Netball World Cup: Former Roses player previews England campaign

Leah Kennedy in action for Team Northumbria (Credit: Northumbria University/Stephen Batey)

Former TASS athlete and ex-England Rose Leah Kennedy previews the 2019 Netball World Cup – featuring no fewer than seven TASS alumnae.

TASS: Can England win the World Cup on home soil?

Leah Kennedy: England probably boast the most experienced squad out of all of the teams competing this year. There are only a few changes to the Commonwealth Games squad and that continuity will really help. I’m sure the players will believe they can win and that will be their only goal.

TASS: Head coach Tracey Neville has already announced she will be stepping down after the tournament – how will that affect the players?

LK: If the news that she intended to leave after the World Cup had leaked out during the tournament it wouldn’t have been ideal. I think the timing was perfect. She has ensured that the spotlight will be on what’s happening on the court, rather than off it. And I honestly believe it will give her squad an even greater incentive to win – it’s Tracey’s time and the players recognise that. I suspect a few of the girls will step down from international netball after the World Cup too so everyone will want to go out on a high.

TASS: How much will Tracey be missed?

LK: She’s a players’ coach and has created such a great atmosphere within the England camp – that will be hard to replicate. I played under Tracey for Team Northumbria and England and she is all about relationship management with her players. That paid off with the Commonwealth Games win and it could work again this month. There are players who have been working with Tracey since the last World Cup so they’re a very tight knit squad.

TASS: Which teams should England fans fear the most?

LK: I think South Africa are the danger team – as well as New Zealand, Australia and Jamaica. South Africa are certainly the most improved team and now most of their top players play in Australia and England. That’s improved the level of the squad across the board. As far as pure talent is concerned Jamaica are hard to beat. They’re such a strong and exciting team. Jamaica will face England in the second group stage and that will be a tough fixture for Tracey and the girls. It will be a real battle.

Leah Kennedy with former Team Northumbria teammates (Credit: Northumbria University/Stephen Batey)

TASS: Who are the players to watch?

LK: South Africa’s Karla Pretorius is the best goal defence in the world right now and as a defender I can’t wait to watch her in Liverpool. Sarah Klau from Australia could make a name for herself after coming from nowhere following a fantastic season in the Suncorp Super Netball League. Australia have gone for form over experience for this World Cup and she’s their in-form defender – despite having never won a senior cap. England-wise I think this will be the tournament that Natalie Haythornthwaite really makes her mark – she’s really come into her own this year and should be a contender for the starting seven. Then there’s Geva Mentor: this is her fifth World Cup and it’s very rare that we get to see one of England’s greatest ever players on home soil. I can’t wait!

TASS: What will your role be at the World Cup?

LK: All of the England Netball staff will be working at the Fan Park in Liverpool and I’m there for the opening weekend and then back again next week. We’re all working shifts and it should be a fantastic atmosphere. I’m there in my role as a Netball Development Community Coach and as a fan – I’m taking my dad down to watch some games!

TASS: Seven of the England squad have benefitted from TASS support – as a former TASS athlete how would you say the scheme has helped netball in England?

LK: The individual lifestyle support and strength and conditioning support have made the biggest difference in terms of improving the overall standard of emerging players in this country. Unless you’re part of a Super League franchise that offers that kind of support on a daily basis then you really need the specialist advice and access to skilled professionals that TASS offers. The younger players who are part of the England Futures pathway find it invaluable. Transitioning from university to professional netball is very tough and the lifestyle support which TASS offers makes a massive difference. I know Tracey and her staff really appreciate the contribution TASS has made to the overall England programme.

*England start their World Cup campaign against Uganda at 7pm on Friday July 12. BBC and Sky Sports are showing all games live.