Cover photos: May Bailey, Ashley Vlotman (Gallo Images), Shaun Sharp, Danny Dalton
International netball is back. At this time of year, we normally prepare for the Netball Quad Series. On this occasion, however, South Africa is unavailable to take part, so we welcome their African rivals, the Uganda She Cranes, for the Vitality Netball Nations Cup.
The tournament will be held over the next two weekends, starting with the first two rounds at Wembley Arena in London on January 20 & 21, then moving to First Direct Arena in Leeds for the third round and finals on January 27 & 28.
Viewers in the United Kingdom can watch through Sky Sports and their YouTube channel, in New Zealand the series will be on Sky Sport, and in Australia, fans can watch on Fox Sports & Kayo. People elsewhere, including those in Uganda, can watch through Netball Pass.
You can follow live scoring and stats thanks to Champion Data here.
One of the really interesting things to watch for in this tournament will be the new rules of netball which came into effect on January 1. This will be the first time that most people will have a chance to see them in action. And these are the people whose job it will be to enforce the new rules.
These are the competing teams at the Netball Nations Cup along with their current world rankings.
Australian Diamonds (1), New Zealand Silver Ferns (2), England Roses (3), Uganda She Cranes (7)
It looks like business as usual for the Australian Diamonds as they try to continue on their winning ways. Under the captaincy of Liz Watson and the coaching of Stacey Marinkovich, Australia has lost just three tests in each of the past 2 years while claiming every title that was available to them.
The selectors have resisted any temptation to make changes, basically just adding Donnell Wallam to boost the shooting stocks. There are just so many options in this squad, but despite their stability and overall strength, the Diamonds won’t be taking their opposition lightly. England and New Zealand are both likely to provide a strong challenge, while their other opponents offer an element of surprise.
It seems hard to believe, but Australia will play Uganda for the very first time in a test match in this series. Although Uganda has been to the last three World Cups and the past two Commonwealth Games, incredibly, the two countries have always been on opposite sides of the draw and never met each other!
The Diamonds will go in as favourites to win the tournament, but it won’t be easy.
There has certainly been a lot of discussion surrounding the naming of the Silver Ferns team for the Netball Nations Cup. Phoenix Karaka will lead a strong team, but one that has some question marks over it. In a surprise to many, only 11 players have been chosen, and only three shooters.
Goal shooter Grace Nweke is the star of the show and she is a genuine matchwinner, proving to be impossible to stop at times. But she has just two other shooters in support and neither has a great deal of experience. There’s only one specialist goal attack in Amorangi Malesala, so a lot will rest on her shoulders.
Despite this, the Ferns will definitely be buoyed by their most recent form. They defeated Australia in the last two tests of the Constellation Cup series when Nweke returned to full fitness following her injury at the World Cup.
It’s a challenge for sure, but it would be a mistake to rule out Noeline Taurua formulating a winning plan for this series.
The home nation has an excellent chance of victory in this series as they are no doubt building to something special in the coming years. In Cape Town last year, England defeated both Australia and New Zealand at a World Cup for the first time, eventually coming away with the silver medal.
Jess Thirlby is in charge of a strong squad of 14 here with depth all over the court. The shooting circle in particular, just gets stronger and stronger, with the combination of Eleanor Cardwell, Helen Housby, Sasha Glasgow, and Berri Neil providing numerous options, while Liv Tchine can’t even make the final squad.
There will be a battle for positions elsewhere on the court too with defender Fran Williams and midcourter Imogen Allison perhaps the only certain starters going on recent form. The status of defender Williams is on the rise all the time, as she has now taken over the Roses captaincy after a tremendous 2023.
In what is a tough competition, you should expect a strong showing from the Roses in the next two weeks.
It will be of great interest to see how Uganda fares in this series against the top three ranked nations, including Australia for the first time in a test. Once again last year, they surprised many at the World Cup, by beating South Africa and finishing fifth, therefore backing up the result they achieved at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
They have just completed a test series against Wales where they won 2-1. They lost the first test very shortly after arriving in the UK but then came back to win the next two tests when they were better acclimatised.
Voted Player of the Series against Wales, Mary Cholhok is the big name spearhead that takes a lot of the focus, but this is a strong all round team now. One to watch is Margret Baagala, a dominant force in the midcourt. It’s great to see Ugandan legend Proscovia Peace working as assistant coach to Fred Mugerwa on this tour.
It will certainly be a challenge for the She Cranes to get wins, but they shouldn’t be underestimated.
AEDT: Add 11hrs
NZ: Add 13hrs
UGA: Add 3hrs