From Eastbourne to Cape Town – The History of the Netball World Cup

From Eastbourne to Cape Town – The History of the Netball World Cup

The early years of international netball weren’t very organised. And there was no standard set of rules, with quite marked differences between how the game was played in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. A successful Australian tour of the UK in 1956 was the catalyst for a series of discussions about this, and it led to the drawing up of the first standardised set of rules in 1960.

Then came the formation of the International Federation of Women’s Basketball and Netball Associations in 1961. They adopted these new rules and decided that a World Championship should be held every four years, beginning with the 1st World Tournament, in Eastbourne, England in August 1963.


If you want to delve deeper into World Cup history, check out our 12 page thread with, scores, stats, articles, photos, videos…



In the beginning, there was Joyce Brown and Lois Muir. It’s incredible to think that the two women who would later come to be regarded as netball royalty in Australia and New Zealand, were both right there in Eastbourne when major international netball took its first tentative steps.

Joyce Brown was captain of Australia and Lois Muir was vice-captain of New Zealand, and in what was a sign of things to come in the ensuing years, there was very little between the two sides. The Australian team prevailed by just one goal (37-36) when the two teams met in what was the decisive match of the fortnight, and they claimed the first ever world netball title. England finished third behind New Zealand.

After her playing days, Lois Muir went on to coach the Kiwis in four straight world tournaments from 1975 to 1987, winning titles in 1979 and 1987. She has been involved in the game at various levels for decades and has a reputation unmatched in New Zealand netball.

As for Joyce Brown, her record is simply astonishing. She holds a special place in world cup history, having been to one tournament as a player (1963) and three as coach (1975, 1983, 1991), winning the world title on each occasion, and never once tasting defeat in a match. She was part of 10 wins from 10 games as a player, and 29 wins and one draw from 30 matches as coach.



The 2nd World Tournament was won by the Kiwis, captained by Judy Blair and well coached by another New Zealand netball legend, Taini Jamison. They sealed victory with a 40-34 defeat of Australia on the final day. Surprisingly, it was actually South Africa that came closest to defeating New Zealand when they went down 41-39 on the first day.

The star of the show was goal attack Joan Harnett who was named player of the tournament. Considered to be netball’s first glamour girl, she was far from just a pretty face. Harnett’s silky skills in the shooting circle were such that when Netball New Zealand celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1999, she was voted their best player to that point. She was made captain when she competed in her third and final world tournament in Kingston, Jamaica.



Strangely, the 3rd World Tournament in 1971, actually began in late December 1970, with some matches being played on New Year’s Eve. Australia, led by Gaye Teede (who was Gaye Walsh at the time) and coached by Wilma Shakespear eventually went on to take out their second title with a 48-42 victory over New Zealand.

Also noteworthy was the performance of third placed England, who only went down to the Aussies by one and the Kiwis by two, giving people a taste of what they may do four years later. A notable absentee from the tournament was the South African team. They had finished third in 1967, but were now on the outer because of their government’s Apartheid policy. South Africa’s World Cup absence would last until 1995.



The 4th World Tournament in Auckland saw the introduction of another netball legend. Norma Plummer played centre for Australia, in what was to be her only tournament as a player, before having double success as Australian coach over 30 years later (2007, 2011) and then going on to coach South Africa. Cape Town will be her sixth World Cup.

The entire competition was a hard fought battle between Australia, New Zealand and England. The gutsy English team really threw a spanner in the works when they defeated the Kiwis for the very first time, 39-38. That meant Australia needed only to draw with the hosts on the final day to claim the title. Incredibly, that’s exactly what happened.

It was a classic trans-Tasman contest, full of all sorts of twists and turns, including Plummer taking a dramatic fall on the hard asphalt court. In the end, the two teams couldn’t be separated. 34-34 was the score.

In a crazy forerunner to the events of four years later, had New Zealand managed to score just one more goal and won that final match, there would have been three joint title winners – Australia, New Zealand and England. As it was, England finished second (their best world cup result) and New Zealand third (their equal worst).


Norma Plummer. Image: Skhu Nkomphela

Proteas’ coach Norma Plummer’s World Cup career began as a player in 1975. Image: Skhu Nkomphela



The 5th World Tournament was held in Port of Spain, and the home team was in with a real shot, having finished a creditable fourth in Auckland. Despite how incredibly close the competition came to a three-way tie in 1975, no change was made to the competition format here.

And so of course it happened. Australia, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago all finished the round robin tournament with exactly the same number of competition points, having shared the results when they played each other. With no provision in the rules for any way of separating teams, we were left with a rather embarrassing and unsatisfactory result; three joint tournament winners.

Trinidad and Tobago had the chance to win the competition outright by defeating New Zealand on the final day, but the Kiwis were too strong and won the game 33-27, much to the disappointment of local fans.

Nevertheless, Trinidad and Tobago still go down in the record book as winners, one of only three countries to ever win a netball world cup. It was a great way to go out as a player for their legendary shooter Jean Pierre, who played in all of the first five world tournaments and then went on to coach her country in the next two as well.

This was the last world cup for legendary Australian goal attack Marg Caldow, who captained the side here and also in 1975. She was a three time world cup winner as she was also a part of the 1963 side. Caldow is credited with pioneering the high release shooting style that is used by most shooters today.



The 6th World Tournament was held in Singapore, and after the events of 1979, there was a change to the competition format. Still no actual final though. Instead, there was a finals round featuring the top four teams, and Australia defeated New Zealand 47-42, Trinidad & Tobago 38-32 and England 54-41 to take the title, remaining unbeaten in nine matches over the whole fortnight.

New Zealand finished second and T & T third. Australian shooter Anne Sargeant played a big role in a team well led by captain Julie Francou. Sargeant has gone on to be one of the biggest figures in the game in Australia. After a highly successful playing career, she made a name for herself in media and is now an Australian selector.



The 7th World Tournament in Glasgow was something of a nightmare for the Australian team. They were beset with injuries both before and during the event, including one to captain Anne Sargeant, playing in her last world cup. But even at full strength, it’s doubtful they could have beaten what was a dominant New Zealand team. No opposition got within 10 goals of the Kiwis for the entire competition.

In the finals round, they defeated Australia 39-28, England 47-37 and Trinidad & Tobago 49-37. Their lineup, led by captain Leigh Gibbs and coached by Lois Muir, included some players who are regarded as amongst the best of all time.

There was Wai Taumaunu and Tracey Fear in defence, shooter Margaret Matenga, and midcourters Rita Fatialofa and Sandra Edge (or Sandra Mallett as she was known then). Edge gained a reputation as the best centre in world netball and her combination with Fatialofa was something special.



1991 in Sydney was the time and place when the whole perception of netball seemingly changed for the better. The competition went from being a quaint, amateur style event to something far more professional and popular. For a start, the name was changed and so this was now known as the 8th World Championships.

The event also moved indoors on a wooden floor for the first time, after 28 years of playing outside on asphalt and in all sorts of weather. And finally… a final. Incredible to think it took this long to introduce a final (and semi finals) to the world’s premier netball event, but that’s the case. And what a final it was. It was a match for the ages and a real turning point for the sport.

A then world record crowd of over 10,000 turned up to watch the final between Australia and New Zealand. The game was also shown live on television, a first in Australia. The Silver Ferns held a slight advantage for much of the game, and in fact led by one goal at every change.

The last quarter was gripping. Thanks to some nerveless shooting from Vicki Wilson, Australia grabbed the lead late in the game. New Zealand captain Wai Taumaunu, playing in her third and last world cup, then intercepted brilliantly and sent the ball toward the Kiwi shooting circle, only for Roselee Jencke to take an intercept of her own and seal the game for Australia 53-52.

It was an exciting climax to a ground breaking tournament which raised the profile of netball in Australia, especially with Australia’s sports loving Prime Minister Bob Hawke in attendance. And it was another triumph for coach Joyce Brown who ended her world cup career undefeated.

Jamaica also played very well during the tournament and beat England 63-54 to finish third. One of their players, Janet Johnson, along with Northern Ireland’s Elizabeth Rodgers, played in their fifth and final World Cup.


1995 was the first time the winning team was presented with a trophy. Image: Danny Dalton



In 1995, the 9th World Championships headed to Birmingham, and we witnessed a huge upset early on. Back from over two decades in the sporting wilderness, the South African team caused a real boil over when they toppled New Zealand in their group game. The Kiwis simply had no answer to young South African goal shooter Irene van Dyk.

After a blistering third quarter, the Proteas led by six goals. The Silver Ferns fought back in the last period, but a crucial late error in attack allowed South Africa to clinch an amazing win, 59-57. The stunning result had a huge impact on the tournament, as it meant Australia and New Zealand would meet far earlier than expected, and due to a strange competition format, only one of them could make the final.

As it turned out, it was yet another trans-Tasman classic. After a tense battle, Australia just got over the line 45-44 and advanced to the final against South Africa. Sadly though, Vicki Wilson suffered a serious knee injury during the game and she had to miss the final.

Jennifer Borlase did a splendid job as Wilson’s replacement, while Australian goal keeper Liz Ellis in her first world cup, was tremendous in her battle with van Dyk, the first of many meetings the pair would have in major tournaments. The Australian defence of Ellis, Michelle Fielke (den Dekker) and Simone McKinnis was relentless.

Believe it or not, this was actually the first time a trophy was presented to the winning team, and it was Australian captain Fielke who held it up gleefully after Australia won the final 68-48. Meanwhile, the New Zealand team was relegated to the third place playoff where they defeated England easily.

This was the biggest of all world cups with 27 nations competing, including for the first time Malawi, and fans got their first glimpse of the magical skills of Malawian shooter Mary Waya. Meanwhile, two more netball legends bowed out of World Cups in Birmingham; Kendra Slawinski of England having been to four tournaments, and Jennifer Frank of Trinidad & Tobago who tied the record with five.



The 10th World Championships were held in Christchurch, and after the shock of Birmingham, normal service was resumed as New Zealand met Australia in the final. But this was only after the Kiwis survived a giant struggle with Jamaica in the semi-final, eventually winning 55-53.

The decider was set to be the last game for two Australian champions, captain Vicki Wilson and Carissa Tombs (Dalwood). But the Kiwis dominated the first three quarters, and led 34-28. Wilson (15/26) was having a nightmare game, and that’s when coach Jill McIntosh made the decision to bench her.

Once again, Jennifer Borlase was her replacement. She entered the game for the last quarter, joining youngster Sharelle McMahon who had come on during the third. The new combination worked well and it wasn’t long before the six goal margin had disappeared.

The match then developed into an intense goal for goal battle. With time running out, New Zealand goal shooter Donna Loffhagen, who had in fact been the most reliable shooter on court to that point, inexplicably missed a close range penalty shot that would have put the Kiwis in front.

The ball was rebounded by Liz Ellis who sent it down court. After a passage of passes, and a mad scramble for the ball on the floor, Shelley O’Donnell got the ball to McMahon, who sank the winning goal with not a single second to spare. Cue incredible scenes of jubilation from Australian players and total devastation for the New Zealanders. They couldn’t believe it.

During the 1990s, the Silver Ferns had lost to Australia three times in World Cups and the margin on each occasion was one solitary goal. How different things could have been. They must surely have been wondering if they would ever claim the big prize again.



In 2002, Australia won a dramatic Commonwealth Games gold medal in sudden death extra time, another dagger to the heart of Kiwi players and fans. So come 2003 and the 11th World Championships, there was almost a feeling of desperation among New Zealand fans. Surely this had to be the year that they finally added to their three world titles.

One of the key members of the team was none other than Irene van Dyk. The player who had tormented New Zealand eight years earlier as a member of the South African team, was now a Silver Fern, as was another former Protea, Leana du Plooy and a former Fijian, Vilimaina Davu.

During the tournament, Jamaica and England were both competitive, but it was no surprise to anyone when Australia and New Zealand found their way to the decider again. New Zealand, led by Anna Rowberry and coached by Ruth Aitken, held the upper hand for much of the contest, leading at every break.

Despite the best efforts of Liz Ellis, van Dyk dominated the shooting circle and centre Temepara Clark was in everything. Literally. She was dramatically sent from the court for a short time in the last quarter, which allowed Australia to equalise.

But thanks to some great defence, the Kiwis regained the lead and were able to hold on to claim a deserved win 49-47 in front of a very loud pro-New Zealand crowd. It was delight at last for the Silver Ferns who had missed out narrowly to the Australians on so many occasions.

As had happened four years earlier, the Australian captain, in this case Kath Harby-Williams, spent the last quarter of her career on the bench. Meanwhile, Jill McIntosh ended her Australian coaching career with the incredible record of two world cup wins, two commonwealth games titles, and 88 wins from 94 tests.

Jamaica defeated England 46-40 in the playoff for third and one of their players, Connie Francis, bowed out having played in a record equalling fifth World Cup. Meanwhile, for two of England’s players, Geva Mentor and Jade Clarke, this was their first.


Geva Mentor is about to play in her 6th World Cup. 2003 was her first. Image: Danny Dalton



The 12th World Championships headed to Auckland. New Zealand had taken up the slack to host the tournament after it was taken away from original hosts Fiji due to political turmoil. And Auckland did a great job at short notice. For the first time, the number of competing countries was capped at 16, with qualifying events held around the world.

One of the big highlights was the performance of Malawi. They had come to prominence at the 2006 commonwealth games with their exuberant celebration after beating South Africa, and here they climbed to fifth in the world after defeating the Proteas once again, thanks in no small part to the ageless Mary Waya.

The playoff for third was also a classic game. Jamaica dominated most of the match until an extraordinary late fightback from England that ultimately came up just short, Jamaica winning 53-52.

The final was a strange game. Australia was seemingly in control for most of the match, but misfiring shooters kept the Kiwis in the hunt. Australia led New Zealand 27-20 at half time, with sisters Nat and Laura von Bertouch in hot form in the midcourt.

The Australian shooting circle was a bit chaotic in the second half, up against a strong New Zealand defence led by Casey Williams. They scored just eight goals in the third quarter as the Silver Ferns narrowed the gap to three. Then came an extraordinary last quarter.

Australia managed just seven goals, but somehow that was enough as New Zealand only scored six. In what would be her last match, champion goal keeper Liz Ellis turned in a superhuman effort to continually deny Irene van Dyk and the Silver Ferns’ attack. The final score was 42-38 and Ellis, in tears, bowed out a winner with an amazing tally of 3 world and 2 commonwealth titles to her name.

It was also a great victory for Norma Plummer who had guided the Australian team through one of the toughest patches in its history and now had them back on top.



For the 13th World Championships, netball headed back to Singapore for a second time and it was another memorable tournament. In the playoff for fifth, South Africa and Malawi had another great battle, with the Proteas coming out on top this time 52-50. Then England totally dominated the Jamaicans 70-49 to claim third place.

But the main attraction was the final and it was another classic. Australia had lost their captain Sharelle McMahon to injury earlier in the year. Centre Nat von Bertouch took over the captaincy, and she had another great duel here with Kiwi rival Laura Langman. New Zealand started strongly and led 26-20 at half time. Irene van Dyk was on top, and at the other end, the Australians were struggling in attack.

This led Norma Plummer to make changes to the Diamonds, bringing goal shooter Caitlin Bassett and goal keeper Laura Geitz into the game. The changes produced immediate results with the margin reduced to just one at three-quarter time.

With time running out in the fourth quarter, the Ferns looked headed for victory. They were up by one and had possession. But a steal by player of the match Nat Medhurst saw Australia draw level.

And so we were off to extra time. Less than a year after the unbelievable commonwealth games final in Delhi, here we were again. At this stage, it seemed almost impossible to separate these two teams.

In extra time, the play ebbed and flowed until finally it came to Maria Tutaia who had the chance to shoot the winning goal. But her shot rimmed out. Geitz was there to pick up the scraps and send the ball down court. The ball found its way to Bassett at the other end, who calmly shot the winning goal in the final seconds, prompting another huge celebration from the Diamonds.

It was another incredible finish, and the two players that Plummer had brought on at half time, had played a big hand. Although she didn’t know it at the time, this would be the legendary shooter van Dyk’s fifth and last World Cup, having played in two with South Africa and three with New Zealand.



Back to Sydney 24 years after the successful 1991 event, and there was another step forward for netball with the re-branding of the tournament, so this was now the 14th Netball World Cup. And it was another success. The world record for a netball crowd was broken three times. 16,752 attended the final and that now stands as the record.

There was a change in format for this event, aimed at getting closer, higher quality matches in the group stages. Unfortunately, there was a lack of fairness though as teams ranked just outside the top eight, were given little or no chance of breaking into that top eight.

One of the major reasons for the change in format was to take advantage of the enormous popularity of clashes between Australia and New Zealand and to have them meeting early in the tournament.

When they did clash on just the third day, it was the Kiwis who came out on top, with an impressive five goal win. This win no doubt gave them confidence, but it also allowed the Diamonds to look at improvements, should they meet again in the final.

And meet again they did. There were close, intense battles throughout the whole tournament, but ultimately, we were left with another trans-Tasman final. In the semis, New Zealand defeated England by 11 goals, and then Australia beat Jamaica by exactly the same margin.

The final was almost decided in the first quarter. A dominant opening from Australian captain Laura Geitz at goal keeper and Julie Corletto in goal defence, shut the Silver Ferns shooters out of the game and the Diamonds led by nine at quarter time.

New Zealand narrowed the gap in each of the last three quarters, but the damage had been done. The Aussies held on in a tense final 15 minutes to win 58-55 and claim their 11th title.

Caitlin Bassett shot 48/51, the most goals by anyone in a world cup final, and she was ably supported by the terrific work of Nat Medhurst at goal attack. Medhurst and Corletto both won their third straight world title, and later it was revealed that Corletto had in fact played the majority of the game with a fracture in her foot.

In the playoff for third, England easily accounted for Jamaica 66-44, while South Africa once again got the better of close rivals Malawi 48-46 in the battle for fifth. Despite that result, Malawi’s Mwai Kumwenda was named player of the tournament.

This was the fifth and last World Cup for Sonia Mkoloma of England and Leana de Bruin of New Zealand, both equalling the record. Rhonda John-Davis of Trinidad and Tobago also played in her fifth event, but continued to play on, meaning she would break the record by going for number six in Liverpool.



In 2019, we were off to Liverpool. It was 24 years since the Birmingham world championships, the last time that netball’s main event was held in England. There was great excitement from local fans, because unlike 1995, England was considered a strong winning chance here. Crowds were great each day, and the overall tournament crowd record was broken.

World netball was now so competitive, there appeared to be five possible winning chances going into the tournament. Unfortunately, three of them (England, South Africa and Jamaica) were all on one side of the draw and that meant that one of those three had to miss out on the semis. And that team was Jamaica, after the South Africans defeated them 55-52 in a pulsating group game.

Both semi-finals were classic affairs. The South Africans came up against Australia and gave them a huge fright. The Australians got out to a good lead and looked in control but the determined Proteas wouldn’t go away and a nervous Diamonds team clung on desperately to win by just two goals.

Then it was the Roses against the Silver Ferns. In a seesawing match, first one team held sway, then the other. The kiwis gained the upper hand in the third quarter through the incredible shooting of goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and although a spirited England team threatened to come back, New Zealand held on strong to win by the same margin; two goals.

So here we were again. For all the talk about how the rest of the world was catching up (and they were), the final was once again Australia v New Zealand, as it had been at every world cup since that 1995 event in Birmingham. And this final was another great trans-Tasman classic.

Earlier in the tournament, Australia had beaten New Zealand by a solitary goal in the group stages, but the kiwis would have gained great confidence from that match, having fought back from a deficit of eight goals. In the final, it was New Zealand which got on top in a high scoring second quarter and they led by four going into the last 15 minutes.

Once again, it was Ameliaranne Ekenasio who was the star for the Silver Ferns. Under enormous pressure, she held her nerve throughout and landed some amazing goals to continually keep the Australians at bay. The Diamonds came home hard in the last quarter, but the kiwis held on.

The Silver Ferns’ greater experience counted for plenty as they protected their one goal lead and played out time to record a tremendous 52-51 victory. Playing a big part in the win were New Zealand netball greats Casey Kopua, Maria Folau and captain Laura Langman. This was their World Cup swan song.

The resurrection of the Ferns was now complete. Noeline Taurua had achieved what was almost unthinkable. In the job less than 12 months, she had successfully turned the team right around from their disastrous showing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In the playoff for third, England accounted for South Africa quite comfortably 58-42. But fourth place was still a great achievement for the Proteas and Karla Pretorius was rewarded with the title of Player of the Tournament. Meanwhile, a disappointed Jamaican team had to make do with fifth place, beating Malawi 68-50.

2019 will be remembered as a celebration of African netball, with all four nations finishing in the top eight. Joining South Africa (fourth), Malawi (sixth) and Uganda (seventh) were first timers Zimbabwe (eighth). The excitement and fanatical crowd support that followed the Gems whenever they played will be remembered for years to come.

This was the fifth World Cup for Jade Clarke and Geva Mentor of England, and Latonia Blackman of Barbados, all equalling the old record. But the phenomenal Rhonda John-Davis of Trinidad and Tobago, broke that record by playing in her sixth tournament, an incredible achievement. Mentor, Clarke and Blackman will now equal the record again in Cape Town.


Karla Pretorius receiving Player of the Tournament award at the 2019 Netball World Cup. Image: May Bailey

Karla Pretorius receiving her Player of the Tournament award at the 2019 Netball World Cup. Image: May Bailey


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