NCI President PJ Hockin was ecstatic with the result in Singapore, where the Cook Islands defeated all comers to win the title against Swaziland 39-38.
“What a thrill it’s been watching our team, notching up one win after another and to finish with a clean-sweep with a nail-biting final,” Hockin said.
“The spin-off to this success will lift the spirits and hearts of our netball nation and reignite inspiration and hope in our rising stars to vie for a spot on the national team and building our locally based numbers.”
Coming into the tournament unranked, having been in the international wilderness for two years, it was unclear whether the players would be competitive against teams such as Singapore and Swaziland. But the side showed a strong team culture that belied their unranked status.
“It’s a well-bonded team on and off the court, and credit must be given to the team management, coach Dale Atkinson and manager Mandy Souchon,” Hockin explained.
“They have worked incredibly hard and tirelessly alongside the NCI team, Cecile Marten and Andrea Rongokea. Behind the scenes there’s been continued organising and planning for a team that’s spread across NZ, Australia and the Cooks.”
To reclaim their international ranking the team will need to play two more matches, which would be enough to earn recognition from the International Netball Federation.
“Going by calculations so far, we have notched up a total of 360 points to pitch a rating of 60, to potentially place us once again in the top 20.”
Hockin extended a big thank you to NCI sponsors Highwire Charitable Trust, Cook Islands Pearl Authority, Air Rarotonga, who have seen their investment in netball pay off in a huge way.
“We couldn’t have done this without them or our families, friends and supporters getting behind their favourite player and her team, and we hope your support will continue.”
The team will now turn their attention to qualifying for the Netball World Cup in 2019.
In order to make it the Black Pearls will need to finish in the top two in a group made up of Fiji, Samoa, PNG and Tonga at the Oceania Qualifiers in Auckland next year.
“The challenges ahead will be more demanding, requiring substantial commitment, training and money,” says Hockin, who adds that the team has been asked to “stay strong and work together to overcome the hurdles along the way”.