Cover image: May Bailey
It’s nearly here. We’re seven days out from the opening game of the Netball World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, and we thought it would be good to get the thoughts of some netball pundits.
Joining Netball Scoop’s Jenny Sinclair and Andrew Kennedy, are journalists Brittany Carter, Erin Delahunty, and Bridget Tunnicliffe. We also got the opinions of commentators Sue Gaudion, Jenny Woods, and Pamela Cookey, along with Manchester Thunder coach Karen Greig. Read on, to find out who they think will be on the podium in Cape Town.
Don’t forget, you can also check out our previews of every team here:
THE THREE MEDALLISTS
This looks like possibly the most even World Cup to date. The three medallists from four years ago, New Zealand, Australia, and England, along with Commonwealth Games silver medallists Jamaica, and host nation South Africa, are all given a realistic shot.
The original intention was to ask our experts to pick their top three in order. But it soon became obvious that that was an incredibly tough job. So we refined that question and simply asked them to name the three teams that would win a medal. This was still no easy task, and yet, three countries’ names kept popping up.
Australia – They have won everything available to them over the past 18 months, so the world’s No.1 ranked team has to come in as favourites despite the fact they’re not the title holders. The team has gelled really nicely under the guidance of Stacey Marinkovich since she was appointed as head coach in 2020. It feels like the team has been rebuilding depth, connections, and plans over the past four years all up to this very moment. Although they have less time to prepare as a squad than the other teams in contention, that may just play in their favour, knowing they come in at peak fitness and match-hardened from an epic finish to the Super Netball season.
Jamaica – They have to be right up there as one of the most dangerous prospects. The defensive end is going to cause a huge headache with timing and elevation and their front end has two of the tallest targets on offer at the entire tournament. There is more competition than ever for court time at both of their bookends, they’ve got the best players in the world — in my opinion — right now in Shamera Sterling and Jhaniele Fowler as part of their line-up, and the side has also gained incredible belief in their capabilities after reaching the Commonwealth Games final for the first time last year. The one question is how their midcourt will go… But dare I say it, this team could very well take the crown.
New Zealand – The Silver Ferns started their preparations earlier than other teams, with the NZ league finishing up a month earlier than Super Netball. This itself should be setting off alarm bells. It feels like déjà vu looking back on the last event four years ago, where the Silver Ferns kept a low profile and snuck under the radar to pounce in the final. This time they’re more the hunted, and although it feels like England and South Africa are also in with a chance, there’s just something about the crafty mastermind of coach Noeline Taurua that means you can never count them out. Their battles with Australia during the latest Quad Series and Constellation Cup were extremely tight, but the old trans-Tasman foes are on opposite sides of the draw this time, meaning they can only meet in the finals — a worrying thought.
Such a tough choice and this is where we want World Netball to be – the excitement of sport not knowing who will lift the trophy. But if I had to, I am going for podium finishes for the following three in no particular order;
England – Past events have been hard on the squad in terms of results, but I am keeping the faith. The Roses have big game players and with the right execution, I think they could do some damage to make sure they have a place on the podium. Cardwell bossed the Super Netball final, Housby came so close, Williams is the Super League champ, it’s Mentor’s last time in a red dress, while Fadoju and others are looking to make their mark, it all bodes for something special.
New Zealand – Two words… Dame Noeline. But also have you seen the defensive partnership of Burger and Watson! They can shut it down. If Nweke can get good service, this young talent has come such a long way since we first really saw her in the Quad Series 2022. She is a weapon for the Silver Ferns.
Jamaica – With four players in the Super Netball team of the year, and coming so close in the Commonwealth Games last year, this team is hungry, disciplined and has a collective belief in each other. The bookends have always been strong but now they have shown the centre court can link nicely.
Australia is obviously in the mix, but this time there is no Gretel Bueta who was the go-to in Birmingham, and with the contractual issues at home, these may well weigh heavily on their minds.
New Zealand – The way Netball New Zealand structured its domestic competition this year, to replicate World Cup conditions at the back end of the season and maximise the time Dame Noeline Taurua could have with her playing group ahead of Cape Town, may prove a gold-medal-winning approach; just as the master coach’s “fossils plan” was in 2019. The Silver Ferns have had the best preparation of any side – and I expect that to show on court and on the last day of the tournament.
Australia – Despite a more rushed preparation, the world’s number one side is just that; the best netball team in the world and holder of every piece of major silverware, except the World Cup. Coach Stacey Marinkovich has a squad of experienced, cherry-ripe players, fresh off a Super Netball season, and enviable depth to call on.
Jamaica – After claiming silver at last year’s Commonwealth Games and boasting a constellation of bona fide Super Netball stars including captain Jhaniele Fowler, premiership duo Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson, and Jodi-Ann Ward, to name just a few, anything less than a medal for the Sunshine Girls will be viewed as a failure.
Australia – The Diamonds are seasoned and ready to go. They know how to win under pressure and have good insight into the Jamaican athletes on a regular basis. That will be important come finals time. They’re a galvanised unit with pride on the line!
Jamaica – They can win but will need to find a way to have a defensive impact against the smarts of the Australian attack. The Sunshine Girls need to show greater consistency across the tournament, including understanding their lineup and changes.
New Zealand – The Silver Ferns could easily upset Jamaica in the rounds or Australia in the Semi-Finals if that’s how it pans out. They are a side with great versatility and probably the greatest potential for improvement of ‘my medallists’.
Let me start by saying how close I think this year’s World Cup will be. I think there are 5 teams in contention for those three podium spots. South Africa as hosts and under Norma Plummer are going to be very dangerous, but potentially find themselves on the wrong side of the draw. Potgieter has found good form and Pretorius is playing like she has never had a minute off court.
My heart is screaming for England to finish on the podium. They are an amazing group of athletes who are more than capable of performing with some clear guidance. At their best, they can take the scalps of last year’s Commonwealth Games podium teams. I really hope the introduction of Jo Harten and Serena Kersten into the support team gives the squad exactly what they need off the court to get them fired to perform. This is where I get to the top three – I think Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica – in no particular order will take out the medals.
Australia – They just know how to win. The combination between Koenen and Wood is solid and unplayable when they are playing with confidence and speed. Liz Watson is key for them in attack. She gets her hands on the ball a lot and she is hard to stop, we have however seen her being dominated in Super Netball by Wilson (Jamaica). Bruce and Klau are going to be a defensive unit that’s hard to penetrate, if they can bring their form from the end of the Super Netball season, we will be seeing lots of intercepts/deflections from that pair. I’m looking forward to seeing how Marinkovich plays out her potential combinations.
New Zealand – A fired-up Ferns side defending their title would be hard to bet against, especially with Burger and Watson back in that defensive end having both missed the Commonwealth Games last year. We all know Nweke is a force in that shooting end but we have seen her wobble at times under pressure. Teams are going to have to put early doubt in feeders’ minds to break the connection with centre court. The defensive nature of the Ferns’ centre court with the potential of Burger at wing defence and Heffernan in centre makes for attackers’ nightmares!
Jamaica – They are going to be hungry! They were buzzing to get the Silver in Birmingham, but that will have instilled more belief and fire in their belly to know they can take out the Gold. Their defensive unit when connected and firing is scary – the thought of a Sterling, Wilson, Ward back three is going to be exciting for us netball fans to witness. We all know what Fowler can do. The key for the Jamaicans will be if their centre, wing attack, and goal attack are fit, connected and confident. If they are, then again they would be a hard team to bet against.
Jamaica – They are a stronger side than they were at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Those involved in Super Netball, are another year more experienced, while the finals experience of Fowler, Sterling, and Wilson will be invaluable. Their midcourt are all based in Jamaica and should have taken the opportunity to work on their ball security and conditioning. The Sunshine Girls are perfectly poised to push for a historic gold medal.
Australia – The Diamonds have strength all over the court, but their shooting end looks a little more fragile without the skills of Gretel Bueta. The midcourt will need to be in top form to feed the ball safely into their shooters. The defenders will also need to stay out of penalty trouble, while a lack of time together could be costly. But few would bet against Australia once again being among the medals.
New Zealand – Like Jamaica, the Silver Ferns are also a stronger side than the one that took bronze in Birmingham last year. The return of their captain and classy shooter, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and defenders Karin Burger and Jane Watson will add much-needed firepower. The Ferns have also had the benefit of a lengthy build-up and time to consolidate their connections – look for ball security to be a highlight. One problem is they’ve had almost no exposure to a full-strength Jamaican defensive line and will need to be on top of their game from the first whistle. It’s one thing to train for it, but another to play it.
New Zealand – The Silver Ferns will be a far stronger side than the one that went to last year’s Commonwealth Games with Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Karin Burger, and Jane Watson back in the side. Grace Nweke went into the Commonwealth Games with just four test caps, Kate Heffernan with none and they more than held their own. A year later they are going to be so much more assured. Dame Noeline Taurua has also picked a midcourt with speed to burn that can match it with Australia. The Silver Ferns have had the luxury of three camps in the lead-up and perhaps Dame Noeline Taurua’s biggest strength is getting a team peaking with it counts.
Jamaica – They finished with Silver in Birmingham, their best-ever result and there’s no reason they can’t go all the way in Cape Town. Most of the players who competed in last year’s gold medal match are back and will be better for the experience. Jamaica are also tricky opponents simply because the other top contenders don’t get to play them that often. It can take time to re-calibrate against the Caribbean style and if you’ve only got one chance in a knockout game and you don’t nail it, it’s all over.
Australia – Their strength as always will be their speed throughout and a fast-moving shooting circle that defenders will find hard to keep up with. They say that the England Roses and Jamaica have benefitted from having players compete in Australia’s netball league and they have. But Australia also benefits in that their players are competing against the best Jamaican and England players week in and week out so they are familiar with them.
New Zealand – The Silver Ferns haven’t left a stone unturned in their build-up for Netball World Cup 2023. It’s been seven weeks since their domestic competition finished and each of them has been put to good use. Three separate camps, two in Auckland and one on the Sunshine Coast where it was widely accepted they were put through the wringer. Dame Noeline Taurua knows what needs to be done, and also knows she can’t just do it like they did last time when nobody saw them coming. This time they’re on the radar. Everyone’s talking about Grace Nweke and her incredible numbers. But I can’t help but feel that Kate Heffernan, Kelly Jury, and Karin Burger are going to have tournaments to remember. And don’t forget the wairua or spirit within that dress – Manawarau – bringing all the players from the past together with the heartbeats of the present.
Australia – The Diamonds are on a mission to reclaim all trophies lost over the past few years. There’s only one still outstanding and that’s the World Cup trophy. Stacey Marinkovich quietly goes about her business picking her way through the battlefield that is Australian netball at the moment. In Cape Town, the players will simply get on with the job. Big-time players Courtney Bruce, Liz Watson, and Steph Wood – all playing in possibly their last world tournament – will want to take the trophy home. I’ll be watching Sophie Garbin closely – and Jamie-Lee Price – and am delighted to see them both in the team. It’s been just over two weeks between the end of Super Netball and the start of the World Cup. Plenty of time to forget the two-point shot, but more importantly the time-outs to reassemble game plans.
Jamaica – They have become the darlings of the netball world, although they weren’t too popular though when their tour to New Zealand last year became a farce due to insufficient players. That being said, now could be the time for the Sunshine Girls. Shamera Sterling, Latanya Wilson, Jhaniele Fowler, Jodi-Ann Ward, Romelda Aiken-George, and Kadie-Ann Dehaney will join the Jamaica-based players to see what coach Connie Francis can conjure up. They were fantastic in Birmingham where they made the final for the first time. But can they go that little bit further? Nicole Dixon-Rochester more often than not has the job of pulling the two ends of the court together – imagine what a victory it would be if Jamaica went all the way.
But here are some things to think about … England is in exactly the same position as New Zealand was in 2019 .. look what happened then. Tummy upsets are not unknown in Cape Town. It may come down to who has the best resistance or medical team. And a final thought – included in the Tongan line-up are Cat Tuivaiti and Mo’onia Gerrard. Don’t think they’re there just to make up numbers. They want to cement or improve that ranking of 7th in the world.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
With the help of our expert panel, here are some of Netball Scoop’s Netballers to Watch for the World Cup in Cape Town. These players all happen to come from the top eight seeded nations, but of course, there are some wonderful athletes and terrific stories in the lower-ranked teams too.
Eleanor Cardwell (England)
“This lady has been a force at both goal attack and goal shooter. She is strong, available, accurate on the shot from anywhere, and hustles back to help her team in defence. Her confidence has grown massively and she has also become a leader in the team to lift others around her.” – Pamela Cookey
“Will we see Cardwell’s Super Netball form transfer to her national duties for England? Definite growth in her on-court game and off-court leadership over the last 6 months and I feel this is hugely important to England’s chances. If Cardwell and Housby can fire as they have this Super Netball Season, then anything is possible.” – Sue Gaudion
“A dream debut season in Australia’s Super Netball league will give the confident shooter even more confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shooter possess such fantastic awareness of where the goal post is and Cardwell almost treats it like a slot machine. She’s stood up in several down to the wire matches during the SSN and could be the saving grace for England.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (New Zealand)
With all of the attention focussed on the retiring “fossils”, it’s easy to forget just how big a part Ameliaranne Ekenasio played in the Silver Ferns’ win in 2019. Her performance in both the semi-final and final was a decisive factor. Now she is back on the World Cup stage, this time as captain, and partnering Grace Nweke in the circle. There’s a good chance she can lead the Silver Ferns to back-to-back titles.
Irene Eyaru (Uganda)
“Due to a terrible run of injuries, Uganda will be facing an uphill battle to repeat their heroics of last year’s Commonwealth Games. Captain Eyaru will need to lead from the front, and help provide good service to Mary Cholhok under the post.” – Jenny Sinclair
Funmi Fadoju (England)
“She burst onto the international scene in Australia and after what seemed like a slow start to this year’s Super League, she still managed to finish top in deflections and was the top England defender in terms of possession gains. She is wily, unassuming and seems to come up with ball from nowhere. Can she use this Netball World Cup to take her game to new levels?” – Pamela Cookey
Jhaniele Fowler (Jamaica)
“Jamaica’s time has come. We should relish that professionalism has come to our sport. Even though Australian fans may not like it, it really is necessary to make us power forward. Jhaniele Fowler deserves to win. People seem to have forgotten how much she’s given up. She seriously is such a professional, and I want to see her have the ultimate success.” – Andrew Kennedy
Mo’onia Gerrard (Tonga)
“One of the most ferocious Diamonds’ defenders in her day, all eyes will be on Gerrard to see how she suits up for Tonga. Off the elite court for some time, Gerrard will be surrounded by a steely defensive unit that could shock a number of nations on their route to the business end of the tournament.” – Jenny Sinclair
Paige Hadley (Australia)
“An ACL rupture in 2014, broken wrist in 2019, and we did not see much of her at the Commonwealth Games due to a calf injury, she is yet to really shine on the world stage (though she’s the only Diamond with a World Cup Gold Medal) but Paige Hadley is in fine form. Helping take her Swifts to the Grand Final, she is versatile, creative, and controlled with the ball. With the current tag of being the “plug” where needed, I believe she will be looking to shift that and be the go-to.” – Pamela Cookey
“Just a few hours after her NSW Swifts lost the Super Netball grand final to the Adelaide Thunderbirds – a side which boasts Jamaicans Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson and Englishwoman Eleanor Cardwell – Hadley, the only Diamond who won gold at the 2015 World Cup, had Cape Town on her mind. “Seeing Shamera and Eleanor win that … I want to make sure Australia wins that gold medal. That’s what our job is,” the midcourter said.” – Erin Delahunty
Kate Heffernan (New Zealand)
“With only 15 caps to her name, Heffernan is a draw card for the Silver Ferns through their midcourt. 181cm of pure excitement. A point of difference when it comes to height and versatility through the middle. She can run for days and I’m keen to see her on-court growth this World Cup.” – Sue Gaudion
“The Silver Ferns middie turns over a lot of ball defensively and has developed precision on her feed. Heffernan will be crucial to New Zealand’s chances.” – Jenny Sinclair
“Heffernan made her Silver Ferns debut at last year’s Commonwealth Games and made the step up to international level instantly. She’s a special athlete and has got the capacity for so much more. Whether she plays at centre or wing defence in Cape Town, Heffernan will be a key cog for New Zealand and expect her to get jaw-dropping intercepts.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe
Helen Housby (England)
Helen Housby is surely one of the most in-form netballers on the planet right now. Her phenomenal run of strong games in the second half of the Super Netball season took the Swifts to the Grand Final where they came agonisingly close. Now she will combine with one of her opponents in that game, Eleanor Cardwell. If they can form a strong partnership in the shooting circle, England could well go all the way to the Gold Medal game.
Kelly Jury (New Zealand)
It will be interesting to see just where Jury plays in the Silver Ferns line-up, but wherever she is, she is likely to cause trouble. Her height and reach is a spectacular weapon, her consistency is improving every year, and now with Jane Watson and Karin Burger back, she will have even greater support around her.
Cara Koenen (Australia)
“In Gretel Bueta’s absence, the Australian shooting end has to step up several gears if they want to make the gold medal match. Koenen continues to improve, and her movement and ability to take on and beat Shamera Sterling – if or when the two sides meet – will be key to the outcome of the game.” – Jenny Sinclair
Geva Mentor (England)
“That Mentor is still the Roses’ best goal keeper is testament to her ability and longevity, but also highlights England’s lack of depth in that position. Mentor and the exciting talent around her will need to provide plenty of turnover ball if they are to progress through to the gold medal match.” – Jenny Sinclair
Bongiwe Msomi (South Africa)
Captain in a home World Cup. All the hype that goes with it and all the attention placed on her and the Proteas team. That’s a lot of pressure, but Msomi is just the sort of unflappable player who will not only take it all in her stride but use it to lift her team to greater heights.
Grace Nweke (New Zealand)
“Some of the youngsters New Zealand have uncovered in this World Cup cycle like Grace Nweke are sure to be a big factor in their performances at the major tournament. Nweke, in particular, won the title this year with the Northern Mystics after shooting a whopping 70 goals at 96 per cent in the grand final. She was also the leading goal shooter for the season, tallying 825. Her heated battles from the Constellation Cup and Quad Series with Courtney Bruce are sure to continue under the post and will make for great viewing as a fan!” – Brittany Carter
“The New Zealand league’s top scorer, with 92 per cent accuracy across the season. She is more robust, more available, more conditioned and has made the Ferns goal shooter position her own.” – Pamela Cookey
“What is it about the Silver Ferns and giant shooters with links to Africa? In the same way that South African-born Irene van Dyk came to embody Kiwi netball, so too will Nweke, a 193cm shooter born in New Zealand to Nigerian parents. In her first World Cup, expect the 21-year-old to dominate as Dame Noeline Taurua’s first-choice shooter.” – Erin Delahunty
Karla Pretorius (South Africa)
“The Proteas’ vice-captain told me in an interview a few years ago she wanted to have a baby and play at a World Cup after, to show not only netballers but all women in her native South Africa that they could balance family and professional lives; that they could have both. So you can bet your bottom dollar the world-class defender is going to deliver in front of the Proteas faithful.” – Erin Delahunty
“Thank goodness Noeline Taurua spotted the potential of Karla Pretorius and signed her up at the Sunshine Coast Lightning in 2017. Pretorius could have otherwise been consigned to being just a good player for South Africa, had she not been given the chance to shine on the big stage. It culminated with her being named MVP at the 2019 World Cup and she will be crucial again for South Africa on home soil.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe
Jamie-Lee Price (Australia)
“Off a solid Super Netball season, I’m interested to see the ‘role’ she plays for the Diamonds. Does she become a starting seven player or will she be utilised for impact? Either way, I think she’s an important key to the Diamonds’ success. Powerful, versatile, hard to defend in attack, wins ball in defence.” – Sue Gaudion
Shamera Sterling (Jamaica)
“Although Sterling was the leading intercept queen this Super Netball season (46) you could argue two of them were more crucial than the rest considering they came in the grand final. Sterling’s focus to steal the ball back in the final moments of regular time and again in extra time to see the Thunderbirds ultimately lift the trophy, were probably two of the biggest moments we’ve seen in her career. The longer Sterling has been playing Super Netball, the more her confidence and consistency has grown and she’s now almost guaranteed to pick up seven to eight gains per match.” – Brittany Carter
“She has shown commitment to Adelaide Thunderbirds and has reaped the rewards with the trophy. Her work with Rob Wright and time in Super Netball has enhanced her flair, athletic ability, and game smarts.” – Pamela Cookey
“Shamera Sterling will always keep her side in the contest because she’ll win so much turnover ball for the Sunshine Girls. What the lanky defender can do sometimes defies gravity and after winning a Premiership title with the Adelaide Thunderbirds after five years of trying, Sterling knows how to take on the best.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe
Nichole Taljaard (South Africa)
“South Africa has uncovered a star of the future, but how will the youngster handle the World Cup on home ground? The Proteas need her to be calm and composed beyond her years, despite her lack of big tournament experience.” – Jenny Sinclair
Towera Vinkhumbo (Malawi)
“On the short side for a key defender, Vinkhumbo still led the Super League for defensive metrics again in 2023. The dual code athlete will pick off plenty of gains for Malawi.” – Jenny Sinclair
Jodi-Ann Ward (Jamaica)
“Formidable Super Netball season but how does she line up for Jamaica? They can benefit from her in either goal defence or wing defence, but where does the best combination lie with Sterling and Wilson who have an already well-formed partnership via the Adelaide Thunderbirds. Either way, she must be on the court for Jamaica, and given the luxury to hunt ball.” – Sue Gaudion
Liz Watson (Australia)
“The work rate of the best wing attack in the world is probably unrivalled. When the Silver Ferns met the Diamonds in the Quad Series final in January, Watson topped the stats across the court in feeds, goal assists, and was second for centre pass receives. Contain Liz Watson and you give yourself a chance of beating Australia, that’s how influential the Australian captain is.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe
Khadijah Williams (Jamaica)
“Williams feeds Jhaniele Fowler immaculately but she looked tired towards the end of the Commonwealth Games. With improved conditioning and judicious rotations, she will play a crucial role at the business end of the tournament.” – Jenny Sinclair
Lastly, for something new, we asked our experts to tell us their own personal highlights and memories of previous World Cups. Something that had stuck in their mind as a special moment. Here are some of their stories.
My highlight was watching the 2015 Netball World Cup Final in Sydney. That was one heck of a game, with a world-record crowd of 16,752. I can still remember how it sounded, hearing that many passionate fans absolutely screaming their lungs out — a pitch higher of course being mostly women. The contest itself was trans-Tasman netball at its finest and there’s nothing like winning a World Cup on home soil. I had just started working with the ABC this year and was lucky enough to be able to sit in the commentary box and help out with interviews at the end. One of the best games and Australian teams I’ve ever watched. Legendary.
I can’t go past the performance of then-Diamonds’ captain Laura Geitz in the first quarter of the 2015 World Cup gold medal match against the Silver Ferns in Sydney – the first major tournament I covered as a freelancer. New Zealand had beaten Australia earlier in the week and poor Bailey Mes, who started at shooter, paid the price as a fired-up Geitz hassled, harangued, and hunted in the opening stanza to great effect. The Diamonds held onto the lead Geitz helped grind out in the first to take home the title in front of a world-record crowd of 16,752.
A personal story from when I was coaching Singapore at the 1999 World Netball Championships in Christchurch. After the first two qualifying days, we landed in the top 16 and were placed in Pool A with Australia, Jamaica, and England amongst others. We played Jamaica on Day two of the Main Pool and whilst being the smallest team in the tournament, at halftime we were only down by four goals, 30-26. There were two courts in action at this time, and the crowd started to gravitate over to watch our game unfold. At the same time, the Silver Ferns arrived ready to warm up for their game, and I just recall the look on their faces as they glanced at the scoreboard. It was priceless. Sadly, the next 30 minutes were a little tougher for Singapore but it’s a terrific reminder that anything is possible when it comes to Tournament netball. Every underdog team sees playing the ‘big guns’ as a great opportunity to measure themselves against the best in the World. The scorelines may tell one story, but the endeavour on the court is the true headline!
A couple of personal highlights, from the 2003 Netball World Cup in Jamaica. It was my first (only) World Cup, and that’s a highlight in itself – playing on the best stage. Then the lights went off in the venue mid-match! And the final – Australia versus New Zealand – Temepara Bailey (Clark) being sent off during the game and New Zealand still going on to win.
My treasured memory is from Kingston, Jamaica 2003. The umpire sent Temepara Clark from the court and Anne Sergeant was commentating. I loved the ecstasy that Anna Stanley had on her face when they actually won. They couldn’t believe it. People realised that Sharelle McMahon was fallible and that Jill Macintosh had made mistakes. It always seems surreal to watch a World Cup final. I never knew I would be lucky enough to sit courtside for so many of them. I still pinch myself. New Zealanders are so passionate and I don’t know if we can ever quite replicate that as Australians.
For me, it’s watching some of the little-known players from lesser-ranked nations burst onto the international scene. Who could forget Erin Burger’s tournament MVP form at the 2011 Netball World Cup, or the athleticism of Queen Caroline O’Hanlon, who we sadly won’t be seeing this year. There are also the players that we are saying goodbye to – in 2019 the brilliance of Laura Langman, Casey Kopua and Maria Folau guided the Ferns to gold. For a team highlight, it would have to be Australia’s stunning first quarter against the Silver Ferns in the 2015 gold medal match. Laura Geitz was at her finest, as the Diamonds shot out to a lead that New Zealand couldn’t quite overhaul.
Legendary Australian coach Norma Plummer has provided a couple of World Cup highlights for me. I didn’t realise how quick-witted she was until I covered the 2011 World Cup in Singapore. It was at a post-match press conference during the early rounds and on learning that the Silver Ferns and Diamonds were staying at the same hotel, a New Zealand reporter asked her if she had bumped into Ferns coach Ruth Aiken. When Plummer said she had exchanged some pleasantries with Aiken in the dining room, the reporter, grasping for an angle, asked if they had talked about their impending on-court clash. Plummer’s response – “No, I just told her to avoid the curry, it’ll give you the runs.” Plummer showed her lighter side again at the Sydney World Cup in 2015 when she appeared in a lip-sync video to ‘Shake it Off’ with the South African players.
On a personal note … this will be my fifth World Cup as a commentator and nothing can rival the Silver Ferns’ win four years ago in Liverpool. I wasn’t even meant to be working that last day but when New Zealand upset England in the semis, it was all on. I called the final, and on a rainy day, I take it out to watch and still get chills down my spine.