Another netball nailbiter on cards in Glasgow
Will it be Australia's much vaunted netball depth or the Silver Ferns' ability to lift for the big occasion which holds the key in Glasgow?
New Zealand are back-to-back defending Commonwealth Games champions after wins in Melbourne (2006) and Delhi (2010), while the Diamonds are the reigning world champions after an overtime victory in Singapore three years ago.
There's nothing the Lisa Alexander-coached Australian team would love more than to add their first Commonwealth crown since 2002 to the trophy cabinet and it would be a major surprise if the two teams were not contesting the gold medal in the final on August 3.
The depth in Australian netball was proven during the trans-Tasman league with only one New Zealand team making the four-team playoffs - the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic made it through to the semifinals where they went down to beaten finalists the Queensland Firebirds.
In that pulsating world championship final in 2011, it was the Australians' power off the bench which proved the difference as Caitlin Bassett came on for Catherine Cox at halftime and shot 90 per cent, including the match-winner, to lead the Diamonds to victory.
Against that, the Silver Ferns have been adept at producing a starting seven capable of at least being competitive, and since 2003 New Zealand has claimed three of the five major international netball trophies on offer - the 2003 world championship and the past two Commonwealth Games gold medals.
New Zealand has never lost a game to any of their pool play opponents and will have a relatively simple run, starting with Tactix goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda's Malawi team.
The Silver Ferns beat Malawi by an average 30 goals over a three-test series in their most recent meeting, while the only danger presented by Scotland, Northern Ireland and St Lucia will be injury to a prominent player.
The final pool game against a Jamaican team including Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and Firebirds shooter Romelda Aiken will be a good warmup for a likely semifinal against England.
The Australians arguably have the tougher pool, with their second round game against England deciding the pool.
For the first time since 2003, the Ferns will go into a major tournament without Irene van Dyk.
Cathrine Latu and Maria Tutaia will carry the bulk of the shooting following van Dyk's international retirement, with backup from Jodi Brown and newcomer Ellen Halpenny.
The midcourt is experienced, with Joline Henry, Laura Langman and Liana Leota totalling 208 test caps between them.
However, Langman is not coming off her best trans-Tasman season with the Mystics, while Leota is still returning to full fitness after the birth of her third child.
Shannon Francois was the big improver last season and will add some youthful enthusiasm in the push for midcourt spots.
A hardened and experienced defensive end of skipper Casey Kopua, Leana de Bruin, Katrina Grant and Anna Harrison appears to be New Zealand's major strength.
Kopua, Tutaia, Langman, Harrison, de Bruin, Henry, Leota and Grant are backing up from the Delhi Games.
Tegan Caldwell is the only newcomer in the Australian team, although Caitlin Bassett, Julie Corletto, Sharni Layton, Kim Ravaillion, Madi Robinson and Caitlin Thwaites will be making their Commonwealth Games debut.
''It's been 12 long and painful years since Australia last stood atop the Commonwealth Games podium so we're confident that we've picked a team that will end our golden drought in Glasgow,'' Australian netball coach Lisa Alexander said.
Captain Laura Geitz, Kimberlee Green, Renae Hallinan and Natalie Medhurst were all members of the team that dramatically went down to New Zealand in double extra-time in the 2010 final.
SILVER FERNS POOL PLAY (NZ times):
July 25 v Malawi, 8.30pm
July 26 v Scotland, 10.30pm
July 28 v Northern Ireland, 6am
July 29 v St Lucia, 10.30pm
July 30 v Jamaica, 10.30pm
- The Southland Times
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