Netball: Five to watch

By Julie Ash

It's the stage where reputations are made. Netball's best battling it out for the world title. The Herald looks at five players worth keeping an eye on:

CASEY WILLIAMS

Team: New Zealand
Positions: GK, GD
Born: June 19, 1985
Height: 1.86m
PLAYING HISTORY
Test debut: 2005
Caps: 18
2004-2007: Silver Ferns squad
2004: NZ A squad
2003-2005: NZU21 squad, National Bank Cup

Only a few months ago, Silver Ferns fans were wondering how New Zealand would full the void left by powerful goal keep Vilimaina Davu. They needn't have worried.

Up stepped Casey May Williams.

With her remarkable elevation, allied to her relentless nature and clean defensive style - this tomboyish farm girl, has become the new rock in the Ferns' defence.

Williams, 22, was still at high school in Matamata when she achieved her first goal in netball, winning a place in the Bay of Plenty side in 2001. Two years later, she found herself in the Magic National Bank Cup side, alongside her national Under-21 team-mate Laura Langman and Silver Ferns Joline Henry and Irene van Dyk.

Once in the senior national squad, Williams did her time on the bench, with Davu dominating the goal keep spot.

However, when handed her opportunities, Williams soon made her mark.

She has already been likened to former Silver Ferns defence great Bernice Mene, who is impressed with the young defender she has worked with in various talent identification programmes.

Mene has said: "I really rate her. You can tell that she is a thinking player - you can see her vision coming through the court.

"I remember Tanya Cox pointing her out to me as a defender to watch, as a player who reads the game well, when she first came on to the scene about three years ago - us old defenders have been talking about her!"

Even Australia coach Norma Plummer is a Williams fan often describing her as a "beautiful athlete" with superb anticipation.

Plummer has even told Williams she is welcome to switch allegiance any time she likes.

A relentless defender, the girl from Matamata could be the player of these world championships.

* * *

MO'ONIA GERRARD

Team: Australia
Positions: GD, WD
Born: November 15, 1980
Height: 1.80m
Occupation: Tan Technician
PLAYING HISTORY
Test debut: March 13, 2004
Caps: 16
Playing history: 2001-2003, 2005-2007, Australian squad.
2000-2001: Australia under-21s.

Sister of Wallaby Mark Gerrard, Mo'onia Gerrard would have to be one of fiercest competitors in world netball. An agile, hard working and physical defender, Gerrard has good pedigree. Her mother, Kalasi, represented Tonga in the Pan-Pacific Games in athletics - in the 800m, hurdles and long jump.

Her uncle was in the Tongan rugby side which beat the Wallabies in 1973, and her aunt also represented Tonga at the Pan-Pacifics and the Commonwealth Games, in the hurdles.

Gerrard was always destined for big things. In 2000 she was selected in the Australian Under-21 team and played a vital role in the side's victorious campaign at the World Youth Cup in Wales. In Australia's Commonwealth Bank Trophy competition she played five years with the Sydney Sandpipers, during which time she received the Best New Talent Award in 1999 and shared the Players' Player Award in 2003.

In 2004, Gerrard was selected for the full Australian side and made her debut on a tour to South Africa and England - immediately making an impact. However, she then suffered a string of setbacks, with an ankle injury keeping her out of the remainder of the 2004 season, and a knee reconstruction curtailing her comeback in 2005. This knee operation prevented her from participating in the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Her much-awaited comeback came late in 2006, when she quickly fought her way back into the Australian team.

Her strong defensive combination with Sydney Swifts teammate Liz Ellis has played a major role in Australia reversing their losing streak against New Zealand.

But young Julie Prendergast performed admirably in the goal defence position in the last series against New Zealand, so Gerrard will have some competition on her hands.


* * *

PAMELA COOKEY

Team: England
Positions: GA, GS
Born: Birmingham, September 2, 1984.
Height: 1.68m
Occupation: Degree in Business Administration at University of Bath
PLAYING HISTORY
Test debut: v Australia 2004
2002-07: England squad
2005: England under-21 side, silver at world youth games

Regarded as one of England's most exciting attacking players, Cookey played a key role in England's bronze medal winning performance at last year's Commonwealth Games.

Edging out the Jamaicans by one goal, the result made up for Cookey's misfortune in 2002, when she was a surprise inclusion in the England squad for the Manchester Commonwealth Games, only to have to withdraw two weeks before the games after suffering an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She battled back and eventually made her debut against Australia in 2004.

A former head girl at Millfield School in Somerset, known for producing top-drawer young sportsmen and women, she is now studying for a degree in Business Administration. She was a member of the University of Bath team that won the British Universities Sports Association (BUSA) title for the first time in 2005, and helped England under-21s win silver at the World Youth Netball Championships in Florida in 2005, netting 17 goals from 23 attempts as England went down 39-53 to favourites New Zealand.

Known for her mobility and accuracy, Cookey will have benefited from the tutorage of English coach Marg Caldow, who was a former Australian shooter.

Expect to see Cookey play a key role in this campaign.


* * *

CATHERINE LATU

Country: Samoa
Positions: GS, GK
Born: Auckland October 26, 1986
Height: 1.92m
PLAYING HISTORY
2007: Samoa
2003: New Zealand Under-21 squad.

Twenty-one-year-old Catherine Latu goes into the world championships on the back of a strong national championship performance for North where she emerged the top shooter.

Sure, Irene van Dyk wasn't playing, but Latu's 88 per cent shooting average over the tournament was certainly nothing to be scoffed at.

The powerful shooter left Kawakawa at the age of 15 to take up a netball scholarship at Massey High School.

At that time, Massey was one of the big hitters in secondary school netball, and Latu's performances for the side soon pushed her into the limelight.

Height, strength, power and a seeming lack of fear - which comes through in the way she snatches the ball - are her key attributes. "It is all about the ball, and if you really want it, you will do anything to get it. I guess it just looks like I really, really want it, which is right," she has said.

She played for the Auckland/Waitakere Under-21 side before switching allegiance to North Harbour, where she was named in the open side in 2004. The team included a raft of current and former Silver Ferns. A member of the Samoan Under-21 side which competed in last year's World Youth Cup, Latu represented Samoa at the Commonwealth Games in March.

Latu has said she wants to become a Silver Fern but that would require a lengthy stand-down.

For a player of Latu's calibre, the wait may be worth it.

* * *

ROMELDA AIKEN

Team: Jamaica
Positions: GS, GA.
Born: November 19, 1988
Occupation: Student
PLAYING HISTORY
2006-2007: Jamaican side
2004-2005: Jamaican Under-21 side.

She stands at an impressive 1.96m tall. That's six centimetres taller than the Silver Ferns' tallest players Irene van Dyk and Leana de Bruin. She has the arm span of a small aircraft and legs as long and lean as ladders. There is no missing Jamaican shooter Romelda Aiken.

She sprang on to the international stage in 2004 in the Jamaican Under-21 side. She was part of the team that finished third in the 2005 World Youth Cup, which was won by New Zealand. Later that year, she made her debut for the Jamaican senior side. Sharing the goal shoot position with Jamaican captain Elaine Davis, Aiken is steadily improving with each performance.

Jamaican coach Connie Francis said of Aiken: "She is developing quite well. She wants to do well, she wants to be the number one shooter in the world. She knows that she can get that. What she has learned and is still learning ... Romelda has a nice core of girls who will help her."

While she can still run a little hot and cold, Aiken will still be worth keeping an eye on in this tournament.

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