Tracey Neville, Geva Mentor and Serena Guthrie relishing the Netball World Cup challenge

Friday 12th July 2019 12:00 BST

In past Netball World Cup tournaments, England have gone in with hope - hope of breaking the Antipodean dominance of the sport, but in truth not too much of it.

It is a very different landscape and perspective in 2019 because a nation expects after breathtaking and brilliant gold at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018. That gold medal was secured by beating the all-conquering Aussies in the last minute, in their own back yard.

So who better than Geva Mentor, part of the squad for the last four World Cups and a beaten semi-finalist in each of them, to assess where the Roses now stand.

She said: "You can talk about belief and you can talk about what it looks like and what it feels like, but that's what it did for us last year. Then you know you're on the right track and you know that people buy in... new girls who were maybe a little bit on the fence before are fully involved and invested.

"It's been immense what we've managed to achieve last year. I think it has just led beautifully into having the home World Cup and raising the profile of the sport and the tournament so when these other nations come, it's hopefully going to be a fantastic atmosphere."

Since the Netball World Cup broke away from a round-robin tournament in 1991, England have been forced to settle for third or fourth place. Their best showing was a runners-up finish in 1975.

Defeat to New Zealand in the last four in 2015 and 2011 followed three straight semi-final defeats to Australia.

Semi-final defeat - it's a familiar refrain for teams from this island as the Lionesses recently found out, just 12 months on from Gareth Southgate's men suffering the same fate.

However, in Liverpool this year there is expectation, and not just the expectation that comes from a home World Cup - there is also the expectation that comes from being winners.

"I think we can win the World Cup. Why not us?" says captain Serena Guthrie, who has been part of two previous World Cup campaigns.

"Forget the history. We are where we are now, we've broken the mould once, so why can't we dare to dream and do it again?"

But with all this ambition comes hope, expectation and pressure, things that this Roses team, unlike those before them, are having to deal with.

According to many, they head to Liverpool with the best squad in the world and as the favourites to not only be in the gold medal contest on July 21, but win it.

"We are definitely very aware of it," Mentor says of the increased expectancy.

"It's got to be about still doing the nuts and bolts, the hard work that got us where we are, so I think that pressure is always going to be there.

"But there is probably more now. There is added interest with print, TV and radio covering individuals and the team in the build-up.

"The important thing is that we make the most of these opportunities while also making sure we still do everything that we would normally do in the lead-up."

Winning has become a habit for these Roses, and more importantly beating New Zealand and eventually Australia, in that golden April on the Gold Coast.

Head coach Tracey Neville highlights the introduction of the Quad Series, which has seen England playing at least four extra games a year against the two pre-eminent nations in the sport.

With the nation now expecting something from its netballers, who have captured front and back page headlines since their success in Australia, Guthrie is keen to keep the focus on the task in hand.

It is Australia and New Zealand that have had the expectation previously, winning each of the past 14 past World Cups, including a three-way tie with Trinidad & Tobago for the 1979 version.

But as the world rankings have shown over the last couple of years, a shift in the world order has been happening.

England had risen to second; however, in the latest edition, they were knocked out of that spot by Jamaica. The Kiwis have slipped to fourth and despite that shake-up, it is still the Aussies that sit at the top.

The Diamonds are under threat like never before though, under pressure in their homeland to bounce back.

At the same time, England are playing under such a burden, if success can ever be called that, for the first time. It has changed the mentality in the squad, and Mentor knows all 12 players will have their part to play, especially as the games come thick and fast through the 10-day tournament.

She said: "For us as an England side, we are very tight-knit as a group and the camaraderie, I think as well, has got us through those tough times, and also the good times.

"I think that will pay dividends come the World Cup, when we do have those back-to-back games and everyone is fatigued and everyone is emotionally tired.

"We just know how to relax and have that pressure-release valve and for us, it is all about that team camaraderie and being able to have that banter amongst us all."

It's been a big year for the sport. Off the back of that Commonwealth success, the domestic game has enjoyed its most competitive season in years.

Manchester Thunder claimed the Grand Final glory in the Vitality Netball Superleague, while half of the Roses' squad are playing their netball in the most competitive league in the world - Australia's Suncorp Super Netball competition.

There is no doubt that has helped forge Neville's squad and, according to England Netball CEO Joanna Adams, it is all part of a plan that underlines the importance of this summer, which has been a long time coming.

"It is a breakthrough year and I think that is because of the Commonwealth gold," says Adams, whose commercial background makes her ideally placed to assess the impact the sport has been making over the last decade under her guidance.

"It opened up netball as a sport to people who weren't just netball fans. We went into Commonwealths wanting to make it to the final.

"The pressure is now huge. We've beaten Australia on home soil and to some people, we will go in as favourites and that is huge.

"We bid for the World Cup for home advantage, and sometimes that can be a disadvantage but it feels like a culmination of a lot of people's time and hard work."

No one has put in more hard work than head coach Neville, who played in her first World Cup in 1999, where it was another semi-final defeat to Australia.

There is an additional element to the Roses' adventure on Merseyside. It is Neville's last stand - for now at least - and it remains to be seen whether that will inspire or pile more pressure on.

"My first World Cup [as a player] was in 1999 and I think of where netball is now and the attention and energy in a huge summer of sport, it doesn't even compare," adds Neville, who led England to third place in 2015.

"I think about all the people we have taken with us, not just at England Netball but as a sport and women's sport as a whole.

"We are getting more attention now, but I don't think there is extra pressure."

After more than four years in the role, Neville will be standing down after the World Cup to start a family, and Adams is under no illusions about the part the head coach has played in bringing England to where they are now.

"For a great head coach, players will do what she's asked them to do because they have that trust," Adams said.

"She is an absolutely incredible leader. She really has completely transformed it into a winning culture but one that's fun at the same time.

"You can see that when the players talk publicly, that it is a gelled team that follows that leader - that for me is the biggest thing."

Neville led England to that breakthrough - the Commonwealth gold that was the Roses' first major triumph at a leading event. But shooter Jo Harten, who is a veteran of three semi-final defeats, is keen to move on from it.

"We almost need to put that tournament to bed and focus on the here and now," Harten shared.

"We want to make the final and that was always the goal before our gold medal last year - my saying is that 'anything can happen in a final' so we just have to get there."

So to this summer's showpiece, and a chance to join an illustrious group of sportsmen and women that have won a World Cup for England.

The Roses will have to negotiate a tricky path that starts with Uganda and Scotland among their preliminary group opponents and moves on to potential matches with Jamaica and South Africa, two sides that both have wins over England in the last 12 months.

In an Ashes summer, the Aussies loom as potential semi-final or final opponents and England have never beaten them at a World Cup - although that was also the case in the Commonwealth Games until last April

Despite the positivity, the question has to be asked - what if all does not go to plan? Would it be an opportunity missed, with the sport riding the crest of a wave that may come crashing down?

"I wouldn't want to put them under that sort of pressure," says Adams.

"The aim is the final but if we perform well, I think that is what people want to see. Hopefully more people will see those moments, like the Commonwealth Games.

"They do even more for our sport because winning a medal will be pointless unless we can grow the game.

"I don't think netball will slip back if we don't win it but if we did, it could catapult us to an even better place."

It's appropriate here to leave the final word to Neville, who has steered English Netball to its finest moment and could be about to go one step further.

"Winning and winning again also brings pressure. We have accepted that within the programme," Neville says, as she prepares for the task of leading England to back-to-back major medals.

"Why do we get into sport if we don't want pressure?

"That is why we are playing at the elite level. It is pressure that gets us out of bed each day and generates our will to win. It's an exhilarating pressure."

Of course there is added expectation and pressure, but with England now expecting, it is how you embrace that and use that to your advantage to fuel the fire. Eighteen months on from their finest hour, these Roses are ready to rise again.

Watch every match of the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 live on Sky Sports. Coverage starts on Friday, July 12 plus keep up to date with all of the latest competition news, results and enjoy in-depth features at skysports.com/netball.

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