The return of champion defender Casey Kopua to the Silver Ferns is great for netball, Australian coach Lisa Alexander says.
In Monday’s loss to England in the Quad Series opener, the former New Zealand skipper looked in good form on her return to international netball after more than three years.
This weekend they face arch-rivals Australia.
Kopua played her last game against the Diamonds in October 2015 and it was a winning one.
When the Ferns overcame Australia 58-47 in the final test of the Constellation Cup in Perth, they also farewelled coach Waimarama Taumaunu.
A lot has changed since then.
Kopua had her first child, the next coach came and went, and the SOS went out to respected coach Noeline Taurua to get the Ferns out of the doldrums after an awful 2018.
Australian coach Lisa Alexander said she wasn’t that surprised when the 33-year-old decided to return to the international game.
“I know that she has been playing in the ANZ Premiership in New Zealand and it was just a matter of time I guess for Noeline to bring her back into the fold and know that having that level of experience and also leadership in the group would be a great advantage,” said Lisa Alexander.
“I’m certain that Casey hasn’t come back without knowing that physically she’s able to compete at this top level and same with Noeline. She’s a great champion of the sport and she’s been a great opponent for me to have to try and coach against so I’m really looking forward to seeing her out on court.”
Alexander believes Kopua will make a difference for the struggling Ferns but said after three years away it would not be easy.
“She’s got a lot of great intensity that she brings to the contest and knowledge and understanding of our Australian way of playing. I guess what will be interesting to see is how she is able to adjust because it’s been three years since she’s played at this level and that’s probably the biggest thing – the question mark over whether she can actually step up to that next level.
“At the end of the day you’ve got to be able to put it out on court and you’ve also got to be able to work that in a unit in a team with great athletes out there so it’s just going to be a wonderful contest and I think it’s great for netball that Casey is back.”
Kopua will have to wait a bit longer before she gets the chance to resume her on-court battle with prolific Australian shooter Caitlin Bassett. The two duelled regularly before Kopua stepped away in 2015 but an injury has put Bassett on the side lines during the Quad series.
Bassett will remain in England for the tour and will share what she knows about Kopua with shooters Steph Wood and Gretel Tippett.
Could Alexander ever see an Australian player return after three years and a baby?
“It may be the case with a certain player that is absolutely a champion, which Casey is. I think that’s the big difference. You’ve got somebody who’s been a champion in the past who would not put themselves out on court without the knowledge that they are ready to go. So it’s quite possible.”