Heartbreak: Sunshine Girls World Cup dreams shattered by Australia; face New Zealand in third-place game

By August 05, 2023
Australia's Steph Wood shoots during their semi-final game against Jamaica in Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday. Australia's Steph Wood shoots during their semi-final game against Jamaica in Cape Town, South Africa on Saturday. Shaun Roy

While they remain on course to achieve their objective of breaking a 16-year Netball World Cup medal drought, Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls hopes of making it a gold or silver, were dashed, as they fell 54-57 to the Australian Diamonds in a semi-final contest that lived up to its billing from the very first centre pass.

With the number four-ranked Jamaicans having never contested a World Cup final before and number one-ranked Australia having never missed a final, both teams had all to play for inside a packed Cape Town International Conventional Centre in South Africa, especially after witnessing England’s historic rise in making their first ever final when they defeated now dethroned champions New Zealand 46-40 in the first semi-final.

Both the Sunshine Girls and the Diamonds were evenly poised for most of the way, much to the delight of the vociferous crowd that was seemingly rooting for a Jamaica triumph to spur another historic feat, but it was not to be at the end.

Captain Jhaniele Fowler, who would have wanted to celebrate her 100th cap in winning fashion, again led her team from the front with 45 goals from 46 attempts, while goal-attack Shanice Beckford shot nine goals from 10 attempts.

At the other end, Cara Koenen starred for Australia with 29 goals from 30 attempts, with her vice-captain Steph Wood contributing 28 goals from 31 attempts to put the 11-time champions on course for a 12th title.

Sunshine Girls vice-captain and outstanding defender Shamera Sterling expressed disappointment with the end result.

“We are gutted that we lost because we came here determined to go all the way to the final, but it was a good fight and I am very proud of my team and how we came out,” Sterling said in a post-game interview.

The Jamaicans were gradually slow into rhythm at the start, as they gave away an early turnover which allowed the Diamonds to race to a three-goal lead in the early exchanges. However, when the Sunshine Girls started flowing, the quickly erased the deficit and even forced a few turnovers of their own and also took a two-goal lead at one point. 

They could have widened that gap, but a few wayward passes allowed the Diamonds to rally and from there it was end-to-end action all the way to the whistle, as the quarter ended with both teams locked at 14-14.

After initially matching strides at the top of the second quarter, the Sunshine Girls let possession slip twice and that coupled with a rare miss from Fowler saw the Diamonds opening a three-goal lead. In fairness, the Jamaicans did take a few hits that should have been called but were instead ignored by the umpire.

The most blatant was when Beckford got bounced by Brazill while aerial, but nothing came of the play.

Still, the Jamaicans maintained their composure and consistent pressure in defence, particularly by the outstanding and gritty Shamera Sterling shifted momentum back in the Jamaicans favour, as they scored three unanswered goals to pull level and then go up by one.

But the deficit was short-lived as the Diamonds hit back in a heated goal-for-goal battle which saw both teams again evenly poised at 29-29 at the half-time break.

The momentum gained by the Jamaicans at the backend of the second quarter were dashed at the top of the third, as they struggled to complete passes and Australia duly capitalised and raced to a five-goal lead, the widest lead of the game at that point.

Australia could have and should have extended the lead even further while the Jamaicans laboured, but much like she did in the second stanza, Sterling came up with a big deflection that once again sparked a rally and soon they were back on level terms at 40-40, before the Diamonds stuck their noses in front at 40-42 at the whistle.

Jamaica, with what was their most efficient start to a quarter, easily erased the two-goal deficit and later opened up a three-goal lead of their own and seemed well on their way to join England as first-time finalists. But all their hard work was undone by a few poor decisions in mid-court and once Australia got their feet on the accelerator in the last five minutes, they never let up.

The win sent the Diamonds supporters into frenzy, while it was heartbreak for the Jamaicans and their loyal followers, who will now be hoping to make amends in the third-place contest against New Zealand on Sunday at 9:00am Jamaica time. The Australia England showpiece will follow at 11:00am.  

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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