Netball: Islanders pushed to last whistle

By David Leggat

How to top winning the hosting rights to the next world championships in 2011?

A win over Cook Islands would have done nicely for Singapore at the Trusts Stadium yesterday.

And they so nearly pulled off the first real upset of the week.

The Cooks, ranked 11th in the world - Singapore aren't ranked as they did not contest the 2003 championships in Jamaica - sneaked home, 45-43, but not without having to work overtime.

It is games like this when it is important not to get all technical and grumble at the fumbles, the too-easily squandered possession and the odd Minties moment. Savour it, instead, for the willingness of the contestants to give it everything and - in Singapore's case - come within a couple of untimely intercepts of getting a massive mental fillip.

Favourites are expected to win, but tournaments need upsets to raise eyebrows and spirits.

"We wanted it so badly but it wouldn't go our way," centre Charlene Porima said. "But we took it to the last whistle."

And if Porima doesn't sound a native Singaporean, it's because having been born there she moved to Christchurch shortly after. She is in her third year playing for Singapore, but she is a longtime Kereru club player in Christchurch.

Porima worked overtime to keep alive the hopes of a boilover. Sister shooters Huiyan Tan and Huifen Chen, slightly built, armed with deft touches but lacking the physical presence and height of injured first choice shooter Li Ling kept cool heads.

But they could not match the numbers put up by the Cooks goal shoot, Anna Andrews, the Porirua dead-eye nailing 27 of 28 attempts in a van Dyk-like display.

Experienced wing attack and co-captain Pearline Chan, frustration no doubt burning away, showed grace at a time of ruing one that got away. She might have felt like biffing a ball against a wall but instead she said sweetly: "We will take the positives and try again tomorrow". As you do.

In this case, that means Jamaica, so Singapore will go to the crossover stage, with the aim of finishing between 9-12 at the championships.

Then eyes turn to 2011 when Singapore hope the game will get a significant boost in profile - 28 years after it last hosted the championships. Team sports don't get much spotlight in Singapore. Success means increased profile, and profile means funding. And funding helps profile and rankings. It's the worldwide sporting economic equation.

Playing numbers aren't the problem. As Chan, Porima and their New Zealand coach Kate Carpenter all pointed out, netball is the biggest women's sport by a distance in the country.

The trick is to get the players sticking at the sport once they leave school. Having the world's best on their doorstep and giving young players the chance to see the possibilities first hand should assist.

Carpenter is finishing a four-year term after these championships. The feeling is that the standard is improving. Several of this year's squad are expected to be around in 2011.

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