Cullen wants to return to Ferns

Kayla Cullen in action for the Silver Ferns earlier this year. Photo: Getty Images
Kayla Cullen in action for the Silver Ferns earlier this year. Photo: Getty Images
There was once a time, not so long ago, when Kayla Cullen missing Silver Ferns selection would be inconceivable.

Yet here we are pondering whether the dynamic defender will play for New Zealand again.

Cullen is one of those rare x-factor talents any team craves. Once the golden girl of New Zealand netball Cullen has, at various times throughout her career, played every position on court and changed the course of many matches along the way.

Four years ago at the last World Cup she turned superwoman with a performance, inspired by pre-match criticism from Catherine Cox, that helped the Silver Ferns stun Australia at home during pool play.

Such influence has been heavily missed as the Ferns have fast faded on the international scene. In recent times, Cullen's knee issues ruled her out of last year's Commonwealth Games capitulation, when the Ferns finished fourth on the Gold Coast.

Ferns coach Noeline Taurua has now opted to overlook Cullen's aggression, athleticism and anticipation at both ends of the court from wing defence for the World Cup in Liverpool in July.

In an ironic twist, Cullen will line up for a formidable local All Stars team who face the Ferns, along with the New Zealand men's side and Fiji, at the end of this month in Auckland.

Not only left out of the 12-strong World Cup squad, Cullen was also deemed surplus to the four non-travelling reserves.

In the end restricted minutes throughout the ANZ Premiership season were not enough to convince Taurua to take a calculated punt on Cullen's big game temperament and 47 tests of experience.

With eight World Cup games featuring in 10 days, Taurua feels she can't trust Cullen's body to handle the repeat load.

"It was a shame that she never got the full court time with the Stars until the last two games which was way too late to be able to monitor her properly," Taurua said. "I don't want to go into the worlds with uncertainty. I want to be clear about what I had and being able to move the pieces."

Taurua revealed that Karin Burger's rapid emergence at the Pulse will be complemented by recalled former Ferns captain Katrina Rore, traditionally a circle defender, in the midcourt.

"I'll use Katrina as a slide – as a goal defence/wing defence. She's played wing defence before in internationals so I'm happy with that when I looked into the research. She's tall, she's agile. Wing defence is a good transitional position as it's the same sort of movement so I'll run her across the line."

Cullen has recently relocated to Sydney to live with fiancé, Kiwis and Sharks playmaker Shaun Johnson, in a move that clouds her international future.

New Zealand netball contracting is ongoing at present but Cullen's contract with the Stars has finished, and so her future is uncertain as she weighs where to play domestically next season.

The 27-year-old has, however, told Ferns assistant coach Debbie Fuller of her desire to don the black dress again. Should she decide to play for an Australian team, to achieve that goal Cullen would need special exemption only previously granted to Maria Folau and Laura Langman.

Given the fraught process Langman endured before gaining the exemption there are no guarantees Netball New Zealand's hierarchy would be willing to allow Cullen to play for the Ferns from abroad.

"She has expressed to Deb that she does want to play for the Silver Ferns again," Taurua said. "I think that's awesome she does. If she does play for an Australian club then she has to get an exemption from Netball New Zealand. I can't see that process changing too soon.

"Netball New Zealand have always left the door open by stating they are going to take it on case-by-case basis. I suppose with her husband-to-be residing over there that is a positive for her.

"They've just got to work it through."

Whatever Cullen decides it would seem a great shame if she is now lost to the Ferns.

What a waste that would be for someone who made their international debut at the age of 19 back in 2011.

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