Gauteng North expect stiff competition as they try to win the title for the fourth time at the SPAR National Championships in Royal Bafokeng, Rustenburg.
Click to read the 2012 SPAR National Netball Championships tournament wrap on gsport
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“We are feeling the pressure, but we are focused and have been training hard,” said coach Jenny van Dyk on the eve of the tournament, which starts at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace on Monday, and ends on Saturday.
In 2012, the SPAR Proteas squad was withdrawn from the tournament, as part of their preparations for the inaugural Diamond Challenge, but this time the Proteas will be playing for their provincial teams. Van Dyk believes this will raise the standard of play throughout the tournament.
Click to read about the launch of the Diamond Challenge on gsport
“The teams are obviously always stronger when they have their best players, but there are also players who will be striving to catch the attention of the selectors,” she said. “This year it will definitely be a clash of all the best players.”
Gauteng North will be strengthened by the addition of five SPAR Proteas, including Vanes-Mari du Toit, who was named Most Valuable Player at the recent African Championships in Malawi, and Erin Burger, who was the Player of the Tournament at the World Netball Championships in Singapore in 2011.
Gauteng North captain Rozanne Matthyse said Gauteng North had developed a culture of winning, and had been training hard for the championships. “For many of us, it is our only opportunity to show what we can do,” she said. “We’ve been training hard and have maintained our focus, and we are determined to win again.”
Van Dyk said she thought the strongest opposition would come from Gauteng Central, who were runners-up last year. “Mangaung Metro (formerly Free State) and Nelson Mandela Bay are also very strong, and Dr Kenneth Kaunda (formerly North West South) have some very exciting young players, and could be something of a dark horse,” she said.
Netball South Africa (NSA) President Mimi Mthethwa said that although no national team would be announced after the tournament, the coach and selectors had been given the green light to look for talented players.
“We have an established Proteas squad, and that has worked very well, but there is an opportunity for players to force their way into the squad,” she said.
Forty-eight teams will take part in the tournament, which has been divided into A, B and C sections.
Pool One in the A section comprises Gauteng North, Nelson Mandela Bay, Mangaung Metro, Buffalo City, Boland and Royal Bafokeng, while Pool Two is made up of Gauteng Central, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Ekurhuleni, Western Province, Frances Baard and Umgungundlovu.