SEA Games: Gold and bragging rights at stake for Singapore netballers

KUALA LUMPUR - Underneath the smiles and laughter as they posed with supporters for photographs after beating Thailand in Saturday's (Aug 19) semi-final, there was an unmistakable steel as Singapore's netball team aim to retain their SEA Games title.

Some observers had dismissed their chances after a 37-50 group-stage loss to Malaysia, which has cast the defending champions in the unfamiliar role of underdogs heading into Sunday's final.

The hosts further enhanced their credentials with a 70-28 thrashing of Brunei in the first semi-final, hours before Singapore laboured to a 55-43 win over Thailand.

But Singapore coach Yeo Mee Hong says sceptics dismiss her charges at their own peril.

"The girls are in very high spirits and we are ready for the final. Every day has been an improvement and the team chemistry has improved from day one, and we are happy with our progression," she said. "We'll bring our A game and nothing less tomorrow."

About 400 fans showed up for the previous Singapore-Malaysia clash and a similarly packed Juara Stadium hall is expected for this afternoon's sold-out final.

It will be the third straight Games final between the teams. They have met fives times at the biennial Games. Each won twice with one draw.

That 13-point defeat stung but it also provided useful lessons, said Singapore co-vice-captain Nurul Baizura.

"We need to keep our passing short and sharp, use our speed and keep the unforced errors low. Our shooters also have to stay calm and composed."

Goal shooter Charmaine Soh nailed 40 of her 47 shots for a 85.11 per cent success rate. Yet the 27-year-old was far from satisfied.

She said: "Today wasn't our best performance. We're saving that for tomorrow and will work very hard to beat them."

Saturday's game served primarily as an experiment before facing Asian champions Malaysia, said captain Vanessa Lee.

Games debutante Toh Kai Wei started as goal attack and while she showed her rawness - missing five of her 14 attempts - the 20-year-old showed glimpses of her potential.

Lee said: "Kai Wei is very brave and reads the game well. She offers something different which we can use against Malaysia."