“Anything can happen” Tala coach on Tonga’s Netball World Cup debut

Defending champs Tonga Tala (red) thrash Singapore 85-40 to open their account on the Gold Coast. Photo: Netball Australia

The Tongan Tala coach says they will travel to Cape Town for the 2023 Netball World Cup confident they have as much of a chance as any other team to create history at the event.

Head coach Jaqua Pori-Makea-Simpson says she is excited with the set of players they have as they enter their final preparation phase for their World Cup debut.

“Look, I think all you need is a chance and anything can happen. We have proven that. We are on 20 or 21 test match wins in a row now,” she told RNZ Pacific on Monday.

“We also appreciate that we haven’t necessarily played against the variety that we will come up against in a World Cup. You know, we currently [are] technically ranked seventh and we would expect no less.

“We’re fairly certain that we definitely have the opportunity to finish above seventh position.”

Gerrard and Tuivati bring experience and leadership

Former Australian netball rep Mo’onia Gerrard, former Silver Fern Catherine Tuivati and former Australian Olympian Jessyka Ngauamo have been named with the Pacific champions.

The trio, Jaqua adds, bring experience, knowledge of high-level competition and leadership to the team.

“You can’t coach the experience that they have. This is our first World Cup. And what they will bring to this group is leadership and knowledge, experience that we didn’t have,” she said of the three players.

“And there’s real value in that.”

Jaqua said Tuivati competed with the Tala at the PacificAus Sports Netball Series in Australia two months ago, while Gerrard was with the team during the selection trials this past month.

“And that was just incredible to have her (Tuivati) as part of our group.

“Mo’onia came into our selection camp for us last month, in May and joined our group. And that was really, really exciting to have her with us. And her form is getting better and better and better. So we are extremely privileged to have them as part of our group.”

Silver Fern Cathrine Latu is still recovering a from a calf injury suffered at the Glasgow Commonwwealth Games.

Tonga’s netball team boosted by inclusion of former Photo: Photosport

Ngauamo has been working with the Tala team in the past few months. She is a former Olympian for Australia in beach volleyball and plays basketball as well as netball.

“Jessica comes with an enormous amount of experience at an elite level. So yes, she was formerly an Australian beach volleyball player, and the behaviors and her physical capacity to be ready for a World Cup is just outstanding,” Jaqua said.

“And we’re excited to see what she does with this opportunity. This is not the first time Jessica has been with us. She was with the Tala as a training partner, also on the Gold Coast and our series that we won there in April. And she’s just getting stronger and stronger and better and better. So we’re excited to see what she can bring to the group.”

World Cup team spots still up for grabs

The Tala will camp in New Zealand later this month and will fly to South Africa a week before their first game, against Fiji, on July 28.

That camp will be the first time the 15-member squad is able to camp together and will give players the opportunity to stake their claims for the final playing 12.

“We have a training camp in New Zealand very soon, actually, at the end of this month. And I’m super excited to get our 15 together and ready,” she said.

“This is when we actually start preparing as a group and starting to get some of those connections working with each other. There will be some matches included in that but that’s just part of the preparation and understanding and starting to get ready for July.

“It’s a really crucial time for us. And I’m super excited to get them together at the end of the month.”

Tala has not finalised the playing 12 that will take part at the world meet and the three players who will be on standby.

Jaqua said it’s a deliberate plan the coaching team has agreed on so that players keep competing for the spots right up to when they will travel.

“We were quite deliberate in selecting 15 at this stage. That provides the players with extra opportunities to put their best foot forward and it also gives us some time to be certain about the decisions that we’re making,” she revealed.

“So we actually haven’t selected our 12 plus three just yet.”

Tala coach anticipating tough games

The Tala management knows the World Cup is a different ball game, compared to the Oceania and Pacific Series they have competed in over the last two years.

Jaqua believes the competition format is going to be tough, with teams first going through a first round of elimination before they are graded for the second round.

“It’s one game at a time and the World Cup is really long,” she said.

“It’s 10 matches, which is a massive, massive event. And unlike other sports we actually play those games back to back, so you play every day. The physical toll is going to be something else and that’s going to be a challenge for us.

“I think we’ve got a really great pool. We start with Fiji, who we haven’t lost to in quite some time. But we also know that they’ve regrouped you know, and this squad is looking strong.

“So I don’t think we can take anything for granted coming up against them in our first match.

“But for us both as Pacific nations, what a way for us to start our World Cup. We’re pretty excited about that.

“We get Australia early; they are our second match. And for us I don’t think the draw could be better because we expect that we will be fit and at our best when we play against them. And it’s a super exciting time for Tonga you know and we’re proud to pull on that red dress and represent, and hope that we do everybody proud.”

Acknowledging the wider Tala player base

Meanwhile, Jaqua said she has spoken to all players have missed out on World Cup selections.

She added it was important to have that transparency with players.

Jaqua says the World Cup is one of many commitments for the Tala this year, including the 2023 Pacific Games in November.

“As a coach, that’s the hardest thing to do, isn’t it, is to select your team. I’m very open with my players and actually called every single one of them,” she said.

“Even those that were not successful this time around. I think it’s important to show them the respect, to have that conversation, instead of just publicly announcing teams. So those calls were made to everybody prior to public announcements.

“You know, we’ve had players come in, players go out and this is no different. So it’s not the end for them. It’s just an opportunity that they weren’t provided with. But it is about how you get back up again.

“We have other tours this year and we will continue to have them next year. And it’s important for them to keep doing the work and putting their hand up moving forward and taking every opportunity that they have.”

Tongan netball fans showed up to support their team in Sydney.

Tongan netball fans showed up to support their team in Sydney. Photo: Tonga Netball/Pacific AusSports

Source: RNZ