Inside Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Com­mon­wealth Games net­ball is a sim­ple tour­na­ment: 12 teams scrap on court for 11 days and at the end, Aus­tralia al­ways plays New Zealand in the gold medal fi­nal. It’s hap­pened ev­ery time since the sport was in­tro­duced to the Games in 1998. It’s also hap­pened at ev­ery world cham­pi­onships ex­cept for one since the 1980s. Teams like Eng­land and Ja­maica are im­prov­ing, mostly be­cause of the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded in­ter­na­tional stars like Romelda Aiken, Jhaniele FowlerReid and Eboni Beck­ford-Cham­bers in the ANZ Cham­pi­onship, but they still ap­pear a level be­low the trans-Tas­man arch-ri­vals.

Or are we about to see a semi-seis­mic shift? Ar­guably the big­gest news in world net­ball this century oc­curred in June when Irene van Dyk, the ge­nius goal-shooter who has been the main­stay of the NZ Sil­ver Ferns since she shifted from her na­tive South Africa in 2000, an­nounced her re­tire­ment from in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately. At 42, she’s due a break, but the sud­den tim­ing rocked ev­ery­body, es­pe­cially the Ferns, and made the Aus­tralia Di­a­monds a strong favourite to win its first gold medal since 2002.

It has been sug­gested that van Dyk, the leading scorer in Comm Games his­tory, was prompted into re­tire­ment in part by the 60-33 past­ing she and the Haeir (Cen­tral) Pulse re­ceived from Aussie cap­tain Laura Geitz and the Queens­land Fire­birds in the late rounds of this year’s ANZ Cham­pi­onship. If so, the out­stand­ing Geitz, ar­guably the world’s best de­fen­sive stopper, may have played the most im­por­tant game of this Comm Games cam­paign two months be­fore the Open­ing Cer­e­mony. In­tense pres­sure will now fall on Ferns shoot­ers such as Delhi 2010 star Maria Tu­taia and new­comer Ellen Halpenny to make up for van Dyk’s crater-sized ab­sence.

Aus­tralia will play Bar­ba­dos, Eng­land, South Africa, Trinidad And Tobago and Wales in its pre­lim­i­nary pool matches, be­fore a likely semi-fi­nal with Ja­maica and an­other fi­nal with the Sil­ver Ferns. The world-cham­pion Di­a­monds have had their hearts bro­ken by NZ in the past two fi­nals af­ter win­ning gold in 1998 and 2002. As al­ways, the Di­a­monds have talent to burn in their 12-player team, with Geitz, Bianca Chat­field of the 2014 ANZ Cham­pi­onship-win­ning Mel­bourne Vix­ens, 2011 world champs hero Caitlin Bas­sett and Julie Cor­letto among the stand­outs. Pre­pare, with po­lite cau­tion, for one hell of a party if this goes ac­cord­ing to plan.

LauraGeitz,ar­guably the­world'sbest de­fen­sivestop­per.

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