Steel will be competitive: Heffernan

Kate Heffernan’s form has remained consistent for the Silver Ferns and the Southern Steel through...
Kate Heffernan’s form has remained consistent for the Silver Ferns and the Southern Steel through a challenging year. PHOTO: MICHAEL BRADLEY PHOTOGRAPHY
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

It has been a challenging 12 months for Kate Heffernan and it would be easy for her to dwell on the negatives, rather than flipping the script and finding the positives.

The Silver Ferns midcourter finished fourth at her first Netball World Cup, narrowly lost the Constellation Cup to Australia and finished third at the Nations Cup in January, where she picked up an Achilles niggle that has kept her sidelined through the preseason.

Pair that with being part of an agonising ANZ Premiership campaign with the Southern Steel in which they lost all 15 games last season — and extended their losing streak to 18 — and it makes for rough going.

But Heffernan’s approach to those times speaks to her resilience and ability to blossom in adversity.

She was vice-captain for the Nations Cup, alongside shooter Grace Nweke, and was rewarded for her performances by winning the inaugural Sandra Edge Medal for Silver Ferns player of the year earlier this month.

"That was really special . . . Sandra Edge is a legend," Heffernan said.

"I was feeling good about my game. I still feel like I’m still building towards that consistency at that level, but it’s always nice to get that kind of recognition.

"I just love being in that Silver Ferns mix."

Heffernan, 24, continued to grow in her leadership style and took notes from Silver Ferns captain Phoenix Karaka at the Nations Cup around creating a player-led environment.

She hoped to bring that into the Steel this year as she took over the captaincy in her seventh season.

Leading the Steel was an honour, but Heffernan had been dealt a tough start watching from the sidelines — she is expected to start training in the next fortnight — and was looking forward to being able to lead out on court.

She was still contributing and offered plenty of encouragement from the bench during the Southern Showdown in Dunedin at the weekend.

It was a rough weekend for the Steel, who were beaten in every game and lost Jen O’Connell and Ivari Christie to concussion, but they were prepared to fix their issues ahead of their season opener on April 15.

"You learn more when you get those tough losses," Heffernan said.

"We know what we need to do in the next three weeks and hopefully we have a few more girls back out on court that are managing niggles."

Having O’Connell, Shannon Saunders, Taneisha Fifita and Abby Lawson — who was Heffernan’s MVP from the Southern Showdown — back was refreshing and helped the Steel hit the ground running when they arrived for their preseason.

Saunders’ return was a boost and she would be a mentor for young talent Christie, who lacked a senior wing attack to guide her last season.

"I think that’s definitely what we missed last year," Heffernan said.

"Even for Ivari, and Renee [Savai’inaea], who was put in that wing attack position, just having someone who’s an expert in the trade.

"She’s got so much knowledge and she’s just so good at making sure they really soak it up."

Heffernan said the Steel never wanted to experience another season like 2023, and she took heart from their Southern Showdown efforts.

"We don’t want to be in that position again and I think we’re going to do whatever we can to not be there.

"Even last year, we’re a lot better than what we put out.

"From the get-go, we know we’re going to be super-competitive.

"It’s hard when you’re playing against quality teams early in the preseason when we’re managing quite a lot of niggles.

"I think you can tell a lot of the girls were trying to do a little bit too much instead of just their own job. It’s going back to just letting them focus on that [and] I think we’ll be good to go."