Cover Image: May Bailey
**Teams correct at the time of publishing. Where sources have spelled names differently, the most common usage has been included.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first Netball World Cup, or “World Netball Tournament”, as it was then known.
In August 1963, Australia won an 11-team round-robin event held in Eastbourne, England.
International netball has come a long way since, with the 16th edition of the event being held in Cape Town, South Africa. This is the first time the event has been held on the continent – appropriate given the rise of netball in Africa across the last eight years or so.
It also means that the World Cup will have been held at least once in each of the five World Netball regions. Previous host countries have been Australia, England and New Zealand (three times each), Jamaica and Singapore (twice each), Scotland and Trinidad & Tobago.
Again, sixteen nations will battle it out for the title, across four initial pools. To date, only three nations have tasted the ultimate success. Australia have won the tournament on 11 occasions, New Zealand five times, and Trinidad & Tobago once in a three-way tie in 1979.
This year’s event promises to be the strongest and most even World Cup yet.
The overall depth of international netball is increasing all the time. Jamaica, England, and hosts South Africa are all considered chances of winning their first crown. Uganda and Malawi are also set to make their presence felt, and then there is the emergence of an exciting Tonga Tala. They will be just one of several great stories to come out of the 2023 Netball World Cup.
On the athlete side, history will be made when England’s Geva Mentor and Jade Clarke, and Latonia Blackman of Barbados, all play in their sixth World Cup, equalling the record held by Rhonda John-Davis of Trinidad & Tobago.
Liz Watson (C)
World Ranking: 1st
World Cup appearances: 15
Medals: 15 (Gold: 11, Silver: 4)
Finish at 2019 NWC: 2nd
The most successful nation in Netball World Cup history, Australia will be aiming for a 12th title, after finishing with silver in Liverpool four years ago. They come into the event as Commonwealth Games champions, after winning gold in Birmingham last August.
Australia has a proud World Cup history, with second place their worst finish. Since the introduction of finals in 1991, they have never failed to reach the Gold Medal Final.
The X Factors
When your team is full of superstars like the Diamonds, it is perhaps the team dynamic that plays a greater role in their success than individual performances. The intense hunger to win, and add the World Cup trophy back into their cabinet after their devastating one-goal loss to New Zealand in 2019 is bound to galvanise the team.
Combine this with athletes like Jamie-Lee Price and Sophie Garbin who have fought their way into the side off the back of phenomenal recent international performances and Stacey Marinkovich has all the ingredients needed for success.
Ash Brazill has already announced that she will retire from all forms of netball at the end of the year. An athlete who will take a game head on, and do almost anything to drag the team over the line, Brazill is a proven performer in big matches, so expect the fierceness and determination we’ve come to expect across her career, and to be a significant factor in how Australia perform at the pointy end of the tournament.
Australia’s bookends are in fine form, with Courtney Bruce a particular standout in recent Super Netball matches, but Australia’s midcourt may set it apart. The engine room is fit, fierce and ready to go.
The Australian athletes have little time together in camp before jetting off to South Africa. The Super Netball Grand Final was played on July 8, a mere 20 days prior to the World Cup starting. And while Marinkovich has been relatively conservative in selections, relying on pre-existing combinations, the short turn-around doesn’t give athletes much time to rest and reset – especially given seven of the twelve were contesting finals.
Adding to the stress of minimal time together is the background noise relating to the Collective Player Agreement for Super Netball. With all athletes done and dusted with club responsibilities for the year, in an ideal universe they could turn their focus fully to international duties. However, with the eighth Super Netball licensee yet to be announced, and therefore contracting unable to officially begin, the uncertainty around their future may wreak havoc on their mindset.
Australia are without Gretel Bueta, and while they have beaten England and New Zealand on multiple occasions without her in the last year, Jamaica will be a huge challenge. Bueta’s performance, when moved to the usual position of goal attack, was pivotal when they defeated the Sunshine Girls to claim gold at the Commonwealth Games. Cara Koenen was also phenomenal in this match, and her combination with Steph Wood will be vital if the Diamonds are to claim victory once more.
Their two most recent battles with the Jamaican defenders in Super Netball are in stark contrast, leaving question marks over their ability to perform well consistently against the world’s best defenders.
Will Marinkovich regret not having the chance to inject a dynamic, yet relatively unknown, Donnell Wallam into the fold if needed in close matches?
Hulita Veve (C)
World Ranking: 7th
World Cup appearances: 1
Finish at 2019 NWC: DNQ
Tonga will compete in the main draw at a Netball World Cup for the first time. At the 1999 World Championships in Christchurch, they missed out on a chance to compete in the top 16, after losing to Northern Ireland in a preliminary knockout match.
Their rebirth in recent years is a tremendous story, with the team coming from obscurity to a top-10 World Ranking, thanks to some impressive results across the last two years, most notably at the PacificAus Netball Series held in Australia, and the Oceania Regional Qualifiers.
The X Factors
It’s hard to go past captain Hulita Veve, who was named MVP at the most recent PacificAus Series, where Tonga claimed a third consecutive title. Veve is an experienced athlete who has been both a training partner and contracted athlete with the Queensland Firebirds in Super Netball. For a few years now, Veve has been admired as an athlete with incredible talent.
A training partner with the NSW Swifts, Kalea Iongi is a young up and coming talent who has had exposure against the worlds best in Jamaica’s Jhaniele Fowler. Whilst not the tallest of circle defenders, her attributes include a great vertical jump, and reading the play to take flying intercepts. With the potential to line up with former Australian Diamond, and aunt, Mo’onia Gerrard, Iongi is sure to impress.
Two legends of the game, with plenty of international experience, Cathrine Tuivaiti and Mo’onia Gerrard, will help guide this team through their first major tournament. Gerrard is known as one of Australia’s toughest defenders to come up against, while Tuivaiti has previously represented Samoa and New Zealand, known for her shooting accuracy and flare. Both athletes will bring invaluable leadership to the group.
Tonga don’t have a lot of major event experience to draw on, but have spent considerable time together across the last 18 months. For most in the team, this will be their first world event, but this is where the experience of Tuivaiti and Gerrard will be so important.
However, confidence is also key. The kind of confidence that has taken Tala through the last three PacificAus Series undefeated – claiming a total of 18 wins in a row.
Nicole Ayanda Muzanenhamo
Takadanaishe Assah S Zimusi
World Ranking: 13th
World Cup appearances: 1
Finish at 2019 NWC: 8th
The last five years have been significant for the African nation. The Gems shocked many by finishing second behind Uganda at the 2018 African Regional Qualifiers, and earning a spot in the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool.
At that event they placed second in Group A behind Australia, thanks to a thrilling 51-49 win over Northern Ireland. They eventually finished in eighth place following a 58-47 loss to Uganda in the playoff. Last year, Zimbabwe made it through the African Regional Qualifiers once again, to seal a spot for Cape Town.
The X Factors
At their maiden Netball World Cup in Liverpool, the Gems had a passionate fan base who rallied behind them for the entire tournament. Expect a similar level of support to appear in Cape Town, possibly even more so given this tournament is much closer to home.
As Zimbabwe are not currently a member of the Commonwealth, and didn’t compete in Birmingham, there will still be an element of surprise about the Gems and their style of play to some countries, especially those outside Africa.
Felistas Kwangwa has spent the last three years in the UK Super League with Surrey Storm, and that sort of experience will prove vital for the team. Tafadzwa Matura is one to watch, a shooting star of Zimbabwe’s run at the World Cup qualifiers last year.
Having finished second in Group A in Liverpool, Zimbabwe will face a tougher challenge this time around, having to come up against an in-form Tonga. The two nations haven’t played each other before, and if the Gems are aiming for a result similar to four years ago, they will need to topple Tala along the way.
Sharon Bwanali and Joice Takaidza are two important athletes in the goal circle. Both have had knee problems in recent years, but their form will be vital across the tournament. Against Namibia at the African Regional Qualifiers last year, both left the game with injury, which left the team vulnerable.
Adi Vakaoca Bolakoro
Maria Lutua Rusivakula
Ro Kalesi Tawake
World Ranking: 19th
World Cup appearances: 9
Finish at 2019 NWC: 14th
A regular attendee at the World Cup, Fiji are heading for their 10th appearance. Their best-finish was sixth place at the 1999 event in Christchurch, with legend Vilimaina Davu in the midst.
Since then, their standing has suffered a gradual drop-off and their World Ranking has fallen. But there has been somewhat of a resurgence recently. This culminated in finishing second at the Oceania World Cup qualifiers behind Tonga, and then repeating that result at the most recent PacificAus Series.
The X Factors
Maria Lutua Rusivakula will take to the court in her third World Cup. After debuting for Fiji in 2009, in the inaugural season of Super Netball in 2017 she became Sunshine Coast Lightning’s 11th foundation athlete. Having amassed over 70 Tests, Lutua Rusivakula brings valuable knowledge to the team.
Defender Kelera Nawai-Caucau has performed consistently in the New Zealand competition over the last three seasons, representing Central Pulse, Tactix and Northern Stars – this year, part of a Stars team which finished runners up. Adi Vakaoca Bolakoro also has elite level matches under her belt, playing for both Celtic Dragons and Severn Stars in the UK Super League. These two should form a solid combination in defence.
This is a tough Pool for Fiji to conquer. It doesn’t get much tougher than playing the world number one Australia, but their other initial two matches will also be a big challenge.
First up, they take on Tonga. In April, Fiji lost twice to Tonga at the PacificAus Series, including a 68-52 defeat in the final. Then there is Zimbabwe, the team that surprised almost everyone, by finishing eighth in Liverpool.
Fiji will have to be at their absolute best to take a win from their initial Pool matches and avoid being relegated to a bottom-four finish.
Nat Metcalf (C)
World Ranking: 3rd
World Cup appearances: 15
Medals: 7 (Silver: 1, Bronze: 6)
Finish at 2019 NWC: 3rd
Appearing at every World Cup, England have constantly been a top-four team. With a best result of second in 1975 in Auckland, they’ve finished in the top three seven times, and fourth on the other eight occasions.
Since the introduction of finals in 1991, England are yet to make it to the last match, but came very close four years ago, going down by two goals to the eventual champions, New Zealand.
The X Factors
England have a well-balanced squad that combines flair and experience, with most versatile enough to play two or more positions. Eight of the squad play, or have played, in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning they will be a known quantity to the Australians and New Zealanders.
The remaining four athletes – Imogen Allison, Funmi Fadoju, Olivia Tchine and Fran Williams – have had international exposure across the last cycle. Williams also had a standout season for Loughborough Lightning, and will be riding high on winning the Super League title.
The perennial Geva Mentor and Jade Clarke seem to have peaked at exactly the right time of year, both hitting form towards the end of the season. And with Mentor announcing her international retirement, who is to bet against her pulling something special out of the bag for her swansong?
Helen Housby and Eleanor Cardwell have both been inspirational in this year’s Super Netball, and their combination and willingness to go to post from distance will unsettle defenders.
In the thrilling Funmi Fadoju, England has a world-beater who is still developing her skills. How she combines with Mentor and intercept machine Layla Guscoth will be key to England’s success.
England have also played more test matches than most nations, including a recent tournament style camp against the England As, and the England and Jamaican Men’s teams, so have had plenty of opportunities to gel.
After that Commonwealth Games win on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, hopes among England supporters were high that the Roses would continue on the path to the World No. 1 spot. But a disappointing run of results has slowed their rise, and after failing to medal at Birmingham 2022, they will need to regain their mojo – and fast.
With athletes spread across both hemispheres, opportunities to build combinations are challenging, and the Roses’ recent fortunes have been marred by a lack of consistency and inability to claim an advantage. Slim margins have decided matches between the top five recently, so England will need to maintain mental focus to push home the momentum they create.
Taking only three shooters to a World Championships is a risk by coach Jess Thirlby. Load management will be key to keep the frontline fresh, while the loss of the inspirational Jo Harten following her international retirement will put more pressure on captain Nat Metcalf, as an interchange goal attack. Metcalf will share her role at wing attack with Chelsea Pitman, but with the skipper needed on court, it’s hard to imagine she will get much rest.
And as Birmingham showed, however fit an athlete is, players need to be rotated. By the end of the tournament, Metcalf was tiring badly. England’s management of their starting athletes, and tactical decision-making will be key to their success come the latter stages of the competition.
World Ranking: 6th
World Cup appearances: 6
Finish at 2019 NWC: 6th
Malawi has been a consistent top-six performer since their breakthrough performance at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. At the World Cup in Auckland the following year, they finished fifth. To date, that has been their best performance.
Since then, they have finished sixth in each subsequent World Cup. Despite this, they had to qualify for this event as Uganda briefly overtook them in the World Rankings. They did so last year at the African Regional Qualifiers.
The X Factors
One of the biggest X-factors the Malawi Queens can boast about at this year’s World Cup is the long standing relationship between stars Mwai Kumwenda and agile midcourter Takondwa Lwazi.
The pair know each other’s game well, however, they have not played together for quite some time. Additionally, Kumwenda’s game has improved in her time in Super Netball, adding some range to her shot, and will not be afraid to put up attempts around the shooting circle.
Be aware of the might of defender Towera Vinkhumbo, who has proven to be a force on the international stage, now with 80 caps to her name. Vinkhumbo has recently been named Player of the Season for the Strathclyde Sirens in the UK Super League so expect her to stand up for the Queens.
Apart from South Africa, a common challenge for African nations is getting enough international matches against the top five nations in the world. This is there where the competition lies. Not to mention the absence of athletes who play in domestic leagues elsewhere around the globe.
A question often asked is, who will start in the goal shooting circle? The familiar combination of Mwai Kumwenda and Sindy Simtowe, a pairing who have previously defeated New Zealand? Or Joyce Mvula and Jane Chimaliro, who stood up at the last World Cup? Or perhaps a shorter circle with Simtowe and Chimaliro, who steered the side through the PacificAus Series in April.
However, it is likely that Kumwenda will start, given the Super Netball season she enjoyed, while Mvula did not see much court time this year with Central Pulse. These are some of the challenges for the coaching staff, with combinations to probably settle within the first few matches. The Queens have their first opportunity to demonstrate where they sit when they come up against the 10th-ranked Scottish Thistles in their opening match.
Recently, Malawi has suffered a major setback with Queens’ captain Caroline Mtukule ruled out due to a knee injury. Coach Sam Kanyenda said, “Carol’s absence at the 2023 World Cup is a huge blow to the team.”
Claire Maxwell (C)
World Ranking: 10th
World Cup appearances: 14
Finish at 2019 NWC: 11th
Scotland has appeared in all bar one World Cup to date, missing out in 2011, when they failed to qualify. Their highest placing is sixth, achieved on three occasions in the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid 1990s, Scotland’s performance had a significant drop off, falling to 22nd place by 1995.
They have gradually fought their way back into the top 10, and reached this event by qualifying second behind Wales in last year’s European Regional Qualifiers.
The X Factors
The coaching team of Tamsin Greenway and assistant Sara Francis-Bayman brings years of winning experience in the UK Super League to the job of guiding the Scottish Thistles. Greenway and Francis-Bayman have left no stone unturned in giving the squad the best possible preparation for Cape Town.
Scotland recently took on a Super League All-Stars team, which resulted in a strong win, and then a friendly against Wales. Despite going down 56-52, it was a solid hit out against comparable opposition.
A factor in Scotland’s favour is that from the team, eight athletes have been selected from the Strathclyde Sirens Super League side, and a further two from the Sirens’ Development team. With most of the squad training and playing together regularly, this can only be a good thing.
Two non-Sirens athletes in the group are Iona Christian and Hannah Leighton, who are likely to play a pivotal role in the midcourt. Captain Claire Maxwell adds over 100 caps of experience, while vice captain Emily Nicholl is as tough as they come in defence.
Another combination to watch out for is that of Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall in the shooting circle. Goodwin’s form is becoming more consistent each year, and McCall’s fearless long range shooting can give the team an edge.
Like many other nations, Scotland found it difficult in recent years to get regular training and competition, due to Covid. Frustratingly for Greenway, after becoming head coach in early 2020, it was many months before she could actually work with the team. It has been a game of catch-up from that moment on.
At the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the Thistles finished ninth, sandwiched between rivals Wales and Northern Ireland. Ultimately, it would be their aim to break into the world’s top eight in Cape Town, but that won’t be easy.
The Thistles will face a variety of playing styles, and come up against third-ranked England in the initial Pool stage. The Roses are usually quite ruthless when facing other home nations, so that will be a tough fixture. They also face the exciting and unpredictable Malawi.
Scotland likely need to win against Barbados to progress to the top 12. They had an easy victory when the two teams met last year, but the Bajans have since added Kadeen and Sasha Corbin to their lineup, suggesting that win may not be just a formality.
Faye Agard (C)
World Ranking: 14th
World Cup appearances: 9
Finish at 2019 NWC: 12th
Barbados has appeared in the last six World Cups. The Gems have a best placing of sixth, achieved in 1979 and 1987. In 2019, they finished 12th. The inclusion of former England Roses, Sasha and Kadeen Corbin will give them some optimism that they can replicate or better that effort.
At the recent Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador, which featured netball for the first time, Barbados finished fourth, losing the Bronze playoff against St Vincent and the Grenadines 51-50. Their side featured eight of the athletes heading to South Africa (the Corbin sisters, Teresa Howell and Damia Walrond did not attend).
The X Factors
The leadership of captain Faye Agard and Tonisha Rock-Yaw will be ably supported by the legendary Latonia Blackman, who will be playing in a record-equalling sixth Netball World Cup. The addition of the Corbins brings much experience from stints with England, and both have had exceptional Super League careers. Despite this, it will be the first Netball World Cup for either.
The Bajans will be hoping to improve on a poor showing at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where they failed to win a game and suffered some heavy defeats. The team has had a short 12-month turnaround to improve. To make matters worse, it’s likely they will need a win over Scotland to make the top 12, with the Thistles handing them a 72-28 defeat in Birmingham.
There will be a number of new combinations to explore, with just five athletes from last year’s Commonwealth Games selected in this side (Blackman, Agard, Holder, Rock-Yaw and Stoute). Among those missing are Shonette Azore-Bruce (four World Cups), as well as long-range shooter Shonica Wharton – both of whom played a vital role in securing the Gems a World Cup berth at the Americas Regional Qualifiers.
Check out our preview of Pools C & D