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New Zealand’s English netball stars’ fierce rivalry

English netball superstars Serena Guthrie and Jo Harten are best friends and fierce opponents.

Laughing and joking together as they enjoy some Auckland winter sunshine, English netball superstars Jo Harten and Serena Guthrie admit life is about as far away from their first meeting at a UK sport camp 10 years ago as it can get.

Now settled in New Zealand and playing for opposing netball clubs, the pair admit they’re both best friends and fierce competitors. They also count themselves lucky to be living in New Zealand and making a living out of playing a game they fiercely love.

However, the Weekly is catching up with the duo just after they’ve played against each other for the first time in the 2016 season, with Jo’s Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic narrowly triumphing against Serena’s team, the Sky City Mystics.

Serena (left) and Jo have been friends for years.

“There were a few times where Jo was purposely throwing the ball back and hitting one of my legs to get back to the circle, and I was yelling at the umpire,” laughs Mystics player Serena (26), gently ribbing her mate.

Playing in New Zealand has always been a dream for these young women, as they have looked up to the Silver Ferns since they were young.

“My first memory of Jo is her asking me if I knew Laura Langman and [other] Silver Ferns,” Serena says through a wide grin, admitting that she had no idea of players’ names but would just agree with Jo’s “nerdy” ways.

Serena says that Jo (27) is the brainbox between the two, able to retain facts and figures about other players.

“We were chatting with one of our old captains when Jo randomly spun off her first cap – where it was, how old she was, the year. We were all like ‘Wow, cool’, but also ‘You’re a freak!’”

But for all of her sports geek knowledge, it was Jo, who moved to New Zealand in 2011 to play for the Mainland Tactix, who convinced Serena to also leave England two years ago.

“I was like, ‘You need to come play out here – it’s the best thing in the world,’” says Jo.

It wasn’t only the lifestyle that persuaded Serena to move to the other side of the world.

“I could see how much Jo had improved her game and I wanted that for myself.”

But for Jo, taking the plunge and moving to Christchurch so soon after the devastating 2011 earthquake was difficult at times, she concedes.

The UK pals call themselves “weird and wacky”.

“During my first few weeks, I was crying because you can’t just phone home. They’re asleep!” she tells. “It was a complete experience moving to a city that had been devastated by an earthquake. It’s character-building.”

Now living in the Waikato, Jo is glad she and Serena can catch up quite often, in between their busy training schedules. While Serena jokes that she’s earned “bad friend points” for not making the short trip down from Auckland regularly, they have become each other’s support networks.

Jo explains that the two are so connected that they often share the same worries and stresses.

“If we’re having a rough patch or missing home, missing our families, then we can send a text or make a quick phone call and say this is what’s happening.”

“But it’s tough love, sometimes,” Serena teases. They agree that opposites attract, adding that while they have differing personalities, they balance each other out.

“I’m probably more of an extrovert,” Serena giggles. “Especially when we were growing up. Jo was a bit more introverted, but when you get to know her, you realise we are both just a bit weird and wacky.”

And, of course, between the training and playing, the duo are on a mission to see and do as much as Aotearoa can offer.

“I don’t think people who are from this country realise just how lucky you are here,” says Jo. “We can go to training and in the same day hit the beach, then go out and take photos of incredible scenery.”

There’s been a fair few road trips – Rotorua, Waiheke Island, Queenstown and Cape Reinga, just to name a few.

“Our last trip was to Northland and it was brilliant,” shares Jo.

Magic shooter Jo moved here five years ago while Athletic Serena was persuaded to make the jump in 2015.

Serena admits, with a laugh, that they didn’t talk to each other over the whole weekend thanks to their new hobby of photography.

“We didn’t even see each other for hours until we compared our photos.”

While they miss their friends and family back home, the pair say they don’t regret moving their lives over to New Zealand.

“We are pretty lucky to be able to live this way,” Serena says with a huge grin.” It’s not going to last forever, so it’s good that we are able to experience it together.”

Words: Phoebe McCreath

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