Birmingham 2022 schedule: Is there an “easy” group?
WITH the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games edging closer and closer, the first match schedules for the netball event have been released this week with a huge week-long group stage preceding the semi-finals and eventual medal matches. With six nations already confirmed, we run through the two round robin groups and whether there is an “easy” group at this early stage. Three Commonwealth teams ranked 7-12 on the World Netball rankings will be added to each group following qualification. Nations have until January 31, 2022 to secure their position.
South Africa (5)
New Zealand (2)
How do the two groups compare?
Individually, the two groups appear to be somewhat balanced upon first glance. Fortunately for the rebuilding Australian Diamonds, they have been grouped with fourth and fifth ranked opposition Jamaica an South Africa, although given the tough and exciting defensive game both lower ranked nations play, they are by no means easy opposition for the Diamonds. Group B hosts the most recent world champions (New Zealand) and 2018 gold medallists (England), set to go head-to-head in the pool stage and denying one nation a chance at remaining undefeated heading into the semis. However, both nations will face Malawi, with the African nation the lowest ranked of the six qualified teams, and also lacking the high quality match preparation of the other five nations.
Looking firstly at Group B, there will be a huge battle for the top of the group with both England and New Zealand at the end of their rebuild periods and set to field some huge talent. While New Zealand lost their recent test series against England, the Silver Ferns were arguably missing a number of their top talents – Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Jane Watson and Katrina Rore for example – and should be much stronger upon their return. England also did not have its preferred attacking combination of Jo Harten, Helen Housby and Natalie Haythornthwaite for that series, although the Roses will have the trio back for the upcoming tests against Jamaica making for an intriguing set of matches.
Looking at Group A, it could realistically be the Australians who are in trouble, especially with the amount of Jamaican and South African players who have held down positions at Suncorp Super Netball teams in the past few years. The likes of Jamaican bookends Shamera Sterling and Jhaniele Fowler wreak havoc at SSN level, and have ample practice against Australian talent; not to mention how South African defensive duo Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni cultivated their craft with the Sunshine Coast Lightning for three seasons.
While one could look at these examples and suggest the Australians have just as big an advantage, knowing some of their opponents inside and out, there is also the case that both Jamaica and South Africa have participated in ongoing test matches over the past few months, while Australia has not played a test since March. In fact, Australia has not played a test against a nation other than New Zealand since the 2019 Netball World Cup, with just two Constellation Cup series against New Zealand since then. It is safe to say that if the Diamonds cannot earn some competitive matchplay in early 2022, they are in real strife leading into the Commonwealth Games.
So, is one group pool tougher than the other?
Based on recent form, likely no, although only time will tell come July 2022. Different preparations will be the real tell, with all six qualifying nations set to play a lot of domestic netball before the Commonwealth Games even arrive. As already suggested, Malawi will most likely be the “easy” top six nation of Group B, whereas Group A is much more even, making for some enticing matchups this early in advance.
It is also worth mentioning that the Australians – and SSN imports – play with different rules to the rest of the world, with rolling substitutions, the two-goal super shot and tactical timeouts just three of the changes they will have to adjust back to regular netball – all within a six-week period following the end of the 2022 SSN season. Comparatively, it is just a selection of players from Jamaica, South Africa and England that have endured ongoing SSN rule changes over the years, and while they will still need to adjust, it will not be quite as stark a difference with less players affected.
With about nine months still remaining before teams head to Birmingham, it all will come down to what level of tests each nation can come by, and hopefully no major injuries that could throw a spanner in the works.