30 Jan 2018

Silver Ferns risk getting left behind

5:13 am on 30 January 2018

Sports Call - The fact that Australia had an easier time beating the Silver Ferns than England and South Africa in the Netball Quad series says a lot.

That would have been a laughable prospect not long ago.

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Silver Fern Maria Tutaia looks for a team-mate. Photo: Photosport

For so long New Zealand and Australia have maintained their duopoly in world netball but that's changing rapidly.

The Diamonds had winning margins of just four goals over both England and South Africa but enjoyed a 19-goal drubbing over the Ferns last night in South Africa, to reclaim the Quad Series Trophy.

Last week England, ranked third in the world, beat New Zealand 64-57, to enhance their credentials ahead of the Commonwealth Games where they'll be backing themselves to finally make a grand final of one of netball's pinnacle events.

England have now beaten the Silver Ferns three times in the past six months. Previous to that the Roses had only tasted victory over New Zealand on four occasions during their long history.

England have been threatening to pounce on Australia and New Zealand for a few years now; they've been talked up, but now things are finally coming together for them.

This current Roses team is by far the classiest they've ever had. Geva Mentor is the best Goal Keep in the game; Serena Guthrie arguably the best mid-courter, and Jo Harten one of the more talented Goal Shoots on the scene.

They have a core group of players approaching the twilights of their careers and are ably served by well-travelled stalwarts like Jade Clarke and Ama Agbeze, who've played in the New Zealand and Australian leagues.

England's Geva Mentor and Silver Fern Bailey Mes clash in Rotorua in 2014.

England Goal Keep Geva Mentor is at the top of her game. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Most of the England players now ply their trade here or over the Tasman.

In recent years England had a couple of weak areas - namely Goal Attack and Wing Attack.

But the recruitment of former Australian international Chelsea Pitman has been a masterstroke and the 29 year old is playing some of her best netball.

Goal Attack Helen Housby once looked a little meek up against Australian and New Zealand defenders but she's benefited hugely after a season in Australia's Super Netball league.

The national body also introduced full-time contracts in 2016 meaning none of its international players have to worry about holding down any jobs outside of netball.

There's unprecedented media coverage of netball in England right now and women and girls are flocking to the sport.

South Africa's netball renaissance has been quite remarkable given they were losing to New Zealand and Australia by 20 to 30 goals only two years ago.

They have talent to burn and the rest of the netball world is starting to take notice.

Karla Pretorius (nee Mostert) and Erin Burger got Super Netball contracts last year, while young shooter Lenize Potgieter was one of the best shooters in New Zealand's inaugural premiership year.

Pocket rocket Bongiwe Msomi will get her chance at the Adelaide Thunderbirds in 2018 and it should only be a matter of time before Goal Keep Phumza Maweni gets picked up.

Wily Australian mentor Norma Plummer has obviously had an impact coaching the side and been able to unlock the potential of the naturally talented athletes.

South Africa has also benefited from the vast improvement of nations in their region - Malawi and Uganda, ranked 6th and 7th in the world respectively.

Their close proximity means the Proteas no longer have to fly to the other side of the world to get some decent competition.

A number of their players have also got experience in the English domestic competition, the Superleague.

While the rise of England and South Africa bodes well for the international game New Zealand needs to make sure it doesn't get left behind.

Netball participation rates in New Zealand are holding their own but will come under increasing pressure from sports like basketball which is growing in popularity, thanks in part to the growing Asian community.

England have every right to believe they can knock over the Silver Ferns at the Commonwealth Games and based on the Quad Series, Australia should fear them more than their traditional arch-rivals.

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