World ranking: 3rd
Previous Commonwealth Games results: 1998 (Bronze), 2002 (4th), 2006 (Bronze), 2010 (Bronze), 2014 (4th)
Commonwealth Games win/loss record: 23 wins, 12 losses.
England have arrived on the Gold Coast brimming with confidence and laden with expectation. There is commanding experience across the court, with the legendary Geva Mentor back for her fifth Commonwealth Games, most-capped player Jade Clarke her fourth, with captain Ama Agbeze, Jo Harten, Eboni Beckford-Chambers and coach Tracey Neville all returning for their third.
Neville played in 1998 and 2002, the latter being the debut Games for Mentor. For some players this could be a glorious swan song, especially Agbeze at 35 years of age, Mentor 33 and Clarke 34.
England’s three bronze medals have come at the expense of Jamaica (twice) and South Africa and they were always won far away, with non-podium finishes close to home in Glasgow and Manchester.
They have never beaten Australia or New Zealand at a World Cup or Commonwealth Games, but given the starring roles many of their squad now play in southern hemisphere domestic leagues, they are considered almost on par with the world top two.
Five athletes are currently playing in Australia and three more have done so in the past, so there will be a high level of comfort with the local climate, routines and facilities. They also have knowledge of key individual opponents and the styles of both the host and New Zealand.
For the last four years the weakest link in the England line has been in delivering the ball to their shooters, with several marquee midcourters having been tried at wing attack.
A solution came in the form of Chelsea Pitman. Pitman played 15 tests for Australia, including winning gold at the Singapore World Cup in 2011. She moved between three different Australasian franchises, tried her hand at boxing before being recruited by Manchester Thunder and qualifies for England selection through her father. She is a tall, strong athlete who can mix up her tactics, easily finds the circle edge, exercises patience and weights passes beautifully.
Despite her key role, Pitman will not necessarily be the star of the show. England now have specialists and match-winners available in every position. In particular Geva Mentor, captain of Suncorp Super Netball champions Sunshine Coast Lightning, who was named the league MVP in the inaugural year.
Serena Guthrie makes her case as one of the best midcourters in the world – a gritty dynamo in the middle for the Giants.
They have true options in the shooting circle, with Kadeen Corbin, Helen Housby and veteran Harten able to play both positions. All three are calmer and more hardened by their time in overseas competitions. It might be that with Pitman feeding, Harten will play a lesser role as a general in attack and focus more on shooting.
Eboni Beckford-Chambers can enter the defensive circle with a very intimidating presence and young Beth Cobden might have supplanted Clarke as the favoured wing defence, with her timing and long reach providing excellent tips and blocking of vision.
Nat Haythornthwaite and Jodie Gibson are unlikely to be seen in any of the major matches. In fact, the selection of Gibson over the more-experienced Stacey Francis is interesting. Gibson has had less than two years in the senior side, but at 27 years old would not have been chosen merely as a youthful player of the future. Francis, at 30, has over 50 test caps, plus awards including national league Player of the Year on two occasions and had a strong season last year at West Coast Fever.
Coach Tracey Neville has grown in experience, judgement and knowledge of her athletes since her appointment in March 2015.
The recent international season has been encouraging for England, with their highest-ever placing in the Quad Series in January. New Zealand are their main competition in Pool B and in their past five meetings it is the Roses that have held the upper hand having won three – one in overtime in London earlier this year.
At this stage it seems to almost be a flip of a coin as to who will come out on top in the Pool. No matter the outcome of that stoush, the Roses will likely have a tough, but winnable, encounter with Australia or Jamaica in a semi-final.
World number six Malawi will also be a challenge, but the recent test series win over them last November were where a majority of England’s most-experienced were not in the squad.
Of momentary concern are the losses of more than 20 goals to Australian domestic sides Giants and NSW Swifts in pre-season matches. Given these fixtures were played in 35 degree heat and without key shooters, this may be just a glitch that merely needs maturity and self-reflection, without considering it a form slump.
In 2018 it appears that England indeed have the edge to finally cut through to the gold medal match.
Commonwealth Games team
Ama Agbeze (c) GD/WD/GK
Eboni Beckford-Chambers GK/GD
Jade Clarke C/WD/WA
Beth Cobden WD/C
Kadeen Corbin GS/GA
Jodie Gibson GD/GK/WD
Serena Guthrie WD/C/WA
Jo Harten GS/GA
Natalie Haythornthwaite WA/GA
Helen Housby GA/GS
Geva Mentor GK
Chelsea Pitman WA/C/GA
Coach: Tracey Neville
Past five international results
England def New Zealand 64-57 (2018)
England lost to Australia 46-50 (2018)
England def South Africa 52-47 (2018)
England def Malawi 66-60 (2017)
England def Malawi 61-53 (2017)