World ranking: 12th
Previous Commonwealth Games results: 2002 (7th), 2006 (9th)
Commonwealth Games win/loss record: 4 wins, 7 losses.
Fijian netball has a turbulent history. Military coups, natural disasters, limited funding, and instability in coaching and administration have strained the last decade. Despite this, the Fiji Pearls have a world ranking of 12th, finishing 11th at the 2015 World Cup.
A lack of international competition between 2015 and 2017 dented momentum. Two years is a long time in international netball – long enough for other countries to climb while Fiji stood still.
The team hasn’t played in a Commonwealth Games since 2006. Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth between 2009 and 2014, due to the 2006 military coup that seized control of the country. Fiji was reinstated into the Commonwealth after democracy was restored in 2014, but it was too late for the Pearls to enter the Glasgow games.
The talent has always been there, spread across hundreds of islands clustered in the South Pacific and bolstered by players based in New Zealand and Australia. Players work against impediments many countries couldn’t dream of and are expected to galvanise for major tournaments.
A host of international identities have spent brief and sometimes tumultuous stints in the national coaching role; including Melissa Walker (New Zealand), Julie Hoornweg (Australia), Vilimaina Davu (Fiji and New Zealand) and Kate Carpenter (New Zealand). Former Australian captain and Silver Ferns assistant coach, Vicki Wilson, took over in 2016 and ended the Pearls’ two-year hiatus from international netball.
In 2017, Wilson arranged a series against South Africa with Australian counterpart and South African coach, Norma Plummer. Fiji also played in the Netball Europe Championships as a visitor. The Pearls lost every match against South Africa, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; but gained much-needed international experience and elevated the status of the team at home.
History was created in 2017 when the national under 21 team, the Baby Pearls, finished fourth at the World Youth Cup – the highest international ranking for Fijian netball. This success was rewarded, with seven players from the Baby Pearls achieving selection in the Commonwealth Games team.
The team has a very young average age of 23.5, the youngest player just 16 years old. The elite abilities of stalwarts Taraima Rara Mitchell and Maria Lutua Rusivakula will be missed, but experience remains with Alesi Waqa, Nina Cirikisuva and Afa Rusivakula. Six players return from the 2015 World Cup side.
Heavy losses in the recent Taini Jamison Trophy against Jamaica, New Zealand and Malawi showed how far away the Pearls are from a top six team. With their last international win three years ago, they enter as the lowest ranked team at the Games.
They will target pool games against Barbados and Northern Ireland. A placing above 12th would be a bonus, but the giant-killing graduates from the World Youth Cup team may cause an upset.
Commonwealth Games team
Luisani Rokoura (c)
Coach: Vicki Wilson
Assistant Coaches: Unaisi Rakoura, Ruci Nasemira, Thomas Leonard, John Fitzgerald
Last five international results
Fiji lost to Malawi 46-78 (2018)
Fiji lost to New Zealand 27-88 (2018)
Fiji lost to Malawi 52-67 (2018)
Fiji lost to New Zealand 38-83 (2018)
Fiji lost to Northern Ireland 46-58 (2017)