22 Jun 2023

World Cup is part of Fiji Pearls' rebuilding

7:27 am on 22 June 2023
The World Cup-bound Fiji netball squad with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama

The World Cup-bound Fiji netball squad with Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama Photo: Netball Fiji

Rebuilding is the Fijian Pearls' focus as they prepare to fly to South Africa for the 2023 Netball World Cup next month.

Netball Fiji president Vivian Koster revealed on Monday they have named a mixture of youth and experience for their 15-member squad for Cape Town.

This followed final selections done during a QUAD Series in Suva last week.

Koster said the squad will continue to develop, with the World Cup as part of that rebuilding phase.

Fiji's greatest achievement was a sixth-place finish in the Netball World Cup in 1999.

They are currently ranked 19th going into the World Cup.

Photo: FRU

Tonga is ranked seventh and is the highest ranked Pacific team while Samoa sits on 18th.

The Pearls will meet Tala of Tonga on July 28 in their first round game in Cape Town.

Tonga has beaten Fiji in all their encounters since the PacificAUS Sports Series in Australia in 2022.

"I think we have the advantage of actually knowing how they play," Koster said.

"We have met them and we haven't beaten them recently. So that's the challenge to ourselves.

"It is our first game at the World Cup as it is theirs. And so for us it's taking it one game at a time. So yes, we go in with a little bit more knowledge about Tonga than maybe the other teams.

"But we also know that it's not going to be an easy game. It will be tough and we'll just give it the credit and purpose that it that it deserves and can only do our best."

Both teams also have to play Australia and Zimbabwe in pool play.

Youth and experience

Koster said the squad named is the best they have.

"We have a mix of experience and young players. Our youngest player is actually 18 years old so of course this will be her first World Cup. And then we have those who have been to more than one World Cup," she said.

"So one player is actually going to be in her third World Cup, which is fantastic. So with that mix I think it's a good selection of players that we have across the board."

The 18-year-old is Elina Drikibau, who was included in the Pearls' training squad in 2022 and trained with Netball Queensland in a Short-term Athlete Immersion Programme last year.

She plays for the Grasshoppers Netball Club in the Suva Netball competition.

The most experienced player in the squad is Unaisi Kubunameca Rauluni, who played for the Pearls at the 2015 and 2019 World Cup.

Overseas-based players include United Kingdom-based Maria Lutua Rusivakula, New Zealand-based Ana Moi and Kelera Nawai, and non-travelling reserve Naviniya Sivo from Australia.

Developing players

Meanwhile, Koster said Netball Fiji will continue to work with players who have missed the cut for the World Cup for other commitments like the 2023 Pacific Games and the Netball World Youth Cup in 2025.

"We've already extended our appreciation to all the players who put their hands up for selection. It took a great deal of commitment and effort on their part. And we're very appreciative of it," she said.

"And we've also shared with them that the World Cup is one event. We've got the Pacific Games at the end of the year. For those players who qualify, we've got the Netball World Youth Cup in 2025. And we have a few players who qualify for that.

"So there's continuous work to be done. And we're keeping everyone in our bigger extended squad, we're also adding to that squad because we know that there's more than one event and one competition to come."