Nations Cup a challenge, says Aitken

Taking in the sights at Gardens by the Bay are (from left): Cheng Hui-ping (Chinese Taipei captain), Yu Mei Ling (invitational team captain), Nurul Baizura (Singapore co-vice captain), Lua Rikis (Papua New Guinea captain) and Gemma Gibney (Northern I
Taking in the sights at Gardens by the Bay are (from left): Cheng Hui-ping (Chinese Taipei captain), Yu Mei Ling (invitational team captain), Nurul Baizura (Singapore co-vice captain), Lua Rikis (Papua New Guinea captain) and Gemma Gibney (Northern Ireland captain).PHOTO: DAVID WIRAWAN/NETBALL SINGAPORE

Singapore's netballers thrilled the nation when they captured the coveted SEA Games gold medal.

But that was in June, and the team are determined to end the year on a high note by regaining the Mission Foods Nations Cup that begins today.

Ruth Aitken's charges have finished second in the past two editions of the annual competition, and the New Zealander told The Sunday Times: "I would like us to go all the way ... and I just hope that we can go one step further than the rest."

The other teams in the week-long tournament at the OCBC Arena are Northern Ireland, Botswana, Papua New Guinea, Chinese Taipei and a Singapore invitational side.

But Aitken is under no illusion about the nature of the task facing her team, noting: "Northern Ireland being ranked the highest (at 12th) among all the teams, are definitely the top dog and the rest of us are just chasing them.

"With that, the Nations Cup is always a challenge because we are pitted against teams who are similar to us. For example, Papua New Guinea and Botswana may be ranked lower than us (at 16th and 19th respectively, while Singapore stand at 15th), but we have always had very close battles against them."

Last year, only five goals separated Singapore from those two teams.

Another factor is the composition of the current team, who will have a younger core - average age 26 - than previous incarnations. Notable additions to the squad are Parveen Nair, 22, and Toh Wan Ling, 27, who will be making their debuts in the Cup.

"They are more inexperienced but are all very fit and are great team players," said Aitken. "They will do whatever is needed for the team and will work hard to deliver so I am confident that they will do well."

The tournament also marks the return of several familiar faces such as Kwok Shuyi, 25, who last featured at the 2013 Cup, as well as Yasmin Ho, 29, a SEA Games team member.

Said vice-captain Nurul Baizura, 25, of the squad's mix of players: "The younger ones are very enthusiastic and they have a lot of energy while the more experienced ones like Yasmin bring a sense of calmness when the game gets too fast.

"We have a good mix of new blood and more experienced players which makes for a more holistic team and a better team dynamic, which sets us apart from other teams."

With the competition encompassing five matches in six days, rotation is imperative to keep players fresh. Aitken said: "It is all about managing the players' welfare and their load during that week because it is really hard to play that many games within that time frame.

"We need a bench that can be used and right now, I am happy because I feel like all the players can be used on court."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'Nations Cup a challenge, says Aitken'. Print Edition | Subscribe