Silver Ferns star Maria Folau hints at looming retirement after Netball World Cup

Retirement is dawning for Silver Ferns netball great Maria Folau.

Folau, the wife of underfire Australian rugby star Israel Folau, who faces having his contract torn up after a series of controversial social media posts targeting the gay community, looks set to end her illustrious career after July's Netball World Cup.

In an interview with former Australian netballer Cath Cox on Channel Nine, the 32-year-old Folau, who is playing in Australia's Super Netball for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, said retirement was on the horizon.

"Let's just say I'm very close to the end," she said. 

The 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England, has always loomed as the swansong in international netball for Folau, the third most capped Silver Fern in history with 138 tests.

There could be a raft of Silver Fern retirements after the global tournament with former captain and fellow centurion Casey Kopua already confirming she will finish up after the World Cup.

Silver Ferns skipper and midcourt veteran Laura Langman could be another to hang up the bib and experienced defender Katrina Rore, if she makes the Cup squad, is also a possibility.

Folau, nee Tutaia, has been a focal point in the Silver Ferns' shooting end since her debut in 2005 and is widely viewed as among the greatest shooters in New Zealand netball history. 

In the interview with Nine, Folau revealed she would have moved to the Thunderbirds this season, even if she was barred from representing the Silver Ferns by Netball New Zealand (NNZ).

Folau and Langman, who plays for the Noeline Taurua-coached Sunshine Coast Lightning, have been granted exemptions to play in Australia, courtesy of their long service to netball in this country. 

Playing for the Thunderbirds allowed Folau to be closer to her husband, based in Sydney. Her parents have also moved from Auckland to Brisbane.

"It's only been in the last couple of years where I've realised netball isn't everything," she said. 

"Netball is a huge part of my life, but there's other things in my life that have come into place that really need to take forward stead. I still would have come [to Australia if NNZ blocked me from representing the Silver Ferns]."

Leaving the Auckland-based Northern Mystics for the Thunderbirds was difficult for Folau, but she said it was a necessity to be nearer to her husband. Last season, Folau regularly flew between Sydney and Auckland during the Mystics' season, which was a disruption for the team.

"It was hard because it's a franchise that I hold very dear to my heart. I've played for them for eight years now and before that we were called the Auckland Diamonds."

Folau has played three games for the Thunderbirds in Super Netball, landing 61 goals from 76 attempts (80 per cent). They lost Saturday's clash with the unbeaten Melbourne Vixens 58-42.

Folau is a lock in the Silver Ferns' 12-player World Cup squad, which will be named in Invercargill next Thursday.