Guaranteed thrills on the netball court
I’ve got my fingers crossed that history doesn’t repeat itself at next week’s world netball championship. The only other time the world champs were held in Singapore was in 1983, when New Zealand played poorly and lost the final to Australia, 47-42.
It was a match to forget for New Zealand’s two senior players, Lyn Parker and Yvonne Willering, and the team lost its focus badly. However, it wasn’t all bad news. From the embers of that defeat was born the burning desire not to muck it up next time.
In 1987, Leigh Gibbs, Rita Fatialofa, Tracey Fear, Waimarama Taumaunu, Margharet Matenga and Margaret Forsyth, all losers in Singapore, made no mistake. They were ruthless and no team got within 10 goals of them.
Casey Williams’ Silver Ferns go into next week’s world championship as knife-edge favourites over defending champions Australia.
The world rankings put New Zealand at No 1, Australia No 2 and daylight next. New Zealand’s rating is 174 points, Australia’s 173. England is third, well adrift on 149.
There’s little to separate the teams using other measures, too. New Zealand won their last major clash, the 2010 Commonwealth Games final, but only after double extra-time. The transTasman rivals recently split two tests in New Zealand.
Where Australia might struggle is that they have lost pivotal goal attack and captain Sharelle McMahon and brilliant Queensland wing attack Lauren Nourse to injury.
New Zealand have suffered no such key injuries, though coach Ruth Aitken wanted to include shooter Samoan Catherine Latu, but couldn’t because of international rules about players representing more than one country.
For a decade New Zealand’s hopes have centred around lofty goal shoot Irene van Dyk. But van Dyk is a declining force.
She has just turned 39 and struggled in the Commonwealth Games final.
In the two recent tests she was sorely troubled by intimidating Australian defender Susan Fuhrmann.
An increasing amount of shooting responsibility is falling to goal attack Maria Tutaia – fine if Tutaia is having a good day.
I also have concerns about centre/ wing attack, where Temepara George, a hero in 2003, the last time New Zealand won the world title, is possibly past her best. George is rising 36, long in the tooth for a midcourter.
There’s been a vast amount of talk in New Zealand about the Rugby World Cup, but I’m looking forward to the netball at least as much.
The rugby final is inevitably a dull, defence-minded affair with penalties and often drop goals deciding the issue.
The netball finals, by contrast, are pulsating and invariably close.
The problem with the netball is that Australia and New Zealand are so dominant. There are 16 teams competing in Singapore – down from a high of 27 in 1995.
In New Zealand’s pool group are Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji and Wales. Three drubbings are guaranteed. But the final, on July 10, will be a cracker.
This is the 13th world netball championship, dating back to 1963. Australia and New Zealand have met in the final match 10 times and Australia have won eight, four by a single goal.
The average winning margin for the 10 games is just 2.8 goals. Excitement is guaranteed.