By Richard Boock
CHRISTCHURCH - New Zealand refuse to be deceived by familiar-looking faces when they square off against the Cook Islands at today's world netball championships.
Not unlike Tonga and Niue, the unbeaten Cook Islands squad include nine New Zealand-based players and former New Zealand netballer Te Aroha Keenan as coach, and have been in a training camp for four weeks fine-tuning their world championship bid.
The Cooks knocked over Wales 51-32 yesterday after dealing to Barbados on Thursday, leaving the Silver Ferns on red alert and expecting the unexpected when they face the seventh seeds at the Westpac Centre this afternoon.
Ferns' goal-shoot Teresa Tairi, born in the Cook Islands and familiar with all of the opposition players, said yesterday that it was important not to take anything for granted in this test match, and said that included not taking the opposition at face value.
"You just don't know with them," she said from the team hotel. "There's a few new players in the side, Te Aroha's had them going hard for a while now, and they have that traditional Cook Islands' flair.
They definitely fall into the dangerous category."
"We might know a lot of the players, but we don't know anything about the team itself and that's the unknown factor. They're unpredictable and can let the ball go from anywhere, but Te Aroha will have them working together and they'll be tough."
Injured before the New Zealand world championship team was named, Tairi repaid the confidence of coach Yvonne Willering - who picked her despite surgery looming on her knee - when she came on in the third quarter against Wales and immediately struck up an easy combination with Anna Rowberry and Belinda Colling.
Tairi's holding style opened the passing lanes into the circle and showed how dramatically the Silver Ferns could change their shape by using the bench.
"We can change our game quite a bit by changing players, that's the beauty of having a good squad," she said. "But we had a good work-out against Wales - it was just what we needed. From my point of view, I needed to be more aggressive but just as composed, and it was good to be tested."
Meanwhile, in matches yesterday, Keenan showed just how innovative the Cooks could be as they outmanoeuvred Wales, moving regular shooter Angela Moate back to goalkeeper in an inspired move as her side ran up a 19-goal win in group B.
Moate, who topped the shooting averages at the last world championships, moved to the opposite end of the court to negate the threat of Wales' 1.93m shooter Mair Evans. The move was a great success with Evans managing just 13 goals from 26 attempts.
The favoured sides all secured wins, although Jamaica received a minor shock from Singapore before taking charge in the second half to win 76-40.
Fiji bounced back after the loss to England on Thursday to beat Malawi 68-45 and Trinadad and Tobago outpointed the Irish 64-40, while England monstered the United States 90-39, South Africa demolished Barbados 70-28, and the world champion Australians overran Samoa 74-38.