaching pathway.

“I feel like there are ex-players who are coaches who have the knowledge. The quickest way to shift that is to see are we doing enough to attract back those female coaches who have been associated with the game who aren’t seeing that coaching pathway.”

What the report doesn’t show is the impact this year’s Cricket World Cup – and the White Ferns’ bronze at the Commonwealth Games in August - have made on women and girls here. But Dunn says it’s been huge, in terms of the White Ferns finally becoming household names and the showcase of “powerful, athletic female cricketers”.

But are NZ Cricket concerned that interest will now have been trumped by the Black Ferns’ Rugby World Cup success last month?

“Balance is better,” Dunn says. “If girls want to play rugby that’s great, but we’d love them to play cricket in summer, too. If a young girl, or boy, is playing football in the winter, they will probably be a better cricketer in the summer.

“But it’s on us to make it a sport they want to play. It all comes down to it’s got to be fun, and be with your mates. It can still be competitive, but fun.”

Grace and Kelly share crown on netball's big night

In a first, the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award has been shared by domestic rivals and Silver Ferns team-mates Grace Nweke and Kelly Jury as New Zealand netball dishes out its annual awards.

Eleven wins, six losses, one Commonwealth Games bronze medal and joint winners of the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award. 

That pretty much sums up a busy year of international netball for New Zealand in the lead-up to next year's World Cup defence - and was reflected in the annual New Zealand Netball Awards handed out last night.

Bookending the court, goal keeper Kelly Jury and goal shoot Grace Nweke couldn't be separated - judged the first joint winners of the Supreme Award for their outstanding performances this year. 

*Jury’s out to silence Aussie crowd
*No look, no speak: the magic of netball’s Mystic duo

The award - the “highest individual accolade a New Zealand netballer can achieve” - is tracked across the ANZ Premiership and Silver Ferns games.

It’s been awarded four times in the past - Laura Langman receiving it three times and Sulu Fitzpatrick given the honour last year. 

This year's joint winners spoke of their very different backgrounds - Jury as a farmgirl in the tiny Taranaki settlement of Makahu, and Nweke as a Nigerian Kiwi who took up the game at Avondale College - and how they hope to motivate others to follow, play or even make a professional career from netball.

Grace Nweke's vertical jump allows her to reach over even the tallest defenders. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Since Nweke made her Silver Ferns debut at the age of 19 back in September 2021, she's amassed 17 international caps. For her efforts in the black dress, Nweke was also awarded the Silver Ferns Player of the Year.

It’s been a while since New Zealand have had a tall, dominant goal shoot but what makes Nweke stand out is her ability in the air.

Not content to stand still and simply use her height, Nweke makes great use of her vertical jump; when she makes the connection with her feeders, she’s almost unstoppable. 

Nweke's dominance often takes her goal attack out of the game at domestic level, so the Ferns need to ensure they have confident goal attacks who can still put up shots. Then if Nweke is taken out of the game, her team won't be overly reliant on the 20-year-old. 

The 1.93m shooter was the fourth-most prolific shooter in the 2022 ANZ Premiership, even after missing a handful of games with an ankle injury. She slotted 545 goals from 591 attempts, at an accuracy of 92 percent for the Northern Mystics. 

She shot 44 from 48 in the Commonwealth Games bronze medal match, which New Zealand won 55-48 over England. Nweke was also the dominant shooter in October's Constellation Cup, shooting 40/42 in the first test, and an incredible 37/37 in the second - the two games that the Ferns won. 

"People think I'm a one-trick pony, and sometimes I am. So I really want to do more, and move more and be more confident to carry the ball around, which I'm slowly getting better at but there's still more room to grow," she told Sky Sport presenter Adine Wilson. 

"I'm so massively motivated by being different and coming from Avondale College and going through to showing people that the can make it too. Being a Nigerian Kiwi, having that point of difference and showing other girls who look like me that there's an opportunity to play professional sport in New Zealand and represent the country no matter where we come from or what we look like."

Kelly Jury has 43 Silver Ferns caps after making her debut in 2017. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Jury was a standout for the Central Pulse this year, also winning ANZ Premiership Player of the Year. 

She finished the season with the most deflections (116, well clear of the next highest at 78), most intercepts (46), and second-most rebounds (36). 

With the return of Jane Watson and Karin Burger in the defensive end for the Ferns, Jury may havea tougher fight for a spot in the circle, but she's shown great improvement over the last year, using her feet more and also finding her voice. 

Jury, training for her ninth ANZ Premiership season, said it was surreal to have won the Dame Lois Muir Supreme Award, but she was motivated to inspire a new generation of netballers.

"Our job is not only to play netball but to inspire people," she said. "One more extra girl might turn up to a netball game or could cheer us on or sign up to play. 

"I come from a very small place called Makahu out in the middle of nowhere, so just letting boys and girls know no matter where you come from, you have just as much opportunity as anyone else. You have just got to stick to it, work hard, and have fun."

Jury said her game had grown after taking on the co-captaincy of the Pulse with Tiana Metuarau this season, and leading them to victory. Their coach, Yvette McCausland-Durie, returning from a year away, won the ANZ Premiership Coach of the Year. All three will return to the Pulse next year. 

The Pulse won 10 of their 15 games, automatically qualifying them for the grand final, where they comfortably beat the Stars, 56-37. 

The Heffernan twins Georgia (left) and Kate (right) will both return for the Southern Steel in the ANZ Premiership next year. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

It was also a big year for the Heffernan twins - Kate making her Silver Ferns debut at the Commonwealth Games in front of her family, and cementing herself as the number one pick for the wing defence bib. 

She received the Fan Favourite award - voted by the public - a popular choice in the black dress and for the Southern Steel. 

Twin sister Georgia returned to the netball court this year after suffering an ACL injury in 2020, ruling her out of the 2021 season. 

The goal attack was rewarded for a strong season with selection in the first Mixed Invitational team to play at the Cadbury Netball Series. She impressed in her first time up against international quality opposition in the NZ Men and the Silver Ferns. She then was selected for the Fast5 Ferns, and showed her accuracy and confidence shooting from long range. 

Georgia received the Aspiring Silver Fern award last night, and may become the third Heffernan to make the Silver Ferns, after mum Annette (Silver Fern #76) and Kate (#182).

"She's done so well and it's just so cool to see her get some recognition for all the hard work," a proud Kate Heffernan said of her twin. "An ACL injury is an awful thing for an athlete to go through but she has come out stronger. I think she can go so far, and this award, she's just the perfect person for it."

Annette Heffernan and her sister Maxine Blomquist, and current Silver Fern Te Paea Selby-Rickit and older sister Te Huinga Reo, are the only sets of sisters to play for the Ferns, but neither pair played in the black dress together, so the 23-year-olds may still make more history. 

There have been a few changes to the Silver Ferns that won the 2019 World Cup, but their head coach remains the same. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

It’s a big year coming up for the Silver Ferns, with the 2023 Netball World Cup starting in July in Cape Town. 

Any New Zealand netball fan will remember the triumph in Liverpool in 2019; the 3am alarm so worth it when the Silver Ferns beat the Australian Diamonds, 52-51, in the final. 

From that 12-strong side, four players have retired - Maria Folau, Casey Kopua, Laura Langman and, most recently, Katrina Rore. 

One will likely miss the World Cup due to pregnancy (Shannon Saunders), while Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Watson will be back following missing the Commonwealth Games after having children, and Burger returns from foot surgery.

The defending champions may even have a new-look team, as the ANZ Premiership looms as the last chance to impress coach Dame Noeline Taurua and the Ferns selectors. 

The Ferns have a Quad Series in January in South Africa as preparation, before the domestic competition starts on March 4. But first, Dame Noeline can't wait "to get the band back together" with the Ferns squad Christmas camp in Auckland this weekend.

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