After a few months break following the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, Geva Mentor is ready and raring to pull on the Vitality Roses dress once again.
Mentor, who has 160 caps to her name ahead of the series starting, has linked up with the team on familiar territory with the matches set to take place in Newcastle, Sydney and Brisbane.
And the experienced goal keeper is particularly excited to work as a unit with recent debutant defenders Funmi Fadoju and Alice Harvey, as well as Fran Williams and Layla Guscoth.
Speaking from the team’s base in Australia, Mentor said: “It’s been a long couple of months since the Commonwealth Games.
“The girls have been out on court already against Uganda and had a fantastic series win there, but I’m just really excited to see them on these shores where I spend most of my time playing, and to reunite with the other girls that are based in Australia.
“There’s a lot of fresh blood within the group and obviously some new caps and I’m really excited to be able to build combinations.
“I think, as probably a more mature defender within the Vitality Roses outfit, it’s actually really nice to see not just some youth coming through, but some really exciting talent with the different versatility and dynamics that they bring.
“With Funmi, she’s just so explosive on court; Alice who just brings that presence for us at the back and I think Fran’s really stepped into that more senior role and is really using her voice and communication on the court. I think she did a fantastic job against Uganda – she obviously picked up Player of the Series so doing it for us defenders.
What a series for the defender 💥
— England Netball (@EnglandNetball) October 9, 2022
“As a fellow defender, we’re very proud of what our unit can do and I know Layla and myself are very excited to join what they built on through the Uganda Series and hopefully we keep building through this Australia Series on the road to the World Cup next year.”
The three-match international series is the first time since 2018 that the Vitality Roses have played Down Under after their planned tour in 2021 was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Wednesday’s opener against the Commonwealth Games gold medallists, which can be watched live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix, signals the next chapter in the England vs. Australia rivalry.
Mentor said: “I think the Australian Diamonds and Vitality Roses battles that we’ve had over the years have certainly intensified, particularly over the last four or five years when England has been a lot more competitive.
“I think before you’d probably have written us off and it was just about building, whereas now we’re in there and we’re in it to try and win it.
“I think the beauty of having so many players being able to play Down Under and get to know the Australian style, what it takes to be able to train week in week out at that intensity and then bring that onto the international stage has really put us in good stead.
“I guess that just makes international netball and world netball more exciting as it‘s not just New Zealand and Australia battling at the top but England and now Jamaica are obviously nipping at the heels of these countries that are one and two in the world.”
“It’s going to be fire, it’s going to be physical – there’s no love lost!”
The Australia Series is the next phase in an exciting year for the Vitality Roses with the Netball World Cup in South Africa beginning in July 2023.
With the team representing various clubs domestically across the world and therefore separated for large parts of the year, Mentor and her teammates are maximising the chance to be together day in day out on tour to test new partnerships and further cement foundations for the season ahead.
She said: “I think the important thing for us building towards the World Cup is making the most of the opportunities – not just on court but off court as well, building our culture and our game plan, looking at video, and solidifying those combinations – because we do then after the international window all go back to our own clubs and domestic leagues whether that’s in New Zealand, Australia or England.
“I don’t envy our England coaches, Jess and Sonia who have to keep tabs on us and make sure we’re not only ticking along individually but when we come back together, it’s not too much time spent building those combinations and that we’ve actually got them in the bank.
“Being able to have good contested games and being able to play against the England Thorns is fantastic, and the Australian Men’s side is where you’re going to get the greater gain I guess as a team and build towards what we want to do.
“Yes, you can train but at the end of the day if we can’t put it out against top opposition, then it’s going to fall down on you.
“Each time we have the opportunity together, it’s a step closer to World Cup which is super exciting.”
In preparation for the series, the Vitality Roses have completed a mix of technical and gym sessions, as well as video analysis discussions and behind-closed-doors match play against the England Thorns and the Australian Men’s netball team.
They’ve also spent time together and done activities away from the court, including a group trip to watch the Sydney Kings basketball outfit – and Mentor emphasises how the team spirit and togetherness is key.
“It’s always about the vibes with this group in terms of the team culture and I think no matter who’s coming in and out, whether you’re a newbie debutant or an older girl like myself, I think it’s just important that you bring a real positive outlook.
“I think the one thing with this group is we tend to look at life as glass half full rather than half empty.”
“We actually worked it out that we’ve got more introverts within this team than extroverts so I don’t know if that helps at all in terms of people just sort of respecting everything and staying humble.
“I think internally we’re very introverted but then we’ve got some that can step out and just feel that communication and connection so it’s a really beautiful group and I think the biggest thing I’d highlight is just the vibe and I think that goes a lot to the culture that we’ve got and the respect within this group.”