Netball: Singapore aim for finals spot in Nations Cup

Singapore co-vice captain Nurul Baizura (with ball) and her team-mates training as coach Natalie Milicich draws the rope.
Singapore co-vice captain Nurul Baizura (with ball) and her team-mates training as coach Natalie Milicich draws the rope. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The familiar and the unknown await the national netball team, as they begin their Mission Foods Nations Cup campaign at the OCBC Arena on Sunday (Dec 3).

Like in 2016, Singapore open against Ireland. This year, however, the hosts enter the Dec 3-9 tournament as the highest-ranked side (19th) for the first time since the inaugural edition in 2006.

The six-team event will also be Singapore's first international competition since new coach Natalie Milicich arrived in September.

They last won the Nations Cup in 2007, and a top-two target has been set for this edition amid limited knowledge of some of their opponents' playing styles.

But they are not bothered by the fact that there are so many unknowns, following last month's eight-day training tour in Auckland, where they worked with former New Zealand coach Yvonne Willering.

Co-vice captain and centre Nurul Baizura, 27, said: "There was more of learning to focus on ourselves instead of the opposition - what Yvonne said really changed what I want to do as a player and, as much as I'm one of the more experienced ones, I'm still learning and growing.

"As long as I can control my game, I shouldn't care about what my opponents are doing because if I'm capable, competent and deliver what I'm supposed so, I should beat the other teams."

During the tour, Willering broke down the Singapore team's skills and tactics, and encouraged them to reflect on whether certain techniques and strategies were suited to their "fit and fast" style of play.

Milicich has also brought in fresh ideas and insisted she is not nervous about her first test as a national coach.

"I'm excited to see if we can implement what we've been doing and how far we've come," the Kiwi said.

"We're just looking at some combinations in both defence and attack and our transitions."

Standing in the hosts' way in the round-robin tournament (which ends with the play-offs on the last day) are familiar foes and world No. 20 Malaysia, world No. 22 Ireland, 24th-ranked Hong Kong, No. 30 Swaziland and the unranked Cook Islands. These five teams are "all equally tough" opponents, declared Baizura.

Singapore's last match against Ireland - a 48-40 victory at the Summer Quad Series in June - was not an easy one, she recalled.

Malaysia, who dethroned Singapore at August's SEA Games final, are fielding a mix of youth and experienced players, but are expected to be among the main challengers.

Swaziland are a side neither Baizura nor Milicich know much about, but both are expecting the Africans to be fast and athletic.

Milicich added: "From the little I do know, the Cook Islands players are mostly based in New Zealand, so I think it will be quite a physical game. We're going to get speed, physicality, a variety of styles to play against and it's a good opportunity to see how we are in both those scenarios."