Netball: Nations Cup no walk in park for highest-ranked hosts

The national team and their new coach Natalie Milicich know a fight is on their hands if they are to achieve their pre-tournament target of a top-two finish - especially with Causeway rivals Malaysia on the slate.
The national team and their new coach Natalie Milicich know a fight is on their hands if they are to achieve their pre-tournament target of a top-two finish - especially with Causeway rivals Malaysia on the slate.PHOTO: NETBALL SINGAPORE

On paper, Singapore's netballers will be the highest-ranked team when the six-nation Mission Foods Nations Cup takes place from Dec 3-9 - and for the first time in the event's 12-year history too.

In reality, however, the national team and their new coach Natalie Milicich know a fight is on their hands if they are to achieve their pre-tournament target of a top-two finish - especially with Causeway rivals Malaysia on the slate.

The line-up of teams was announced yesterday, with world No. 19 Singapore placed above Malaysia (20), Ireland (22), Hong Kong (24), Swaziland (30) and an unranked Cook Islands.

Malaysia are the SEA Games and Asian champions, and handed the Republic two straight defeats at the Kuala Lumpur Games two months ago.

Already hailing from a continent with a strong netball history, Swaziland also beat Botswana (No. 21) at the African Netball Championship last month.

The Cook Islands, meanwhile, have several players based in New Zealand and were ranked as high as among the world's top 10, but only lost their ranking owing to a lack of international Test matches played over the last two years.

"The nations participating this year are tough competitors and we will not be underestimating the strength of the teams," said Milicich, a New Zealander. The Nations Cup will be the 50-year-old's first major assignment since taking over from former national coach Ruth Aitken last month.

"It will be a good opportunity to see where we are at globally and further work on strategies to improve our performance."

Singapore's last top-two finish came in the 2014 edition, and the team have been seeking to reclaim a title they last lifted in 2007.

With the Asian Championship set to be held here next year, the Nations Cup will also serve as one of the team's preparatory events.

Said captain Vanessa Lee: "There will be pressure playing at home, but this is a good tournament for us because we get teams we rarely play, and that gives us exposure.

"We're looking at the big picture, which is the Asian Championship. It's good preparation for us to meet Malaysia, look back at what we've gained the last two months with our new coach, and see what we can do when we meet (Malaysia) again."

With selections going on until next week, the Singapore squad for the Nations Cup is expected to be named in about a fortnight.

Early-bird tickets to the event, to be held at the OCBC Arena, will go on sale from today until Nov 26. Prices start at $5 for students, with discounts of up to 40 per cent for family packages and season passes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 12, 2017, with the headline 'Nations Cup no walk in park for highest-ranked hosts'. Print Edition | Subscribe