New Zealand netballer Maria Folau has been hailed for shaking off the controversy surrounding her husband Israel to help lead the Silver Ferns to World Cup glory.
NZ coach Noeline Taurua has paid tribute to the mental strength of Folau after her starring role in the 52-51 World Cup final win over Australia.
The 32-year-old goal shooter converted 28 of her 35 shots and held her nerve in a dramatic final quarter, converting two clutch opportunities as Australia staged a dramatic fightback having hauled in a seven-point deficit.
“She’s a big game breaker and a big-game player as we all know,” said Taurua.
She has been consistent in her ability to perform no matter what.
“Today is probably one of those days again where she has shone out there, which is expected I suppose because that’s what we’re used to from her.”
Israel Folau remains in dispute with Rugby Australia, following his sacking for his religiously motivated anti-gay comments on his social media platforms.
Maria refused to speak to the media after her side’s win at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, as has the former Wallaby, who was in the crowd all week.
Taurua said her players had made a pact at the start of the tournament to stand by Folau after her husband admitted recently that his bitter dispute with his former employer had taken a toll on his wife.
“We are so happy she is part of our team and one of the things we are about is looking after one another on and off the court,” Taurua said.
“I think like anybody when things start happening personally there is going to be a lot of emotion.
“We discussed it as a team and said we would support her knowing how much value she has to us as a Silver Fern.
“She is one in a million, no-one plays netball like her or can shoot like her and we have bonded around each other and trained hard.
“She has been a real trooper.”
The Silver Ferns quashed an Aussie comeback to sneak home in the final having been six goals in front midway through the third quarter.
The Aussies closed the gap to 50-52 going into the final two minutes but the New Zealanders held their nerve to end Australia’s long-standing dominance of the Netball World Cup.
Australia and New Zealand went head-to-head in their sixth world cup final in a row over the past 20 years.
The Silver Ferns managed to end a 16-year dry spell after lifting the trophy for the first time since 2003.
The Diamonds had hoped to secure their fourth successive crown after winning the last three world titles among a haul of 11 since the first tournament in 1963.
“It’s obviously not the result we wanted today,” Australia’s Caitlin Bassett said.
“It was such a close finish and I don’t think you could have asked for any more from any of the girls in our team.
“It’s one goal. It’s always going to be tight against New Zealand. It is what it is.”