Missing out on the Commonwealth Games gave Tiana Metuarau the fire to work even harder for her Silver Ferns dream. She’s back from an abrupt World Cup call-up and ready to keep growing.
Tiana Metuarau lay shaking uncontrollably in her Cape Town bed, unsure what was happening to her.
She’d just been told she was going to play in the Netball World Cup – and her nerves shot through the roof.
It was a unique situation for the 22-year-old shooter, named as one of the three reserves for the tournament in July but called up to the Silver Ferns squad of 12 after three games.
Ferns goal shoot Grace Nweke suffered a partial tear to her patella tendon and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament, and for the first time, teams were able to call on a reserve player to replace them.
“I genuinely think I had an anxiety attack,” Metuarau says about when she heard the news she’d be playing.
“It was quite confronting, it was a very unique opportunity. You never want that to be the circumstance in which you enter a side, especially for one of your good friends.
“Mila [Reuelu-Buchanan] was my roomie at the World Cup and I was like shaking in bed, and I was just like ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’.”
Metuarau’s mum, Silver Ferns legend and former coach Waimarama Taumaunu had flown over to Cape Town for the first few days of the tournament, but her flight home to New Zealand was scheduled for the day Metuarau was called in to play.
“I was texting my mum and begging her to stay, genuinely, she was like ‘Ugh, do I have to stay?’, but she ended up staying for the duration of the World Cup which was nice,” Metuarau says.
Having just six international caps to her name since her debut in September 2021, it was a big ask for the young shooter, but her maturity and calm head on the court showed.
“I was super nervous, but once I’d gotten out on court, I just had to step into my role and do whatever I needed to do,” she explains.
“And once I took the court, I think the nerves settled and I was away.”
Metuarau made her debut for the Central Pulse in the ANZ Premiership at just 16 years old and has played seven seasons in New Zealand’s top domestic competition.
After making her Ferns debut at 20, Metuarau wasn’t selected for the team to compete at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.
So, to get the call to be a traveling reserve for the World Cup brought up mixed emotions for Metuarau, wanting to be part of the 12 but still happy to contribute to the wider team.
“In my head, I was like I can either think I’m just a reserve or I can think I’m part of the team and I’m contributing in more ways than just filling in where they need me to,” she says.
“But I was super stoked at the same time because a year ago, I wasn’t in the Commonwealth Games squad which was quite disheartening I’d say. So nice to be on the receiving end of more positive news.
“Having not been in the squad last year, that was a real wake-up call and to be in the squad this year, it’s just a privilege. It’s not an opportunity that I take lightly so I’m looking forward to the next couple of series.”
With the tough competition the Ferns faced on the court, Metuarau also took a lot of lessons from being part of the tournament.
“I think I made the most of all the opportunities that I got,” she says.
“Overall I think I learned a lot, I learned a lot about pressure, in terms of the international standard, I learned how to be a supportive teammate as well.”
Metuarau wearing the black dress ahead of the Netball World Cup.
The Taini Jamison series started yesterday with the first of three matches between the Silver Ferns and the England Roses, played across Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton.
The Roses named a squad full of largely inexperienced players, and none of their squad members were sent to NZ as part of the silver medal-winning World Cup team. But despite their underdog label, the Roses had a stellar second quarter and held on to beat the Ferns, 55-54.
“Honestly, I think the fact that we don’t know them that well is sort of in their favor I suppose,” Metuarau said going into the series.
“It’s something we need to do our absolute best at preparing for because complacency is something we don’t want to enter our camp.”
Metuarau says the Ferns weren’t taking the England team lightly, and they fought back from a 10-goal deficit in the third quarter to draw back within one by the final buzzer. She played the second half, helping the Ferns stay in the game and pairing with captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio well.
Shooting 6/7, she played more of a supporting role in the circle, with some clever feeds and balancing the circle to give Ekenasio (who shot 39/41) space.
With Nweke still recovering from her knee injury, 19-year-old Amelia Walmsley has the opportunity to make her Silver Ferns debut. One of Metuarau’s teammates at the Pulse, they’re excited to have the chance to play together in the black dress.
“I’m excited to play with Amelia, I’m like a proud mum, having played with her at the Pulse and just seeing her progression,” Metuarau laughs, just three years her senior.
“She’s so coachable, she will take on feedback and she has an eagerness to learn, so I’m excited to see what she does and I’m excited to play with her.”
Walmsley and Metuarau will team up again for the Pulse in next year’s ANZ Premiership, the successful partnership boosting the Pulse to finish second on the ladder after the regular season this year.
“We are both quite young, I think I forget that I’m young as well, I feel like I’ve been around for a while. But I think we’ve both got a lot of growth and shifts to make as well,” Metuarau says about continuing their partnership at the Pulse.
“I’m very happy that she’s decided to stay in the best city in the world,” she laughs, with Walmsley originally from Auckland and spending the ANZ seasons in Wellington.
Metuarau also played with Ekenasio at the Pulse for a few years, and says she doesn’t want to give away any of the Ferns’ game plans, but praises Ekenasio’s versatility between both shooting positions.
Metuarau spent a season with Southern Steel in 2021, playing alongside George Fisher, and has played at the Pulse with various shooters – including Ekenasio and Aliyah Dunn.
“Over the last few years, I’ve worked with a lot of different shooters, and with that, I’ve had to learn how to adapt to different styles and how I can adjust my game or improve in certain areas,” she explains.
Despite her youth, Metuarau’s experience and personality thrust her into a leadership position at the Pulse, co-captaining the side with Kelly Jury for the past two seasons.
“Even with leadership, my delivery of communication, and the things I say, I feel like that’s been a real shift for me as well.”
Her growth over the past few seasons has come in multiple places, on and off-court.
“Overall, I think I’m just a lot more disciplined, my defensive game has grown a lot as well,” Metuarau says.
“There are a lot of other shifts I can make but I think I’m just trying to slowly implement a few changes as I go.”
Once the Ferns finish the Taini Jamison series, they head over the ditch for the Constellation Cup. The teams will play two games in Australia and then return to New Zealand for the final two.
Metuarau says the side isn’t thinking too much about the threat of the Diamonds, who they didn’t face at the World Cup. Inarguably a tougher opponent than the Roses, the Diamonds have only lost the Cup twice – in 2012 and 2021.
“Our focus is primarily on ourselves and how we can get some fluidity and consolidate on combinations and structures,” Metuarau explains.
“Just to instill confidence throughout our entire side, I feel like that’s the most important thing.”
But ultimately, it’s up to coach Dame Noeline Taurua to prepare the side – “It’s up to the Dame, whatever she decides,” Metuarau jokes.
It could very well be the Dame’s last outing as coach of the Ferns, her contract coming to an end after the Constellation Cup.
*The Taini Jamison series continues in Wellington on Wednesday, live on Sky Sport 1 from 7 pm. The conclusion of the series is on Saturday in Hamilton at 7 p.m.