South African netball ready to shine
WHEN plotting a path towards South Africa's 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games campaign, former Australian netball star Nicole Cusack knew there was no place like home.
Preparing her side for an upcoming Quad Series against the sport's powerhouses in Australia, New Zealand and England, the Tweed-based South African coach jumped at the chance to bring the Proteas right to her own back yard of Coolangatta.
Ahead of the Proteas series opener against New Zealand in Brisbane on Saturday night, Cusack said the five-day camp's focus was on bringing the side together as a group to experience the more "physical” aspects of Australian netball.
"We've visited some local schools for training, and had a scratch match against the Queensland men's state team. That was a different type of game, and physical, but that's what the girls need,” the 52-Test veteran said.
"We've (had) a practice match against a Queensland state league team, so it's about the Australian style of netball.
"It's a good opportunity as it's a totally different style to over there (South Africa).”
Currently ranked fifth in the world, the Proteas face a baptism of fire in the Quad Series against sides who've traditionally had their measure.
But Cusack said South Africa had been making giant strides forward and would benefit highly from spending time in camp in Australia.
She said with the likes of goal defender Karla Mostert, who won a Super Netball premiership with the Sunshine Coast Lightning, centre Erin Burger, who plays for the Queensland Firebirds, and South African captain Bongiwe Msomi, who's been signed by the Adelaide Thunderbirds for next year, there's plenty of ability, but exposure was the key.
"They're all very athletic and just to (experience) that training environment we have in Australia, if they could have that at their fingertips, they would be just as good as Australia or New Zealand,” Cusack said.
"But that's what we're here for, to show them how a more professional training environment is.
"Australia leads the world in that aspect, so we're trying to improve in that area, because the girls have definitely got the ability.”
While staying at Coolangatta, the side took time out to do some sightseeing around Surfers Paradise and Rainbow Bay.
Msomi said while the accommodation and beaches had been relaxing and exciting, the side's ambitions hadn't been clouded by the views.
"We all know we're not just here to enjoy being on the Gold Coast - it's more about work, training, and matches, and trying to really step up,” she said.
"But it's always nice to see something different, and I think that's what we're getting here.”
South Africa meets Australia in round two of the Quad Series in Canberra on Wednesday, before their final match against England in Invercargill, New Zealand on September 3.