Cadbury Netball Series just the beginning for Aotearoa Men’s midcourter Josh Eriata Vercoe
INTERNATIONAL opportunities do not always come knocking during a worldwide pandemic, and with the upcoming three-match Cadbury Netball Series between New Zealand Silver Ferns and Aotearoa Men’s set to showcase just how much both teams have to offer, there is no doubt within current circumstances it is more important than ever to take that leap.
The series is not just a great opportunity for the growth and exposure of men’s and mixed netball but also a huge individual opportunity and accomplishment for men’s squad debutant, Josh Eriata Vercoe. A speedy midcourter with plenty of regional and men’s and mixed netball experience, Vercoe offers more than just his on court nous, but also fresh legs and youth to an experienced squad, which is something that lends well to his preferred position of centre, and newfound wing attack role within the team.
“I’m a midcourter, predominantly a centre. But for this series, I’ve been training at wing attack and I’m not used to playing it as much as with centre … It’s been different, it’s a different type of style than centre. I feel like as a wing attack, I have to do more work, being more of a dominant feeder into our shooters, working on changing my direction, my footwork, even on defence tracking and closing speed, all that kind of stuff,” he explained. “I think it’s really challenged me but in a good way.”
Vercoe says that playing netball runs in his family, following in his mother’s, sister’s and older brother’s footsteps to be part of the sport. The talented midcourter says his men’s and mixed netball journey really kickstarted in 2016, participating in his first Mixed Nationals tournament as a 16-year-old and has progressed steadily from there.
“I played netball in primary school, my mum played club netball on a Saturday, my sister played school netball in high school. My older brother was an umpire as well. “I fell in love with the game naturally, just from being at the courts every Saturday just watching our family be involved with netball.”
“It all started for me in men’s and mixed netball in 2016, I played my first Mixed Nationals in Auckland, I was 16 at the time playing for Rotorua, and that’s kind of where it all started. It was very new to me at first, not having played at such a high level,” Vercoe said. “Getting to this point where I am, I think I’ve built a good pathway for myself, making previous NZ teams and the age groups. And that’s all helped me get to this point… the level of netball between then and now, it’s grown rapidly, I think.”
The self-described baby of the men’s team, Vercoe has no shortage of talent at his disposal and says that the overall team, while looking a little bit different from past Cadbury Netball Series’, has plenty to offer out on court.
“Looking at myself in this team this year, I am the youngest,” Vercoe said. “I’m the baby of the team. “I think I offer a lot of youthfulness coming into the team – not saying that everyone else doesn’t still have a bit of youthfulness in them! “But looking back at the other few years (of Cadbury tests), there are quite a lot of experienced players in our team now.”
Unfortunately, with ongoing COVID-19 limitations around the country, a couple of experienced players are missing from the squad due to travel restrictions, while even as recent as this week there have been questions about the series going ahead.
“There are some experienced players from previous Cadbury Series that aren’t with us here today, either being stuck in Auckland or Hamilton. We really want to pay respect to them because we know they’ve been training so hard as well to get to this point now, and we want to just do them proud,” Vercoe said.
“It has kind of been a windy road getting to this stage now with preparation, all of that has been quite all over the place. But at the same time we give credit as well to all our management team who have done so much work for us getting to this point.”
“For me, it feels quite rushed … I was surprised when they announced that the series was still going ahead, I thought it was going to be postponed or cancelled. But at the same time, when the opportunities like this still come at this time during these tough times of COVID and Delta, we just have to take them and carry on and roll with the punches,” Vercoe explained.
One of those adjustments is very little training time together as a main squad, with realistically just two and a half days between the squad coming together and the first match on Sunday, as well as a shorter turnover time between matches with three games across three days.
“We don’t have as much of a turnover time as usual, I think it’s been getting us even more prepared with such short turnover time, we have to start going through all our processes after each game, warming down, stretching properly, doing all the recovery and stuff.”
The leap from regional netball to an international squad is an impressive one, with Vercoe under no illusion of the opportunities the Cadbury Netball Series brings to not only his own development, but also the New Zealand men’s and mixed netball arena, too.
“Like everyone else, I think I’m just excited for the opportunity to play against our current world champions at the moment. It’s not every day you get to play against them, and it’s not every day that this opportunity comes around. So that’s been the most huge thing for all new players and the team and still even players from previous Cadbury Series’ in the team now, as always, it’s just the opportunity that we’ve been given to play against the Silver Ferns.”
I don’t know where I’ll be played and I don’t know who my opposing player will be, but I don’t really mind who I go up against – I mean, we’re in awe of all of the players in the Silver Ferns team so it’ll be, it’ll be very exciting to see who I come up against.”
Picture credit: NZMMNA