George Metuarau’s conversion from rugby player and coach to a much-valued member of Netball Central’s support staff is finally complete.
Along the way, the 56-year-old former midfielder has taken a brief detour as the dedicated netball taxi driver to talented daughter Tiana, as well as featuring as a long-time supporter of wife and former Silver Ferns captain and coach Wai Taumaunu.
Tiana has made a rapid rise through the netball ranks, the tall and powerfully built 16-year-old a strong prospect to make the New Zealand under-21 team to contest this year’s World Youth Cup in Botswana.
She has also shown a maturity beyond her years in making the leap to ANZ premiership level competition, where she’s an important component in coach Yvette McCausland-Durie’s Central Pulse team.
With Taumaunu busy as Netball Central’s director of high performance, George Metuarau’s growing involvement is creating a unique family presence at the Zone’s Wellington headquarters.
Metuarau is into his second year with the Central Beko Netball League team where he is a popular figure, respected sideline analyst and - according to coach Natalie Milicich - worth his weight in gold.
“He’s grown up with a lot of these girls because they’re friends of Tiana’s, so they know him and they’re really comfortable with him,” she said.
“He knows a lot about them, how they deal with the challenges of injury, soreness, tiredness and all those sorts of things which puts us a step ahead.”
Metuarau readily admits to not knowing much about netball when he first met Taumaunu, or even that she was a Silver Fern.
“I continued to follow my own path and would only go to a game if it was close…..I didn’t travel round New Zealand or the world following her career,” he said.
“So, I wasn’t a netball groupie as such. Wai did her netball and I did my rugby.”
Metuarau spent 30 years in rugby as a player and coach, injury ending his playing days as a fleet-footed midfield back and leading him down the coaching path.
After four years of study through Massey University, Metuarau gained his coaching credentials, his course at the time including such luminaries as future All Blacks coaches Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen.
He didn’t have time to test the New Zealand waters after gaining his stripes, Taumaunu accepting a position as the National Performance Director of the All England Netball Association from 1998-2003.
His newly gained credentials, however, meant Metuarau was much sought-after in England, where over the five years he was closely involved with upskilling and developing over 300 coaches.
Word quickly spread, and the affable Metuarau also forged a long and fruitful association across the Atlantic, lured on short-term contracts to rugby in the US.
After returning home, Metuarau was head coach of the Cook Islands Sevens team competing on the international circuit from 2004-11.
His time spent in the US and subsequent research and study into sports injuries steered him inadvertently in another direction.
“Tiana was growing so quickly and I realised she needed support, so I started strapping her for her school team and that’s where it all started,” Metuarau said.
His duties expanded to take in various tournaments, and driving Tiana to Beko training and games also grew rapidly to take in a variety of primary care duties.
“At training I would strap her ankles up for her and then other girls would come up asking for any manner of strapping,’’ he said.
“Since I had to be there, I thought I should be of some use, so I took my table and a bit more gear and quickly became part of the management structure as their primary care person.”
Coming from a high performance background, he recognised that up-and-coming young players needed more support in terms of athlete maintenance.
“I know their injuries. I can study them as they move and know how they tick, and that is helpful for coaches as well as making sure we look after them,” Metuarau said.
“I now love the netball scene. I love it when the girls give me the thumbs-up during the game to show that their treatment’s working.
“Apart from the primary care role, I have lot of experience in coaching and I like being a sounding board for the coaches.
“It’s just trying to help wherever I can.”