The battle for netball supremacy – follow your favourite team

Wednesday, 5 August 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


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By Hishan Welmilla in Sydney, Australia

The stage is set to unfold the Netball World Cup 2015 in Sydney Australia on Friday 7 August as all teams gear up for global netball supremacy.

The defending champions and the hosts Australia will battle in the Pool A with arch rivals New Zealand, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. England currently ranked 3 in the world ranking will meet Jamaica, Scotland and Samoa as their opponents in the Pool B. The main competition in the Pool C would be between two African nations South Africa and Malawi. Singapore and Sri Lanka are the other two countries in the Pool C. Fiji, Wales, Uganda and Zambia will battle in the Pool D.

The top two teams from each of the four pools advance to the first eight and bottom two teams make up the second eight. The first eight and second eight split into four pools (E, F, G, H). The top two teams from first eight pools E and F will progress to semi-finals while bottom two teams from pools E and F will join second eight teams (pools G and H) to compete in play-offs and then for final placings

Pool A

Australia: The world champions are hunting a third successive World Cup title and it will take a major boil-over to prevent them achieving it on home soil. The top-ranked Diamonds have won 10 of the 13 previous editions, sharing one of them. Though they’ll be without injured star Madi Robinson, young midcourters Paige Hadley and Kim Ravaillion are ready to fire in her place. Veteran defender Julie Corletto will be aiming to retire from the international scene with a bang.

New Zealand: Coach Waimarama Taumaunu has made bold changes in dropping established players Cathrine Latu, Joline Henry and Liana Leota as the Silver Ferns bid for a fifth world title. While experienced shooters Maria Tutaia and Jodi Brown are still fixtures, Malia Paseka and Bailey Mes add unpredictability to a mobile, athletic shooting circle. Taumaunu is also tinkering with her midcourt combinations, while skipper Casey Kopua returns from a nine-month break to lead a strong defensive line-up. But it’s been nearly two years and nine Tests since world No.2 New Zealand beat arch-rivals Australia, and 12 years since their last world title.

Barbados: One of two qualifiers from the Americas, alongside 10th-ranked Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados’s best finish at the World Cup came in 1987 when they finished sixth. Ranked ninth they realistically have little chance of making the top two in Pool A, where New Zealand and Australia should progress through to the qualification round. Coached by former player Anna Shepherd, Barbados tested themselves in a three-match series against Jamaica last month, where three 30-plus goal losses gave an indication of the challenges they face.

Trinidad and Tobago: May be ranked 10th, but they are the only side apart from Australia and New Zealand ever to be crowned world champions, when they tied with the other two in Port of Spain in 1979. The Calypso Girls placed seventh in Singapore last time and likely won’t make the top eight this time given they’re in the pool of death with the Diamonds and Silver Ferns. Defenders Daystar Swift and Kielle Connelly are strong while midcourter Rhonda John-Davis is contesting her fifth World Cup.

Pool B

England: England are a strong chance to break into the top two for the first time in their 14th consecutive World Cup. The experienced squad include a tournament-high 10 returning players from the side that won bronze last time in Singapore, including former NSW Swifts defender Sonia Mkoloma who’s contesting her record-equalling fifth world titles. The third-ranked side also boast star skipper Geva Mentor and Northern Mystics defender Serena Guthrie.

Jamaica: Jamaica have finished third twice in 13 World Cups but slipped to fourth with a heavy defeat to England in Singapore four years ago. Former Australian coach Jill McIntosh, technical director at Netball Jamaica, is a key influence and was encouraged by their performance when downing England 2-1 in a three-Test series in January. Jamaica boast two towering shooters in Romelda Aiken and Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, both well known from the trans-Tasman competition. But their midcourt will need to step up to ensure they receive enough quality ball to push Australia, New Zealand and England.

Samoa: Currently ranked 13th, Samoa are contesting their eighth World Cup, with their best finish coming in 2003 when they took sixth. Coached by New Zealand-born Marcia Hardcastle, who took over from former Silver Fern Linda Vagana in 2012, Samoa are looking for a top-10 finish after falling to 12th in Singapore four years ago. The inclusion of former Magic shooter Julianna Naoupu, once part of the Silver Ferns’ wider training squad, has boosted their chances.

Scotland: Former Central Pulse assistant coach Gail Parata has been in charge of the Thistles since late 2013, and is looking for a top-10 finish in Sydney. Ranked 11th, Scotland’s warm-up for the World Cup has included mixed results, including losses to Northern Ireland, Wales and South Africa at the European championship. They lifted to beat Trinidad and Tobago 45-42, but fell to pieces in losing 60-16 to England. Scotland share pool B with Jamaica, England and Samoa.

Pool C

Singapore: The 2011 hosts finished 15th four years ago and are currently ranked 17th. Singapore’s head coach is the experienced Ruth Aitken, the former New Zealand shooter and long-time coach. Key shooter Yu Mei Ling and defender Olivia Flanagan are back having earned recalls after successful rehabilitation from injuries last year, but their draw in a pool with South Africa and Malawi renders them only a slim chance of progressing.

South Africa: With former Diamonds coach Norma Plummer a late addition at the helm, South Africa are out to better their No.6 world ranking. They won the four-nation Diamond Challenge final in KwaZulu-Natal last month, downing Malawi 40-35, although the fifth-ranked Queens were without star shooter Mwai Kumwenda. The Proteas will field an experienced line up, led by Pacy Midcourter Erin Burger and skipper Maryka Holtzhausen, but look to lack the overall firepower needed to come near their best-ever World Cup finish of second in 1999.

Sri Lanka: After finishing 14th at the 2011 world championship in Singapore, Sri Lanka have targeted an improved ranking in 2015. They will contest Pool C with fellow Asian qualifiers Singapore, who beat them 59-41 in the Asian netball championship last year, and face significant challenges against Malawi and South Africa. Coached by former captain Deepthi Alwis, Sri Lanka will be fielding a young team which could struggle without their main weapon, 2.06m shooter Tharjini Sivalingam.

Malawi: The entertaining Malawi Queens have come a long way since their first world titles in 1995, climbing up the world rankings to sit fifth for their fifth world titles. From one of the poorest countries in the world, they’ve done it against the odds having had no access to proper indoor training facilities. Will make the top eight but unlikely to upset the best four even with dynamic goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda, who plays in the ANZ Championship for New Zealand’s Mainland Tactix.

Pool D

Fiji: World No.7 Fiji logged their best World Cup result in Christchurch in 1999, finishing sixth. Since then the Pearls have been on a slide, placing eighth at the 2003 world titles in Kingston, ninth in Auckland 2007 and 10th in Singapore 2011. Former Northern Ireland mentor Kate Carpenter is head coach, while defenders Mere Rabuka-Neiliko and Matila Waqanidrola are also big assets. Could finish top two of their pool but are set to struggle against the bigger teams.

Uganda: It’s just the second World Cup for Uganda and the first since 1979 when they finished 13th. Known as the She Cranes, the developing nation is ranked 14th but seen as a future powerhouse with the potential to upset higher-ranked counterparts. However they’ve endured well-publicised financial hardships, with players even washing cars to raise funds for the expensive trip to Australia. Led by star shooter Peace Proscovia, who will become the first Ugandan to play professionally in the UK after signing with Loughborough Lightning.

Wales: Will be looking to improve on their eighth-place finish in Singapore in 2011. This new-look world No.8 Welsh outfit is captained by its most experienced international player Suzy Drane. With 66 Test caps, midcourter Drane will be joined by fellow stars Chelsea Lewis, Nicola James and Stephanie Williams in a team that boasts a combined total of 301 caps. A chance of making the top eight again after being drawn with Fiji, Uganda and Zambia.

Zambia: This is Zambia’s second appearance at the World Cup, their first coming 16 years ago in Christchurch where they finished 17th out of 26 nations. One member from that team, Diana Banda, will take the court for Zambia in Sydney. Zambia’s run-in to the World Cup hasn’t been ideal, but after finishing last in the Diamond Challenge, they lifted to take second at the Africa Cup in Namibia last month. Ranked 18th in international netball, Zambia join Fiji, Wales and Uganda in Pool D for the tournament’s preliminary round matches.