The New Zealand national netball team, commonly known as the Silver Ferns, represents New Zealand in international netball. The team take their nickname from the Silver Tree Fern (Cyathea dealbata), which is an iconic emblem for many New Zealand sports teams. The Silver Ferns were formed in 1938 as a representative New Zealand team to tour Australia. To date, they have been one of the most dominant national netball teams in the world, along with the Australian Diamonds, and have a winning record against most other netball nations. At the end of the 2011 international netball season, the Silver Ferns were ranked second in the IFNA World Rankings.
The Silver Ferns compete annually for the Constellation Cup a home-and-away test series with Australia, and also play test matches with other major netball countries, including England and Jamaica, on a regular basis. They have competed at every World Netball Championship since its inauguration in 1963, and in every Commonwealth Games since netball's inclusion in 1998. The Silver Ferns have won the World Netball Championships four times (in 1967, 1979, 1987 and 2003). They also won the netball title at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and 2010.
Netball was introduced into New Zealand as "women's basketball" in 1906 or 1907 by Rev. J. C. Jamieson, after having seen the game being played in Australia. The game spread through schools across the country, and by 1924 the New Zealand Basketball Association was formed to administer the game on a national basis. Early attempts were made in the 1920s to organise international matches in New Zealand, but these were curtailed by insufficient funds and international differences in playing rules.
In 1938, the New Zealand Basketball Association sent the first New Zealand representative women's basketball team to tour Australia. The team's emblem and colours, a Silver Fern on a black uniform, had previously been decided in the same year that the association was founded. Margaret Matangi captained the first Silver Ferns team in their debut international test series, played according to Australian seven-a-side rules (cf. nine-a-side in New Zealand). In their first international test, the Silver Ferns lost to Australia 40–11. In 1948, ten years after the first tour and three years after the end of World War II, an Australian team toured New Zealand, winning all three test matches against the Silver Ferns, as well as all nine provincial matches; again, the games were played under Australian seven-a-side rules. A team representing the New Zealand Minor Associations toured Fiji in 1954, at the invitation of the Fijian Basketball Association; the Fijians in turn sent a representative team to New Zealand in 1957. New Zealand once again organised a team to tour Australia in 1960. The team was captained by June Waititi and also featured renowned defender Lois Muir.
By the time of the 1960 tour of Australia, netball-playing nations from around the world had met to draft the first international rules of netball, which featured seven-a-side teams. The first Netball World Championships (then called the "World Tournament") took place in 1963 in Eastbourne, England. The New Zealand team travelled to the venue by boat, arriving after a voyage of six weeks. The team were captained by Pam Edwards, with Muir as vice-captain. Australia defeated New Zealand 37–36 in a closely contested final to win the tournament. The Silver Ferns would not play again for another four years, until the next World Championships in Perth. Captained by Judy Blair, New Zealand defeated Australia 43–40 to win the tournament.
In 1970, New Zealand played a visiting Fiji team, before touring England and the Caribbean. Also that same year, the Silver Ferns uniform changed from a black tunic to a black skirt and white shirt. New Zealand competed in the third World Championships in Jamaica the following year, again coming second behind Australia. The Silver Ferns toured England in 1974. One year later New Zealand hosted its first World Championships, where the host nation finished third behind Australia and England. Four years later at the 1979 Netball World Championships, the Silver Ferns finished 1st equal, tied with Australia and Trinidad and Tobago.
The 1980s saw the emergence of regular international competition for the Silver Ferns, as well as increasing television coverage of netball matches in New Zealand. The Silver Ferns competed in two World Championships, in 1983 and 1987. The 1983 Championships were held in Singapore, where New Zealand were defeated in the finals by Australia; four years later, the Silver Ferns defeated Australia to win the 1987 Championships in Glasgow. Starting from 1985, the Silver Ferns have played international tests on an annual basis. In 1989, New Zealand achieved a historic clean-sweep test series win over Australia. It was also the year in which netball was included in the World Games, where New Zealand progressed undefeated to emerge as champions. The Silver Ferns subsequently won the New Zealand Sportsteam of the Year (team award) that year. In the 1990s, the Silver Ferns contested three World Championships but did not manage to win any of them. The 1999 Championship final between Australia and New Zealand was the highest-ever rating programme for televisor TV2. Another trans-Tasman Silver Ferns match in 2008 attracted a higher television audience than for a recent Bledisloe Cup–deciding rugby union match.
The Silver Ferns have had several successes in the 2000s. The Silver Ferns once again emerged as world champions after winning the 2003 World Championships in Jamaica. 2005 was a similarly successful year, in which they won all eight international tests, with comfortable series victories over England and Australia, capped off with a tri-series win over Jamaica and Barbados. That year they also posted their highest ever score against Australia, winning 61–36 in Auckland. In 2006, New Zealand won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, but were defeated by Australia at the final of 2007 World Championships in Auckland the following year. In 2009, the first World Netball Series was contested in England, with the Silver Ferns defeating Jamaica in the grand final to win the inaugural tournament. Success was repeated the following year at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, with New Zealand defeating Australia in a dramatic 66–64 double-overtime gold medal playoff win. The Silver Ferns are currently ranked second in the IFNA netball world rankings, which until 2008 were determined solely by the results of the World Championships.