The game provided plenty of excitement for the crowd inside the M&S Bank Arena to enjoy, with New Zealand supporters particularly vocal in the top tier of the Court One stand.
They were able to see their team avenge the shock defeat they suffered at the Commonwealth Games at the hands of Malawi by getting their World Cup campaign off to a winning start.
The first quarter was a closely-fought contest, with New Zealand edging in front by a scoreline of 17-11 as the whistle blew, largely thanks to the prolific goal shooter Maria Folau.
It was New Zealand who scored the first goal of the game – and the tournament – before Malawi scored four times without reply to bring themselves back into contention. By the end of the first quarter, however, New Zealand had begun to show signs of exerting their dominance on the game.
That position of strength was only increased in the second quarter, as they headed into the halfway point in the match leading by a score of 32-17.
New Zealand goal shooter Folau and goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio, the 6’1” 28-year-old, linked up well, while Malawi struggled at times to break down the effective defensive set-up of their opponents.
As umpire Joshua Bowring got the penultimate quarter underway, New Zealand were well in control of the game and they sensibly pressed on, using the momentum gathered during the first half an hour.
Malawi pulled two goals back in quick succession through Sindi Simtowe early in the third quarter before Folau got her side back on track. Malawi’s urgency in possession increased, but with three quarters of the game gone, New Zealand led 49-30.
The final 15 minutes saw New Zealand see the game out, but not without Malawi putting up a fight. The African side notched 15 goals in the final quarter, although New Zealand ran out comfortable victors overall.
New Zealand will hope to continue their good form when they face Barbados tomorrow, while Malawi will look to bounce back in the same session in their fixture against Singapore.
New Zealand coach Noeline Taurua said:
“It’s great to get out there on court. Malawi is always a bogey team for us, and I thought they were really good today as well. They play a very unorthodox style, so it’s quite difficult to get on top of, but overall it’s a start for us, and I know the areas that we need to build on.”
INF world ranking: 6
World Cups played: 5
Highest World Cup finish: 5
Malawi automatically qualified for Liverpool as one of the top five ranked teams in the world. Currently sixth in the INF world rankings, they moved up a qualifying spot following England’s automatic qualification as the host nation. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the Malawi Queens produced a shock victory over world number four New Zealand. Liverpool will be the Queens’ sixth appearance at a World Cup, can they climb any higher than their highest World Cup position of fifth, which they achieved in 2007?
Ones to watch
Spotted for her height by a Malawi Queens coach, Mwai Kumwenda’s six-foot frame has been her weapon on the court. Aged just 15 she made the 10-hour move from her small hometown village of Mzimba to Blantyre – Malawi’s second largest city – to train alongside the Queens. Kumwenda first represented the side playing goal shooter and wing attack at the Youth World Cup in 2009. In 2011 she made the move to Melbourne to play in the Victoria Netball League, a move that has seen her career go from strength to strength. The international stage is familiar territory for the player who has represented Malawi at both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
Joyce Mvula has been described by Manchester Thunder’s Karen Greig as “an exciting shooter who has the physical capabilities to play both goal attack and goal shooter positions, posing a great threat to any defence she faces.” The 24-year-old stands at five-foot-nine-inches, her slightly shorter height giving her the agility she needs to dart around the goal third. Mvula has played at both the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and 2015 World Cup in Sydney, so knows a thing or two about playing against the best teams in the world.