AUSTRALIA and New Zealand will clash tonight in the grand final of the four nations 21/under international netball series.
In netball, this rivalry is as big as it gets. And it’s going to be right here in Ballarat.
Australian centre-courter Gabi Simpson could hardly wait for tonight’s showdown with New Zealand once last night’s semi-finals were decided at the Wendouree Sports and Events Centre.
Simpson has faced New Zealand’s open team in a practice tournament earlier in the year, playing for the Australian 21/unders.
But a grand final against New Zealand is something altogether different.
Simpson said she was pumped.
“New Zealand and Australia have such a great rivalry – it’s the best game to be a part of and to give everything you’ve got,” Simpson said.
“Playing the Silver Ferns was good exposure and good practice but it’s really exciting to be playing New Zealand in 21/unders.
“We can see exactly where we’re sitting against them before world champs and the best part is that we’ve still got so much room to improve.”
Sydneysider Simpson, who plays for AIS in the Australian Netball League, said the Aussies were confident but could never be too confident – New Zealand, England and Samoa had challenged the Aussies at times through the week-long series.
Australia wore down Samoa in a scrappy game last night, 98-14.
Fatigued showed in both teams as play wore on.
Simpson said Australia just focused on the basics, presenting strong to the ball, and pushing each other through four solid 15-minute quarters.
New Zealand tore apart England, 71-27, in semi-final action last night. Closer battles between the two nations in the preliminary rounds had indicated this could be a much tougher battle.
New Zealand captain Storm Purvis said her team was determined to play Australia in the final.
Last night’s match was a chance to sharpen their game in readiness.
“We needed a big win because we know it’s going to be a tough game against the Aussies,” Purvis said.
“We knew England would come out firing – they had nothing to lose.
“We’ve got to keep working on bringing the ball through the court cleaner. Australia’s got such a tight defence.”
Sleep, Purvis said, was the best recovery her team could get last night leading into the final.