England back themselves as netball threats
England are backing themselves to win a maiden Netball World Cup title, pointing to world No.
1 Australia’s up-in-the-air midcourt as an area to be exploited.
Their skipper Geva Mentor isn’t underestimating the enormity of the task of ending Australia’s long-standing world dominance in a World Cup in Sydney from Friday.
But the 30-year-old defender says the hosts’ wing attack position shapes as a promising target for her experienced line-up after star Madi Robinson was ruled out be a serious knee injury.
“We’ll be looking at their midcourt and the fact that they lost Madi Robinson, who was starting to own that wing attack bib,” Mentor said.
“They’ll be starting to find whether it’s going to be a Paige Hadley playing in there or a Kim Green.
“So that’s probably a bit of a weakness that we can exploit.”
Third-ranked England have never finished lower than fourth at a world titles, though they’ve only broke into the top two once, behind Australia in 1975.
With 893 caps between them, they are by far the most experienced of the 16 teams that will play 64 matches over 10 days. That includes returning veteran Sonia Mkoloma, who is poised to equal the all-time international record of playing in five world championships.
Regular threats world No.2 New Zealand are fielding a comparatively younger line-up, in what could be a boom or bust move from coach Waimarama Taumaunu.
Mentor applauded Taumaunu for making tough selection calls that have added unpredictability around the shooting circle after struggling to fill the void left by longtime spearhead Irene van Dyk’s retirement.
She’s convinced the Silver Ferns are underestimated, something the Kiwis themselves have no problem with.
“It’s nice to have that underdog tag, but we do have very high expectations on ourselves for what we want to achieve,” said Silver Ferns captain Casey Kopua.
With her 126 Test caps and two world championships silver medals – both finals lost to Australia – Kopua said a first win in 10 matches against their trans-Tasman rivals could cause the balance of power to finally swing.
“I think it would give myself and the ones that have been around for a while more confidence and more belief that it can happen and it will happen,” she said.
“In saying that, we’re still going out onto the court with the attitude that we can beat anybody.”
Despite their recent losing streak to the Aussies, New Zealand were the last team to beat them in a world championships, back in the 2003 final.
World No.4 Jamaica are potential dark horses, having finished third in two of the last three World Cups, while Norma Plummer-coached South Africa and Malawi are outside chances but unlikely to make the semi-finals.
The new format will serve up three top-six blockbuster pool matches in as many days, with Malawi taking on South Africa on Friday, England facing off with Jamaica on Saturday and Australia clashing with the Silver Ferns on Sunday.
And the fans are set to come.
Organisers say they are expecting world-record crowds of more than 16,500 people at Allphones Arena on the first Sunday, as well as the semi-finals and finals the following weekend.
The same venue holds the current record for an international match, when it attracted 14,339 for an Australia v New Zealand Test in November 2004.
NETBALL WORLD CUP QUICK STATS:
3 – players who will equal the record of playing in five consecutive world titles (New Zealand’s Leana de Bruin, Trinidad and Tobago’s Rhonda John-Davis and England’s Sonia Mkoloma)
893 – combined international caps of the most experienced team (England)
148 – international appearances by the most capped player (John-Davis)
17 – age of the tournament’s youngest player (Barbados’ Sheniqua Thomas)
45 – age of the oldest player (Zambia’s Margaret Mutafela)
198 – height in centimetres of the tallest player (Jamaica’s Jhaniele Fowler-Reid)