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Netballers ready for title defence

10 Feb 06 02:52

Sharelle McMahon will captain the Australian Netball team at the Games.

Sharelle McMahon will captain the Australian Netball team at the Games.

Australia has named a Netball team strong on international experience and youthful enthusiasm for the uphill battle to keep their perfect Commonwealth Games record intact.


Four members return from the successful Manchester campaign, with their eyes set on a third straight victory and maintaining a record untarnished by a loss in any Games match since the sport was introduced in 1998.


The team will be led by captain Sharelle McMahon and vice captain Catherine Cox, stepping in for long-time leader Liz Ellis, whose knee injury will keep her from a third Games appearance.


A number of retirements and recent injuries will see McMahon and Cox among only four athletes returning from Manchester, with Janine Ilitch and Alison Broadbent the other two.


Illitch makes her third Games appearance, as does McMahon, looking forward nervously to the expected finals showdown with long-time rivals, the world dominating New Zealand Silver Ferns.


“The task for our team has been made harder by the loss of players like Liz Ellis and Eloise Southby-Halbish, coupled with the excellent recent form of our great rivals across the Tasman,” Australian Commonwealth Games Association CEO, Perry Crosswhite said. “At this stage, on paper at least, New Zealand would be the team to beat. But at each of the Commonwealth Games so far our girls have seemed to find that little bit extra when it counts.”


Selectors have taken the chance to bring new blood into the team, with new faces including 21-year-old shooter Susan Pratley and 19-year-old defender Susan Fuhrmann.


At 196cm, teenage defender Susan Fuhrmann is both the youngest and tallest player in the squad, and the youngest netballer to play for Australia at the Games. She will join Janine Ilitch, Bianca Chatfield and Alison Broadbent in defence.


Captain Sharelle McMahon said she was thrilled to lead the team in front of her home fans in Melbourne, including her parents who haven’t seen her play in Commonwealth Games competition.


“I am really honoured to have the position of captain and to lead this great group of women,” she said. “”We have all been working well together over the last few months and the feeling within the team is great. 


“We have a great mix of experience and youth, which makes us a bit of an unknown quantity.  We are well aware of the expectations, but we have our own goals and won’t let the outside pressure affect us.”


Australia, led by Vicki Wilson, defeated New Zealand in the final of the 1998 Games tournament by 42 goals to 39, and then retained the title in Manchester in 2002, under the leadership of Kathryn Harby-Williams, after one of the great encounters the game has known. After the scores were tied both at full time and after two extra seven minute periods, a further period of extra play was ordered and Australia prevailed by two goals – 57 to 55.


But Mr Crosswhite said it was important to remember that Australia’s appearance in the finals would not be a certainty.


“Netball will be the last gold medal to be decided at the Games and as a result our team, if they are fortunate enough to be there once again, will probably have the whole nation focused on them,” he said. “And they will not only have to cope with the Kiwis because teams like Jamaica and England are improving all the time. We should not assume that an Australia v New Zealand final is a forgone conclusion.”


In Melbourne, Australia will commence the round robin section of the netball tournament in Group B against Barbados, Jamaica, Samoa, Singapore and Wales. The Jamaicans ranked number three in the World will provide the toughest opposition but Samoa and Barbados will also provide significant challenges for a new look Australian team.


The team includes: Sharelle McMahon (Captain), Catherine Cox (Vice-Captain), Natalie Avellino, Alison Broadbent, Bianca Chatfield, Megan Dehn (nee Anderson), Susan Fuhrmann, Selina Gilsenan, Janine Ilitch, Susan Pratley, Jessica Shynn and Natalie von Bertouch.


Australia’s Netball campaign will kick off at the State Netball and Hockey Centre with an opening match against Wales on 17 March, launching a campaign they hope will lead to a finals appearance at the Multi Purpose Venue (Melbourne Park) on 26 March.

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