Silver Fern Temalisi Fakahokotau falls in love with netball again

24 July 2018

Two years ago, Temalisi Fakahokotau boarded a flight to Christchurch at her lowest ebb.

After a subpar 2016 season with her hometown Northern Mystics, Fakahokotau was well down the pecking order for New Zealand defenders and frustrated with netball.

Having made a whirlwind start to her career, where she played two tests for the Silver Ferns in her first elite season in 2014, she'd run into a brick wall.

Fakahokotau had a now or never moment and realised something needed to change.

The born-and-bred Aucklander, who is from a tight-knit Tongan family of eight siblings and eight nieces and nephews, knew she had to get out.

She made the tough decision to pack her bags and take up an opportunity with the struggling Mainland Tactix in Christchurch.

Fast forward the clock to 2018 and how things are different.

Fakahokotau is a Silver Ferns starter, the best goal keep in the country, and in the form of her life. 

The Tactix, for so long the laughing stock of New Zealand netball, are also on the cusp of the finals for the first time.

"It has been crazy. I knew in order for me to love the sport and find the passion again I had to move out of Auckland.

"The toughest thing I could ever do is move away from my family, seeing my nieces and nephews grow up as well. I miss out on so much. They mean so much to me."

The 23-year-old admits life in Christchurch is a long way off what she was used to.

She lived at home in Auckland and as the oldest daughter was responsible for looking after her extended family.

It took a nudge from brother, Sione, for Fakahokotau to allow herself to be selfish and put netball first.

"The Tactix came on board and believed in me, even though I was probably at my lowest.

"Now, the whole mentality has changed. I'm more hungrier than ever to maintain my position. I give credit to my family. It's not easy to move away from your family, especially in my culture."

Fakahokotau expresses plenty of gratitude to her parents, father, Fiefia, and mother, Mele. 

Fiefia worked several jobs while she was growing up to put food on the table and give his children a brighter future.

"My parents gave me the opportunity to follow my dreams and move away from home knowing there was something else out there for me."

Fakahokotau has quickly banished the anguish of April's Commonwealth Games, where the Silver Ferns failed to medal for the first time, finishing fourth.

She has been in stellar touch for the Tactix and the best defender in the national premiership. Some believe she's been the player of the competition, winning a stack of defensive ball alongside Jane Watson and wing defence Charlotte Elley.

Fakahokotau leads all three major defensive categories, grabbing 29 rebounds, 100 deflections, and 49 intercepts. 

Despite season-ending injuries to fellow defenders, captain Jess Maclennan and Zoe Walker, the Tactix have barely skipped a beat in the defensive circle. 

The side can taste finals netball, sitting third in the six-team competition. Victory in their final round game against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in Hamilton on Monday would clinch the Tactix spot.

That would set up an all-South Island elimination final (two versus three) against the Southern Steel in Invercargill on August 8. 

Making the finals would be some achievement for the Tactix, who finished bottom last season, winning just two games. In the former trans-Tasman competition, they were a rabble, regularly copping drubbings and propping up the bottom of the ladder.

"It definitely is a great journey.

"It means a lot to each and every one of us in this campaign. For us to actually get to the semifinals and ultimately reach the final would be huge for this franchise."

The original article was published on Stuff -