Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua on coming home to NZ and her plan of attack for 2020

''I just feel like everything's in front of me. It's really exciting!" says the newly ordained dame.
Noeline Taurua

When the Weekly asks Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua to describe the last year of her life in a single sentence, she is, uncharacteristically, lost for words.

Anyone who knows Noeline – or Noels, as she’s better and more affectionately known – also knows she doesn’t believe in word economy.

“I’m not a one-word or one-sentence type of girl!” she laughs.

Eventually, she settles on “humbled. And grateful. And satisfying. And exciting.”

It’s fair play, really, when you consider her last 12 months. A whirlwind by anyone’s measure, and a fairytale according to the nation’s netballers, Noeline’s story is the stuff of legend.

From being shunned for the top job at Netball New Zealand, to leading a battered and bruised team to a World Cup victory after a 16-year drought and then being made a Dame Companion in the 2019 New Year’s Honours List, it’s an underdog tale for the ages.

Not that she’s thinking too much about that when the Weekly speaks to her at her base in Queensland, Australia.

She and husband Ed are in the midst of packing for her long-awaited relocation back to New Zealand after three years of coaching the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

“Moving house is just, euch,” she gripes.

“Relocating is an experience in and of itself.”

Noeline has coached the Sunshine Coast Lightning for the past three years.

Noeline, a mum of five, can’t wait to be back amongst friends and whānau in Aotearoa, and once she, Ed and their four youngest kids are home (the eldest has already moved out) there’s a fair bit to do, including figuring out if she’ll stay on as Silver Ferns coach past January’s Nations Cup in England.

“Yeah, I’ve really got to sort out what I’m doing in my life,” Noeline (51) says, chuckling.

“That’s the biggest thing I have to move my headspace into. The kids are relocating too, so they’ll be going to a new school, they’re so excited to come home.

“This year is a new stage for me, in a special way. I’ve been away for three years, and so much has happened for me, my family, my career. I just feel like everything’s in front of me. It’s really exciting!”

While netball fans are eager to see her signature on that contract, Noeline’s very clear about her priorities when it comes to deciding her future.

“It definitely comes down to what’s required of me on the home front,” she tells.

“Sometimes, I must admit, I do question myself – is there anything else I can do in my life?! But I love my netball, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve been involved in it for more than half my life. It’s taken me places, opened up networks, and the sport has helped me grow as a person. No matter what, whether I’m in a paid position or I’m a mum on the sidelines, I will be involved in the game – probably right till the end. I have skin in the game.”

Noeline vividly remembers her first game of netball as a nine-year-old, pleated skirt and all.

She grew up in Auckland, then Taupo when her father, prominent Ngāpuhi leader Kingi Taurua, became a probation officer.

Athletics was her first love, until netball took over because of the social element.

“My mum Polly played midweek netball – housewife netball, senior netball,” she says.

“My sisters played the game. Growing up, netball and rugby were the main sports we played in our community. It was a social gathering of sorts.

“It’s just what you did, and when it’s your turn or time you just get stuck in.”

She’s been getting stuck in ever since – even after she was infamously passed over for the Silver Ferns job in 2016 amid public outcry.

Today, Noeline looks back with a typical measure of balance.

“I put my name forward for that job a few times previously,” she admits.

“It was something I was working towards – Silver Ferns coach. At the time of putting your name forward, like with all jobs, you feel you are the right person who should get the job. It did hurt not to be shortlisted. I honestly felt I had done enough to be in contention based on performance and results.

“However, after you lick your wounds, contemplate life and ask yourself those questions about why you do what you do, I found out it was more the philosophies, people and challenges that attracted me to want to be a coach – not the titles.

“It’s funny how the universe works sometimes. I coached the [Southern] Steel in Invercargill, which I absolutely loved, and won two premierships with Sunshine Coast Lightning in Australia. Both roles presented new challenges that I had to work through. Through those experiences, I am now a better coach than at the time. I missed out on the Silver Ferns job. In hindsight, maybe it was meant to be. “

She’s good with a challenge, is Noeline – and boy, did she get one.

After the Ferns’ fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, the team’s worst-ever performance at a pinnacle event, then-coach Janine Southby stepped down.

A month later, Noeline was finally given the job she’d been waiting for. She had a big task ahead of her, but as she candidly tells, it was really rather simple.

“It started with belief,” she says.

“Not only in the players, but the whole netball community, and, of course, Netball New Zealand. When things like the Commonwealth Games happen, the good part that comes out of it is that you have to look at yourself. I knew we had good people who would move and shake, who intended to move forward and be courageous.

“And secondly, it was just having a clear, strategic plan. If I’m honest, it’s no different than what you need for any organisation, business, or just life. If you know the direction you’re going in and what the milestones are, it makes the journey that much easier.”

From there, Noeline made sure as many potential players got a shot at the black dress as possible – “There was method in the madness, I swear!” – and based her final selection on very strategic pillars.

But at the end of the day, it came down to what she calls HP – not high performance, but human potential.

“It’s people first, no matter what. You’re a person before you’re an athlete, or a coach. That’s where the magic is. Happy people make happy players.”

And after a hard-fought World Cup campaign in Liverpool, Noeline and her band of 12 happy netballers ascended the podium as gold medallists.

It was only when God Defend New Zealand blared from the speakers and she looked down at her medal that Noeline finally gave in to emotion.

“It wasn’t until then that all of the tears came out,” she says.

“It was so surreal. Every part of the tournament was pure enjoyment. Seeing the players with those medals, and knowing the journey to get there and even acknowledging the ‘heart attack’ of the Commonwealth Games… it was so fantastic to be there.”

Celebrating with the Silver Ferns

Yes, she’s definitely earned a bit of time off – and after the Ferns return from this January’s series in England, that’s exactly what Noeline will be doing in her Pukehina Beach home.

“Family time is huge,” she says.

“It’ll be about switching off and being a mum and a wife and being at home, which I’m excited for.”

She has grand plans for her few weeks of indulgence, too, including plenty of trashy TV and a few glasses of vino.

“Glasses?! Sometimes it’s a bottle,” she laughs.

“I do love a wine. I love eating. I actually really love Married at First Sight, and any other TV that doesn’t require thinking, although I also love a period drama or a documentary.

“But right now, I’m at the stage where I’m really enjoying myself – and I’m enjoying everything I’m doing. I am very lucky.”

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