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Silver Ferns reveal: 'We're not friends on the court'

Our netball beauties show their true colours.

On court, they’re fiercely competitive, but get them together off the court and the captains of the five Kiwi netball teams in the ANZ Championship are great mates.

When Leana De Bruin, Wendy Frew, Katrina Grant, Anna Thompson and Maria Tutaia meet for our photoshoot, there are hugs and laughs all round – everything that has happened when they’ve faced off against each other in past games is forgotten as they "ooh and aah" over the gorgeous gowns they get to wear for the shoot.

But they know their friendships will be set aside once this year’s competition starts again on April 1 – at least for the hour they’re on court.

“It’s pretty serious when we are playing,” says Maria. “But what happens on court, stays on court.”

The five share a lot of history, having played side-by-side for the Silver Ferns at various times. Maria, Katrina, Wendy and Anna were also part of the world champion under-21 team 11 years ago.

“When you walk on court, it’s game on, despite the fact you are playing against your friends,” Anna points out. “But coming off it is like you flip a switch and they go back to being your friends. Netball is one of those sports where you make lifelong friends.”

Adds Leana, “We all have a lot of respect for each other, and when you play together for the Ferns, you get to know each other so well. But everything changes when you are playing for your franchises – for 60 minutes we’re enemies!”

Wendy continues, “One thing we have in common is that we’re very competitive. I’d do anything to win a game – within the rules! We’re out to win.”

“Yes, there can sometimes be a bit of argy-bargy on court,” admits Katrina. “Sometimes you’re even more competitive when you’re playing somebody you know well. But as soon as the whistle blows, we go back to being friends.”

Katrina Grant, 28, Central Pulse

What’s it like in the Pulse changing room before a game?
Everyone has their own little routine. Some like to go off and be quiet, others like to talk, laugh and play music. I like to have a laugh before the game, it helps you to relax.

Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to facing on court?
I love playing against people like Natalie Medhurst [West Coast Fever], who is always a challenge. I also love playing against Maria [Tutaia] because we know each other so well – we met before we went to high school. You know you always have to bring your best with her.

Do you get much time off?
I’m really busy with ANZ and the Silver Ferns and I’m also studying for a Masters of Professional Practice. I somehow manage to fit in writing essays and researching – it gives me something to think about other than netball. It helps to have something to fall back on. You might only be one injury away from never playing again.

Does being captain present an extra challenge?
I’ve got a great leadership group and that makes my job easier. We’ve got a lot of young players and I relish helping them to learn the ropes.

What would you like to achieve this year?
Having eight new players and a lot of young ones, it will be all about rebuilding and hopefully we will quickly get confidence on court.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
The person I am on court is very different to the person off it. On court, I’m very competitive and will do anything to win – I’m probably not the nicest person! But off it, I am fairly laid-back.

Maria Tutaia, 29, SkyCity Northern Mystics
Which team do you want to beat most?
All of them! There is no love lost with any of the teams, and if you want to get to the top, you have to beat them all.

What’s it like in the Mystics changing room before a game?
We’re a pretty laid-back bunch. You’ll hear a lot of laughs. The girls listen to rap and hip-hop music, they dance and sing and we play games to loosen ourselves up. I think our team performs best when we don’t overthink.

Does it get aggressive on court?
There’s a lot of banter and a few cheeky elbows here and there. That’s just the nature of the game – it is extremely physical and everyone is stronger, fitter and faster.

Do you get much time off?
Life is pretty much all about netball for me. When you’re full-time, there is so much you do off court, like promotions and stuff. You also have to train and keep fit. But I feel so lucky to be doing this – I get to do what I love and have some amazing experiences.

Does being captain present an extra challenge?
Definitely. But I think the best way for me to lead is to do my job on court, to put the ball through the hoop and then everything else will follow.

What would you like to achieve this year?
In 2014, we came seventh, last year it was fourth. We are making progress and I want to keep that up. Of course I want to win. But I also want to enjoy my netball. Last year was a massive roller coaster ride for me, with a lot of highs and lows, and there were times when I wondered about throwing in the towel. But I’ve got a different perspective now. I’ve decided that win or lose, I am going to make the most of the opportunities I have been given and just enjoy the game.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m an open book – everybody knows everything about me now! There’s the fact that I always wear the same undies and bras when I play. I wash them between games, obviously!

Wendy Frew, 31, Southern Steel

What’s it like in the Steel changing room before a game?
For me, there’s a lot of focusing on what’s coming up and thinking about what I want to achieve and how to do that. Before we go out, we stand in a circle and everyone shares a bit of love. It gets you smiling and feeling good before you go out and face the challenge.

How does it feel having your son in the crowd watching?
Archie (3) loves coming to the games. He’s my number-one fan and it’s special to see him waving and blowing me a kiss. My daughter Indie is a bit young – she’s only 16 weeks. It’s been quite challenging getting my fitness back to where I want it to be after having a baby but I’ve been putting in the hard yards and each week I am feeling fitter. Do you get much time off? When I’m not training or playing netball, I’m with my kids and that keeps me busy! I don’t get as much downtime as I would like but I love the kids to bits and hanging out with them is so relaxing, and a good break from the mental stress of netball.

Does being captain present an extra challenge?
I really enjoy it and it’s a huge honour. I want to do a good job and I feel responsible if we lose. Representing the south means a lot to me.

What would you like to achieve this year?
Obviously it would be brilliant to be holding the trophy at the end of July – that’s what we’re aiming for. My individual goal is to get back to full fitness after having my daughter!

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I’m quite fearless on the court, but off it, I’m scared of dogs. One attacked me when I was two and I just don’t like them.

Leana de Bruin 39, Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic

Who would you like to beat the most?
Everyone! You want to be at the top of the Kiwi conference but you also want to beat those Aussies. I’m over them thinking they will win everything. It’s time for a Kiwi team to take the trophy and I hope it’s us.

Does being captain present an extra challenge?
It does. This is my first year being captain from the start of the year, so it will be a challenge. I can be intense sometimes – I wear my heart on my sleeve – but that is due to my passion for the game. Having that extra responsibility makes me play better because I want to lead by example.

How does it feel having your son in the crowd watching?
I love it. Caleb (6) absolutely loves it too. He gets really involved, he shouts at the umpire and after the game, his little treat is to come into the changing room with us. I think he thinks he is part of the team!

Do you get much time off?
Netball is a very big part of my life but when I have time off, I like to spend it with Caleb. I am lucky that my ex-husband is very supportive – we go 50/50 with parenting so I get more time to myself every second week.

What would you like to achieve this year?
I have been in the lucky position of winning the ANZ champs before and I would love to do that again before I stop playing.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
When I am around Caleb, I am like a big kid. I enjoy being with my son on the farm where we live. I feed the horses every day but I don’t ride. Home is my happy place.

Anna Thompson, 29, Mainland Tactix

What’s it like in the Tactix changing room before a game?
High energy! There tends to be loud music, and girls singing and dancing. I tend to be more of an observer, but we always try to have lots of positive vibes.

Does it ever get aggressive on court?
Passionate, definitely. We are all out there to win. There’s often banter, especially with people you know. Whenever I play against Wendy, there is a bit of chat. It’s never malicious, though. There can be moments where you are furious at your opponent but once you come off, it is all forgotten.

Does being captain present an extra challenge?
It does, but I enjoy it. You have to work out how to get the best out of the players while making sure you are still doing your own job. There have been moments of disappointment in the last five or six years when the Tactix have struggled, and you wonder how you get out of the pit. It’s hard getting close and then losing the game. You learn coping strategies and you don’t give up.

Do you get much time off?
I am a massage therapist so I do that out of season. I also work for a tour company that brings teams over, mostly from Australia, and I run a coaching business. So I’m busy! When you’re older, you need to start looking to the future and what you will do after netball.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I love baking. I’m a slices and cookies kind of person. My dad has a very sweet tooth so I bake a lot for him.

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