Upsets expected in competitive Netball field
Netball's heavyweights are on alert for an upset at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Australia, the Commonwealth and world champion, and world No.2 New Zealand have noted a dramatic improvement from England, Jamaica and the African nations in the lead-up to the preliminary rounds, which begin on Thursday 5 April at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Australia and New Zealand have contested all five Commonwealth Games finals but this tournament could mark the end of their dominance.
All the contenders are talking about fourth-ranked Jamaica, who arrived at GC2018 after defeating New Zealand's Silver Ferns twice at the Taini Jamison Trophy series in Auckland last month.
World No.3 England upset the Silver Ferns during the Netball Quad Series in January and during the same series, South Africa led the Australians at half-time before falling 50-54.
"There's definitely been a seismic shift of power which is fantastic for international netball," said Australia coach Lisa Alexander.
At GC2018, the top 12 nations are competing for medals, with Australia and New Zealand on opposite sides of the draw.
Only the top two teams from each pool advance to the finals, ensuring a pressure-packed tournament.
South Africa's chances of claiming the country's first medal dipped when an ankle injury to goal shooter Lenize Potgieter forced her late withdrawal from the team. It is in the same tough pool as Australia and Jamaica.
Pool B, led by New Zealand and England, is almost as challenging.
Their rivals include Uganda, led by world-class goal shooter Peace Proscovia, and the Mwai Kumwenda inspired Malawi.
"I think there will be an upset," said Australia wing attack Madi Robinson. "To win a medal you have to work bloody hard because everyone's out to knock you off. The plan is it's not us.”
New Zealand captain Katrina Grant said the professionalism of domestic leagues in Australia, New Zealand and England in recent years had made an impact on the international scene.
Jamaican and African athletes now playing professionally abroad return to help lift the standard of their national teams.
"Up to six teams could win a gold medal," Grant said. "A lot of their players play in New Zealand and Australia now and it shows. It’s great for netball."
The final day of preliminary games on 11 April, when the Silver Ferns face England and Australia meets Jamaica, will be critical.
This article was produced by Games News Service.