Commentator’s Call: Fresh start at Nations Cup
Sky Sport’s Jenny Woods takes a look at the beginning of a new decade which begins with a new international netball competition.
The inaugural Vitality Netball Nations Cup will be held in England from January 20-27 with the Silver Ferns joined by England, South Africa and Jamaica.
The world champions have the comfort of knowing their coach is locked in for another year, but will be without the services of captain Laura Langman or Katrina Rore who are both having a break after an action-packed 2019.
In fact, break is the operative word.
England will be without Jo Harten, Helen Housby, Serena Guthrie and Geva Mentor who are all having breaks from international netball, as are Jamaica’s Romelda Aiken and Vangelee Williams.
This is not altogether a bad thing as it gives coaches an opportunity to see whether up and coming players can take that next step to international competition.
Two giants of the game are gone, with the race now on to fill the bibs worn for so long by Maria Folau and Casey Kopua. Ameliaranne Ekenasio’s World Cup heroics would seem to assure her of a certain place, but each of Maia Wilson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Bailey Mes have faltered when given opportunities in the past. Now would be a good time to shine.
The situation is similar at the other end of the court. Karin Burger is establishing herself as a senior player while Phoenix Karaka and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson have shown their attributes as leaders.
That said, Jane Watson would have to be the frontrunner for the captaincy in the absence of Langman and Rore. You choose!
The Roses are fresh from a 2-1 series win over South Africa’s Proteas at the end of last year. It was the first international outing for new England coach Jess Thirlby and South African counterpart Dorette Badenhorst.
The return of Chelsea Pitman to the Roses for the Nations Cup will make a big difference, but the impact the returning Karla Pretorious will have on the Proteas’ performance will be even greater. Her combination with Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate Phumza Maweni is the best in the business.
South Africa’s Maryka Holtzhausen and Erin Burger retired after the World Cup and the hunt is on for their replacements. They were world class and it’s on attack the Proteas have work to do.
The danger team is Jamaica. They endured a hellish World Cup – not unlike the experience the Silver Ferns went through at the Commonwealth Games the year before. There has been all sorts of headlines and headbutts since then, but the upshot is a team which – on paper anyway – looks very strong.
Shimona Nelson who rules the shooting circle with the Collingwood Magpies, is in the team alongside Jhaniele Fowler and any side that boasts Shamera Sterling has to be taken seriously, particularly as Connie Francis is back in the driving seat as coach.
Expect England to struggle without their big names, and a final between the Silver Ferns and Jamaica.
VITALITY NETBALL NATIONS CUP
All matches LIVE on Sky Sport and delayed on Prime.
Monday 20 January at 6am (NZT)
Silver Ferns v England
Thursday 23 January at 6.30am (NZT)
Silver Ferns v Jamaica
Sunday 26 January at 3.30am (NZT)
Silver Ferns v South Africa
Monday 27 January from 3.30am (NZT)
3rd v 4th & 1st v 2nd