Twelve years since she last watched a Netball World Cup, Alice Webb-Liddall revisits her childhood passion to preview the 2019 competition before the Silver Ferns’ first game tonight.
New Zealand has been in a bit of a slump when it comes to netball. What used to be a staple school sport is being closed in on by the exciting international prospects of basketball and the rising women’s spheres of cricket and rugby.
At the start of the decade it seemed we were on top of our game, winning Commonwealth victories and Fast5 titles, but this hot streak ended sometime in the past few years. We slipped to third in the world rankings after a poor fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, and former coach Janine Southby resigned after a review into the dismal result.
Now, under the guidance of former Silver Ferns attack Noeline Taurua, the team seems to have some of their mojo back. So what chance does New Zealand have of getting the trophy this year? Some things to consider:
Australia are on a World Cup-winning streak
The last time the Australian Diamonds didn’t win the INF Netball World Cup was 2003. They’re on a three-time winning streak, and their current captain Caitlin Bassett has played in two of those tournaments. They top the world rankings by a large margin, and have been the Ferns’ main rival for decades.
Late last year the Diamonds took home the Constellation Cup after a 3-1 series win over New Zealand, a trophy they’ve held for six consecutive years.
But they’re not invincible
It was too late to change the result of the 2018 Constellation Cup, but the Ferns’ one win proved that New Zealand still had the skill to shake a strong Australian side, and the confidence borne from that could be powerful for the Ferns in this tournament.
Host-side England are looking very strong
After their Commonwealth win, England defender Eboni Usoro-Brown says the team is “underdog favourites” to take out this year’s top spot, which would be a first for the side. The trophy’s only ever been won by Australia or New Zealand, with the exception of a three-way first-equal in 1979 with Trinidad and Tobago.
The England Roses should make it through the pool stage relatively easily, but facing Jamaica and South Africa in the second round may be a tougher fight.
Pressure from home crowds could build up for the hosting side, but could also provide the support England need to repeat their Commonwealth win.
Jamaica and South Africa can’t be ruled out
Jamaica got a podium finish at the Commonwealth Games last year, beating the Silver Ferns by five goals in the bronze medal match. It was the first time in Commonwealth history that the Silver Ferns have missed out on a medal, but it was a well-earned win by a composed Jamaican side.
They’ve got a hard draw though, facing South Africa in a pool match. Under the guidance of Norma Plummer, who coached the Australian Diamonds to two World Cup wins in 2007 and 2011, South Africa are definitely not lacking in strategy, and their win against England in January should give them some confidence heading into the competition.
Do the Silver Ferns have a chance?
If you’re superstitious, you could draw links between Australia’s last three-World Cup-win-streak, which New Zealand managed to break in 2003. If you’re not superstitious, we have a tough fight ahead of us, but have recently proven there’s still power in our team.
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Making it through the pool stage should be relatively easy. Tonight’s Malawi game could be an interesting one: the side is predictably unpredictable, pulling off a win against New Zealand in the pool match of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
In the second stage matches we will face Australia, but despite this the Ferns have a relatively easy run into the semi-finals.
What we didn’t have in the Commonwealth Games were veteran players Laura Langman and Casey Kopua, who have 255 caps for the Silver Ferns between them. The return of these two experienced players, combined with the fresh approach of coach Noeline Taurua gives us a chance at making it to the end.
The world media isn’t picking the Silver Ferns as favourites for a podium finish, but if the current Cricket World Cup is anything to go by, writing us off too soon could be a mistake.
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