At the start of England’s Test week in South Africa, former England international Pamela Cookey looks at the context of a new four-year cycle and highlights key players to watch out for during the three-match series.
The start of a four-year cycle always brings in uncertainty due to its nature. The World Cup is the pinnacle of the netball calendar and that is what the majority of netballers set goals and their focal point to.
For me, once a Netball World Cup finished, it was time to take stock, have a well-deserved rest and space to reflect. We often also see changes in coaching and backroom staff, changes in funding adaptations, retirements, and players deciding to take some time out.
This time for England there’s a new head coach in Jess Thirlby, no retirements but three key players announcing a break from international duty – Jo Harten, Serena Guthrie and Geva Mentor – with others also deciding to close out 2019 away from the court.
With all of that also brings a level of excitement as players that are on the brink get to prove their worth, whether be it immediately or show potential for the future.
After the tremendous highs of the Netball World Cup and the subsequent lull which the absence of international netball brought, fans and supporters now are raring to see the Roses taking to court again.
Personally I’m pleased to see a few new faces in the Roses squad and I’m looking forward to seeing how they gel against a top international side.
Thirlby, though new to the role, has had the experience of coaching four of the travelling players in the past, whether it be at U21 level or with Team Bath; the returning Stacey Francis, Summer Artman, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kadeen Corbin.
England’s 14-player squad for South Africa Series George Fisher Natalie Panagarry Eleanor Cardwell Stacey Francis Kadeen Corbin Kate Shimmin Sophie Drakeford-Lewis Fran Williams Natalie Haythornthwaite Razia Quashie Jade Clarke Gabriella Marshall Laura Malcolm Summer Artman
The training tour to Australia in October would have also given her good insight into the available players and chance to start to discern who works well in which combinations and how she can help them get the best out of themselves.
This is a squad that has experience, freshness and a hunger to perform. I’m looking forward to seeing all 12 squad members for different reasons but three to watch out for in particular are…
This young shooter has been on a steep upward trajectory in terms of performance in the Vitality Netball Superleague over the past few seasons.
She’s fearless and accurate on the shot and what I also like about her is her defensive pressure. Sophie has shone on the Superleague stage and I am looking forward to how she will fare on the international one.
She’s back in the red dress after over two years out. Stacey, I’m sure in her own time, if she wishes, will give you the reasons but for now, it is great we will get to see her out there.
She’s been shining over in Australia with West Coast Fever and is a relentless and athletic defender who will pressure her opponent for the full 60 minutes, and she’s not afraid to come off hunting for ball.
Stacey will bring both experience and tenacity to Thirlby’s team to support for her fellow team-mates with the likes of Mentor and Eboni Usoro-Brown missing.
Nat for many years has shown her high calibre in Superleague and that was also seen Down Under which resulted in her move to NSW Swifts.
She was bright again in the World Cup, coming off the bench and then making her way into the starting line-up. She’s quick, smart and has a knack of making those around her look good with her selfless mentality.
This is a series for her to really stamp her mark in the attacking end for Thirlby’s Roses and specifically wearing a WA bib with Chelsea Pitman not being available for selection. Plus, the opportunity for her to captain this side I think is a great booster for Nat and also for the whole team.
South Africa’s Squad for Test Series Ine-Marí Venter Romé Dreyer Lenize Potgieter Khanyisa Chawane Renske Stoltz Kgomotso Itlhabanyeng Lefébre Rademan Phumza Maweni Sigi Burger Shadine van der Merwe Bongi Msomi Zanele Vimbela Izette Griesel Monique Reyneke Precious Mthembu
So what about England’s opponents? Well, South Africa are also under a new regime with Dorette Badenhorst taking over from Coach Plum. She was part of the management team that went to Liverpool for the World Cup and after making the semi-finals for the first time in history she will be looking to keep that momentum.
They too have some big names missing with Karla Pretorius taking a break and Maryka Holtzhousen and Erin Burger both retiring from the international stage.
Three-Test Series – Fixtures November 29 South Africa vs England 4.30pm on Sky Sports Mix, Arena & Main Event November 30 South Africa vs England 12.30pm on Sky Sports Mix & Arena December 1 South Africa vs England 10:30am on Sky Sports Mix
However, where once we would say that South Africa only had seven to choose from and if those players weren’t fit and available, they would be in trouble. Plummer’s work created their strength in depth and the experience that many of the team are gaining playing outside of South Africa; Sigi Burger, Phumza Maweni, Shadine van der Merwe to name but a few, adds to that.
Bongiwe Msomi will remain at the helm as captain and after saying goodbye to England to work and play in South Africa, I’m sure will still be on a high and want to drive this team further from the mid-court. Her vision and movement is amazing and very few can give off that calmness whilst moving at the speed she does.
Sigi Burger was called up last minute for the Netball World Cup and this lady is full of energy and accuracy. She constantly hits the 90 per cents on the shot and can hold on the best of them.
Lenize Potguiter has been the go-to girl for the SPAR Proteas so it will be interesting to see whether they play together with one out at GA or share that GS bib?
With Pretorious on a break, Zanele Vimbela has the opportunity to get a lot of court time. She has a big range and timing on the mark when she gets it right causes shooters much frustration.
Her partnership with Phumza will be key to shut out that defensive circle and turn any won turnover into successful attack.