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Euphoria as Australia grabs title
Linda Pearce – The Sunday Age

THE dominant team of the 1990s tonight won the last international of the century, Australia pipping New Zealand 42-41 in one of the great netball contests, to retain the world championship. Players who were supposedly too old, and vulnerable after so long at the top, proved themselves still capable of beating the next best there is.

The result was reminiscent of the great 1991 final Australia won 53-52 in Sydney against New Zealand. But the style was far different. The Australians trailed by six goals at three-quarter-time when captain Vicki Wilson was benched for the last quarter of her 99th and final Test and the cause looked all but lost.

But the new shooting combination of Jenny Borlase and Sharelle McMahon was better able to pierce the tight New Zealand defence, and a goal to McMahon with just seconds on the clock to capitalise on a rebound from gallant goal keeper Liz Ellis after Donna Loffhagen missed the sitter that might have sealed it for New Zealand, somehow pinched Australia’s third world title in a row.

We stole it,” said defender Kathryn Harby, perhaps Australia’s player of the tournament. If I was them I’d be absolutely shattered, and we’re the extreme contrast: totally elated and can’t believe it’s almost a repeat of ’91. I didn’t play in ’91, but if it feels like this it’s just total euphoria. It’s what you dream about.”

It was Australia’s eighth world title from the 10 played, although the 1979 title was shared with New Zealand and host nation Trinidad and Tobago. Their third victory was the last for both Wilson and her former deputy Carissa Tombs, who had announced their retirement earlier in the year. It may also see out the likes of Shelley O’Donnell and Jenny Borlase.

Australia has lost just three matches since reclaiming the world crown from New Zealand in 1991, but the last was a 12-goal defeat by New Zealand on this court in February. It was far tighter this time, but in front of a super-charged pro-Kiwi crowd of more than 7000, the visitors capitalised on some New Zealand shooting nerves when the going got tight. Somehow, they escaped with an unlikely triumph.

I don’t know how we did it,” said Ellis. When we were six down it was just a feeling that we had to do it. We’ve got people in our team who will never be here again and we just knew what it had to do it and it happened.”

The only sour note was the manner of Wilson’s departure, dragged for Borlase at the last change after shooting a miserable 15 goals at 57 per cent, including just one from six as Australia fell behind in the third quarter.

It’s all over, we won and that’s all that counts,” Wilson said later. Me personally, it’s probably the worst I ever played, but the team did really well. What a great way to go out, with a world championship win. it was just reminiscent of 91, one goal to seal it, a pressure shot and Sharelle came through.”

New Zealand’s strength has been its defence, marshalled by Bernice Mene and executed in zone style down the court. Australia struggled from the start to get clear at the centre passes and waged a constant battle to thread the ball into its shooters.

Yet its own defence of rookie wing defence Peta Squire and circle pair Harby and Ellis helped it stick level 13-13 at quarter-time and keep within two at the half. Loffhagen was the big threat under the New Zealand post, with goal attack Belinda Colling held to 11 goals at 55 per cent.