Is Netball Coming Home?
Netball is more popular than ever before – and officially the highest female participation sport in the UK. So it’s no wonder that the Netball World Cup, taking place in Liverpool from July 12th, is set to be a momentous tournament. Anna Jay gives us the low down on what to expect over the next ten days…
Netball has historically always been a two-horse race between Australia and New Zealand, with these two nations locking horns in every single final since 1995. But in the four years since the last Netball World Cup, the way netball looks as an elite sport has completely changed. There’s now five teams at the top – Australia, Jamaica, England, New Zealand and South Africa. Regardless of where they sit in the INF World Rankings, it’s all to play for as any of these teams can, on any given day, beat each other, as demonstrated in the Quad Series earlier this year at the Copper Box in London where no team went through unbeaten.
During this four year period, England has landed on the scene as a major contender for the tournament, not only as the host nation and world-ranked number three, but also with that now much-celebrated Commonwealth Games gold medal, snatched from Australia right under their noses in the 2018 Gold Coast Games by a margin of just one goal.
With the England Roses collecting two BBC Sports Personality Of The Year awards – one for the team and one for the publicly voted Sporting Moment for their Commonwealth Games victory, they’ve carved out a special place in every sports fan’s heart. It’s fair to say it’s England’s most anticipated World Cup to date, but there’s no doubt the other 15 teams stepping onto the court at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena won’t let them bring it home easily. So what is it going to take for England to reach that gold medal match and who else should we be keeping an eye on?
The tournament format involves two preliminary stages before semi-finals and placings, packed into an exhausting ten days. For the first three days, on the 12th, 13th and 14th July, preliminary stage one sees four groups of four teams battle it out in round robin style, with the top three from each group progressing to the next stage. England find themselves in group D, alongside sixth ranked Uganda, seventh ranked Scotland and wild-cards Samoa at 14th in the world. Each game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports, as well as for free on their YouTube channel and on BBC iPlayer.
The first match will be played at 7pm on Friday 12th July against Uganda, a powerful nation starring the in-form Peace Proscovia, who’s rocketed her professional team the Sunshine Coast Lightning towards the top of the table in Australia’s Suncorp Super Netball since joining in 2018. The group is one of the tougher draws, with world number ones Australia drawn against world ranked 8th, 13th and 18th.
Preliminary round two starts on Monday 15th July, also the time that BBC Two make the switch from Wimbledon to live netball, showing all the home nation’s games. This is great news for viewing figures, where hopefully we’ll see more records broken for viewership of female sport, due to being given the exposure it finally deserves.
At this stage, the competition gets really interesting, with the top three teams from each group progressing to two groups of six. Australia will pool with New Zealand in group F, and England will pool with Jamaica and South Africa, in the tougher group E. This will prove an incredibly tough stage, with no guarantees of finishing top two and therefore progressing to the semi finals.
Jamaica are huge contenders for the trophy. Newly ranked at number two and sporting the star GK / GS bookends in Shamera Sterling who leads the stats for intercepts in Suncorp, and the 6’6” Jhaniele Fowler in goals. South Africa should be beatable on paper, but their defensive duo Phumza Maweini and Karla Pretorius (known as the best GD in the world) now team up professionally in the Suncorp for Sunshine Coast Lightning and will prove to be a tough wall to crack. The team have also shown to be a bogey side for England, beating them 48-45 in this year’s Quad Series.
It won’t be pretty getting through this group, and it’s not easy to put to paper any predictions about which four teams will lock up semi-final places, but the strength and depth in England, Australia and Jamaica will likely tip it. The fourth spot will come down to who can perform on the day between New Zealand and South Africa, but I’ll slide towards New Zealand to make the semis, led by the great tactician Noeline Tarua.
Until then, let’s tune in and enjoy every match via BBC and Sky Sports, to prove that netball has an audience and that this audience has a hunger to see more.