Contributors: Nicole Mudgway, Eve Cobbett, Sindiswa Ganda, Arnold Apolis, Katrina Nissen, Ian Harkin
Photographers: Simon Leonard, Steve McLeod, Marcela Massey, May Bailey
In Part one of our Commonwealth Games preview, we looked at the teams from Group A in Birmingham. Now, it’s time to check out the progress of the six teams in Group B; New Zealand, England, Uganda, Malawi, Trinidad & Tobago and Northern Ireland.
Matches: 41 (Won 34, Lost 7)
Medals: 2 Gold (2006, 2010), 3 Silver (1998, 2002, 2014)
The New Zealand Silver Ferns have made the semi-finals at every Commonwealth Games tournament, with 2018 being the only year they failed to progress to the final. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (90 goals) were both from the same match when they defeated Sri Lanka 116-26 in Manchester in 2002. New Zealand’s lowest score is 35 goals. Incredibly, that was still enough for them to win, as they beat England 35-34 in an epic semi-final of the Glasgow Games in 2014. The 21-goal loss to Australia in the semi-finals in 2018 is New Zealand’s biggest ever defeat at a major tournament. Their longest winning streak in the Commonwealth Games is 20 matches, from the opening match of the 2006 tournament through to the semi-final of the 2014 event. New Zealand is currently ranked second in the world.
Gina Crampton (Captain)
Sulu Fitzpatrick (Vice Captain)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit
Dame Noeline Taurua
Preview by Nicole Mudgway:
The whole Ferns squad plays in the ANZ Premiership, which wrapped up early June. This has given the team some much needed recovery time following a condensed season and has allowed Noeline Taurua to conduct a week long camp before making her final selection. They will also all be together for the full duration of the lead up.
Taurua is well known for her strict fitness requirements, so it goes without saying the Ferns will be one of the fittest teams present. This bodes well given the structure of the tournament, especially if other teams start to fade at the business end of the week. The testing schedule of the Cadbury Series against strong opposition will also help in preparing the New Zealand team for what’s to come, just as it did in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup.
Following their success in Liverpool, there were a number of retirements including Laura Langman, Maria Folau and Casey Kopua. Paired with the loss of Jane Watson and Katrina Rore (Watson having recently given birth, Rore with another on the way) and the recent injury to Karin Burger, the Ferns squad are missing some key players and a wealth of experience, especially international experience.
This lack of experience brings with it unpredictability, which is dangerous, but also exciting. In Noels we trust, and if she is able to work her magic on some of these lesser known combinations, it could prove to be a real strength against some of the more predictable squads, such as the England Roses.
Players to watch
A superstar of the future, 20 year old Grace Nweke is already one of the ANZ Premiership’s dominant players. She more than holds her own against New Zealand’s defense, however her limited international exposure might see Taurua introducing her slowly, giving her a taste of world class netball. Her holding style of play brings something the Ferns have been lacking in recent years.
After an outstanding season in the domestic league (topping the table for most deflections and intercepts), defender Kelly Jury’s form is something Kiwis are hoping she won’t forget to pack for the Commonwealth Games. A point of difference in the New Zealand defensive end, Jury’s height creates interference opportunities essential against some of her international counterparts.
Matches: 42 (Won 31, Lost 11)
Medals: 1 Gold (2018), 3 Bronze (1998, 2006, 2010)
England has made the semi-finals at every Commonwealth Games tournament, and spectacularly won gold in 2018 in their first appearance in a final. Their highest score is 89 goals against Papua New Guinea in Delhi in 2010 and their biggest winning margin is 67 in the 81-14 defeat of Wales in Manchester in 2002. England’s lowest score was 29 when they lost 66-29 to Australia in the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur. Their biggest loss (40 goals) came in the very next game when they lost 70-30 to New Zealand. Their longest winning streak in Commonwealth Games matches is the run of 7 matches they are currently on from their undefeated tournament on the Gold Coast. England is currently ranked third in the world.
Joanne Harten (Vice Captain)
Natalie Metcalf (Captain)
Preview by Eve Cobbett:
What this team has in buckets is experience. Between the 12 selected, Team England have almost 900 test caps, 20 Commonwealth Games appearances, and 6 of this squad won gold back in 2018. England’s players know how to win, and they know how to win under immense pressure. This experience is going to be vital if they are to retain their gold medal at a home Games, with the expectation of the nation on them, plus 11 other teams desperate to cause an upset.
Team England have had arguably the best overall preparation of any nation leading up to the Games, with the 2021 Roses Reunited series, 2022 Quad Series and then recently, a training camp in South Africa. They do, however, face a number of challenges. Firstly, some of their biggest names – Jo Harten, Stacey Francis-Bayman and Geva Mentor – have all found themselves playing SSN finals. Whilst this is great for them as individuals, it did keep them away from that South Africa camp. Now, with not long to go before the opening game, England has had to make the call to replace the unlucky Beth Cobden due to injury. One of the team’s best in 2018, she will certainly be missed, although Imogen Allison will no doubt fill in capably.
England also, arguably for the first time ever, have great expectations placed on them. It’s fair to say their 2018 gold medal came as somewhat of a surprise, but this time round they are considered a very strong chance – especially given this is a home Games. All England fans will be hoping the team thrive off the pressure, but it would be just as easy to collapse under the weight of the country’s expectations.
Players to watch
Eleanor Cardwell is a must-watch player at these games. This games will be her CWG debut and, having played in VNSL for her whole career, she doesn’t necessarily have the ‘credentials’ of England’s other shooters. She was, quite literally, unstoppable in the 2022 VNSL season though and will be keen to prove you can still dominate the world’s best defenders without playing abroad.
Layla Guscoth is the one to watch in the defence end – she wasn’t at the last games, but fast forward 4 years and having gone through a stint in SSN, an achilles injury and a pandemic where she worked as a doctor, Guscoth is arguably in the best form of her career. She is at these Games to prove she’s the best goal defence in the world, and will be hungry for silverware after a tough season domestically with Team Bath.
Matches: 6 (Won 3, Lost 3)
Uganda finished 6th in their only Commonwealth Games appearance on the Gold Coast in 2018. But it could have been even better as they only missed out on a spot in the semi-finals on goal difference. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (36 goals) came when they beat Wales 76-40. Their lowest score was 42 goals against South Africa, while their biggest defeat was 13 goals against New Zealand when they lost 64-51. Uganda is currently ranked sixth in the world.
Mary Cholhok Nuba
Proscovia Peace (Captain)
Preview by Sindiswa Ganda:
Uganda boasts a shooting circle with two of the leading target goal shooters in the VNSL for 2022, Proscovia Peace and Mary Cholhok. Both players are in form and play as a dominant goal shooter. However the big question is, who will earn the start? If we are basing things on form and game time alone, Peace will be the overwhelming favorite to start at GS. For any coach this would be a beautiful headache. How Coach Mugerwa chooses to play these two stars will be the make or break move.
“I want to try and play Mary as a goal attack and Peace in her usual position so that I can field them at the same time during the tournament,” Mugerwa said. Uganda does however have a wild card to play in the dynamic and ever reliable Stella Oyella who can play in the midcourt as well as at goal attack. Oyella has been the go to player for Coach Mugerwa in the shooting circle in the absence of the two internationals.
Currently ranked at number six on the INF world rankings, and second in Africa, Uganda has a wealth of expectations to live up to. With only three members of the team left from the last Commonwealth games in Proscovia Peace, Stella Oyella and Joan Nampungu, coach Mugerwa’s task is a tough one. The midcourt is relatively inexperienced as this will be their first major international test. The defensive end is a mixture of experience, youth and debutants. This will mean they will have to solidify their connections when battling teams like their African rivals, the Malawi Queens who have had great competition and preparation leading up to the Commonwealth Games.
Players to watch
Apart from the obvious pair of Peace and Cholhok, Norah Lunkuse, a 24 year old who had her first break in the Pent Series in 2021, will be looking to gain experience and make her mark as the starting wing attack. Joan Nampungu is also a player to watch out for. Even though she is quite young at 23, she will be the senior player in the defence end and one that they will look to for direction on court. Nampungu’s high work rate and ability to read play will be a real asset for the She Cranes as they will look to her to win ball and also drive it down from the back to the attacking end. This will be Nampungu’s second major tournament and her experience will be vital.
Matches: 29 (Won 17, Lost 12)
Malawi’s best finish at the Commonwealth Games is 5th in both 2010 and 2014. In 2018, Malawi defeated New Zealand, but narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot after losing by 2 goals to Uganda. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (56 goals) were both from the same match when they defeated India 82-26 in Delhi in 2010. Incredibly, their lowest score and biggest defeat (39 goals) then came in the very next match when they lost 74-35 to Australia. Malawi is currently ranked seventh in the world.
Mwai Kumwenda (Captain)
Preview by Arnold Appolis:
Malawi has a proud record at the Commonwealth Games, never finishing outside the top eight in their five appearances. Their experience in big tournaments will be a plus. An extremely loud arena can always be expected when the Queens make their appearance on court, and this often counts in their favour and drives their momentum throughout any match. The crowd always finds their flair and athleticism entertaining. One of the strengths of the Queens is their incredible ability to keep possession when they have the ball in hand and this very often frustrates the defence of any opposition. Teams struggle to win the ball off Malawi.
The Queens are grouped together in a pool with England and New Zealand, and England in particular is a team with a moving shooting circle and shooters that can take shots from anywhere in the goal circle. There is no one particular target and this may be a challenge for the Malawian defenders. Another challenge may be the re-introduction of star shooting sensation Mwai Kumwenda and the team’s ability to adapt to her now “Australian style” of play, after not having had any court time with the rest of her national team for years.
Players to watch
Mwai Kumwenda is the star of the team that shot Malawi to their first ever victory over New Zealand in the 2018 Commonwealth games. She has been absent from the squad for a number of years and has not played the last world cup or any of their other recent international test matches. So, it is worth keeping an eye on her, as well as how the feeds from her fellow team-mate Takondwa Lwazi go into her and perhaps if the relationship is still as fiery as we know it!
Towera Vinkhumbo has now had two straight years of starring in the VNSL for Strathclyde Sirens. She will be a force in the defensive circle. We cannot look past Joyce Mvula either. She just got contracted to play in the ANZ premiership in New Zealand for the 2023 season and it would be great to see how coach Peace Kaluwa balances the GS position as the competition intensifies. Though Kumwenda and Mvula play a similar style of netball, it remains a luxury to have them both in the squad.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Matches: 12 (Won 3, Lost 9)
Trinidad & Tobago competed in both 2010 and 2014, with their best result being in Glasgow when they finished 8th. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (51 goals) came when they beat India 77-26 in 2010. Their lowest score and biggest defeat (46 goals) came when they were beaten 70-24 by England in 2014. They have been involved in two one-goal results against Caribbean rivals Barbados, losing 59-60 in 2010, then winning 38-37 in 2014. Trinidad & Tobago is currently ranked 10th in the world.
Shaquanda Greene-Noel (Captain)
Preview by Katrina Nissen:
Through injury or retirement, this is one of the most inexperienced sides that Trinidad & Tobago have fielded to date. Only four athletes from the 2019 Netball World Cup remain: defenders Shaquanda Greene-Noel and Aniecia Baptiste, midcourter Shantel Seemungal and shooter Tahirah Hollingsworth. Of those, Hollingsworth only played 11 minutes across the entire tournament in Liverpool.
The big loss is no doubt Sam Wallace. The team’s dominant goal shooter is recovering from a knee injury suffered while representing Swifts in Super Netball. She will be sorely missed. Add to this their relatively inexperienced head coach in Kemba Duncan, and this tournament will become a Herculean challenge for T&T.
While their inexperience does present a challenge, it could also be a strength for Trinidad & Tobago, by allowing them to be virtually unknown. Their opposition will be quietly cautious as the side is ranked 10th in the world for a reason but they will have little expectation which will allow them to play with freedom.
The side does also have a secret weapon in Joelisa Cooper who returns to the side after a few years break. Cooper played in the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games and in three consecutive World Cups from 2007 to 2015 so will be a calming influence through the midcourt.
Head coach, Kemba Duncan is a former big tournament athlete having represented T&T at the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games. She is an experienced defender who will have a lot of knowledge to impart on her side.
Players to watch
The defensive combo of Baptiste and captain Greene-Noel is going to be very dynamic. Greene-Noel played goal keeper for the Celtic Dragons in this year’s Vitality Netball Super League and was a semi-regular member of Netball Scoop’s Team of the Week. Her strong defensive hold and ability to read play allowed her to collect 57 intercepts and 93 deflections across the season.
Baptiste is a menacing goal defence. The former national basketballer is agile and quick and her vertical leap is outstanding. Expect this duo to give no quarter and cause major headaches when they face Malawi and Uganda in the pool rounds, as they also have aerial shooters.
Matches: 12 (Won 5, Lost 7)
Northern Ireland has competed at the last two Commonwealth Games, finishing 7th in 2014 and 8th in 2018. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (27 goals) came when they beat Fiji 73-46 on the Gold Coast. Their lowest score and biggest defeat (68 goals) also came in 2018 when they were beaten 94-26 by Australia. In 2014, they managed to beat fellow UK rivals, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland is currently ranked 11th in the world.
Caroline O’Hanlon (Captain)
Preview by Ian Harkin:
One of the big pluses for Northern Ireland is that the experienced Elaine Rice is back again to take charge as head coach. She previously coached the team to 8th place at the 2011 World Championships and also at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast. Rice believes the team’s main strength is how well the players know each other and work on and off the ball for each other.
“Northern Ireland is geographically small, and the girls represent a few clubs. They see each other very regularly. Even those in VNSL clubs make a huge effort to return to NI as often as they can. Everyone else has been training collectively every Monday and Wednesday and every second weekend. We put in a lot of time together and that builds strong bonds.”
Rice says the team has experience in defence and midcourt with a newer, fresher, shooting circle. “We have leaders in all areas and a genuine desire to improve.”
Like many nations, the Northern Ireland team has faced challenges in recent years simply getting any meaningful international competition. After the World Cup in 2019, there was a frustrating two-year period of no play due to Covid, and there was also no collective team training. But the situation has improved in the past 12 months. With Rice back in charge, the Warriors had four official matches last year against lower-ranked European teams, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland.
Wins in those matches earnt Northern Ireland enough rankings points to ensure that they qualified for Birmingham. Having booked their place at the Games, this year has been about getting in some quality practice against stronger opposition; teams that they may face there. They played non-ranking matches against Scotland twice and Wales once, as well as a six-quarter practice match against South Africa. These games allowed younger players and new combinations to be tested.
Another challenge for Northern Ireland more generally is the lack of VNSL experience. Only five of the 12 players currently play in the Superleague, which puts them at a disadvantage in terms of top quality competition, compared to their UK rivals, Scotland and Wales.
Players to watch
It’s not too difficult to pinpoint captain Caroline O’Hanlon as a player to watch, with the centre having just played a big part in Manchester Thunder’s undefeated VNSL season. She’s an integral member of this team, possessing a great mixture of speed and stamina to impact the game for four quarters. If Northern Ireland is to have a successful tournament in Birmingham, you can be sure that O’Hanlon will be a major factor. Niamh Cooper has also been a shining light for Surrey Storm in VNSL and she is sure to cause attacking players a lot of headaches.