- Beat holders England in test match ahead of Fast5 Series
There will be no sight of her twists and turns, that cheeky body swerve and, of course, that signature sublime finish.
But Malawi Queens coach Griffin ‘Zagallo’ Saenda believes that even without the immortal Mwawi Kumwenda, his charges can still pull a surprise at the Fast5 Netball World Series which threw off this morning at the Melbourne Arena in Australia.
And the Queens fired a timely warning shot on Thursday when they defied the odds to stun holders England’s Roses 31-29 in a test match.
At the time of hitting the streets this morning, the Queens would have already played their opening match against hosts Australia (from 4.15am). Ironically, their second game is against England from 7.15am while their last match of the day will be against last year’s runners-up—Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls—from 9am.
Tomorrow, the Queens face African rivals South Africa’s Proteas from 3.15am before taking on New Zealand three hours later.
All the matches will be beamed on SuperSport 9 and in high definition on SuperSport 10. This dynamic, shorter version of the game flips netball on its head thanks to a myriad of rule changes.
Said Saenda: “The match against England was just a friendly but it has boosted the girls’ confidence knowing that with a little more effort, they can do it.
“We are the underdogs considering that in terms of rankings we are last among the participating teams. But the girls are determined to give their best.”
The Queens’ gaffer, who has set a top-three finish target, said his charges are raring to go and evoke memories of two years ago when the Queens punched above their weight to beat giants—Jamaica and England—en route to their historic third-place finish.
Saenda also expressed optimism that the Queens will perform better than last year when they lost all their five games to finish last.
“Realistically it is difficult for us to eye the first place, but my target is either the second or third place,” he said.
However, the coach acknowledged that lack of international friendly matches could prove a setback.
“It could have helped us to tune up by playing two or more friendly matches, but then there is nothing we can do about it. We just have to go there and give out our best as we did against England.
“I have confidence in my players. They are capable of delivering on the big stage,” he said.
Saenda said their focus during training has been to perfect scoring from far and speed “because these were our major weaknesses that were spotted last year”.
Meanwhile, the Australia-based Mwawi, who is nursing a knee injury she sustained while on club duty, said she will be at the Melbourne Arena today to offer moral and technical support
Said Mwawi: “Though I will not be part of the team, I believe my moral and technical support could make a difference. I am supposed to undergo rehabilitation on Saturday [today], but I will sacrifice for my team.”
Asked how she rates the Queens’ chances, the Melbourne Vixens’ shooter said: “They should not be counted out. It is hard to define the outcome because the tournament is full of surprises.”
The 28-year-old netball icon underwent a knee surgery in August after landing awkwardly during a Suncorp Super Netball League match between her club and West Coast Fever on July 28.
Saenda said Mwawi’s presence will be a big boost to the team.
“She is one of the finest netballers in the world and her presence along will be a big inspiration to her colleagues.
“Her tips and advice will also be vital considering her vast experience,” he said.
Team captain Joana Kachilika said the Queens are hoping to do better.
“As you know Fast5 is a bit tricky because of its unique format and anything can happen,” she said.