The Tonga Tala finished strong to edge the Fiji Pearls on the first day of the Netball World Cup opener in Cape Town, South Africa Friday night 56 – 51.
It is Tonga’s first Netball World Cup appearance, so excitement is strong in the Kingdom.
Tala’s star Goal Shooter, Uneeq Palavi, was in scintillating form to keep her team in contact with the Pearls’ early commanding lead. But Fiji’s Goal Keeper Kelera Nawai-Caucau was relentless and did not make it easy for the Tonga shooters, using her tall and strong frame to block shots and make crucial interceptions.
Center and captain of the Tala, Hulita Veve ran a netball clinic in center court. She was strong in defense and swift in attack. Her interception of the ball was pivotal to the Tala retaking the lead, and saw her take player of the match.
After the match, Tonga Tala vice captain Kelea Iongi said, “We stayed calm and when we have possession of the ball we use the ball well to get them to our attackers. And our defenders for grinding it out and getting tips and intercepts was a full-time effort.”
The Fiji Pearls just managed to hold out Zimbabwe on day 2 of the World Cup, 52 – 48, to secure their first and only win to date.
In contrast, Tonga faced the mighty Australia Diamonds in their second pool game, going down 84 – 38 to the first-ranked side.
Overnight, Fiji was completely wiped out by Australia 101 – 38, with the Diamonds dominating the game right from the first center ball.
The Australians have won the World Cup 11 times and were only beaten by a single goal by New Zealand in the last World Cup final in 2019.
Meanwhile Tonga’s match up with Zimbabwe saw them prevail 55-46.
Zimbabwe scored first the goal and kept the lead for a little while in the first quarter.
But Tonga soon strengthened their defensive efforts, resulting in more turnovers.
The Cape Town International Convention Center echoed with the voices of the Tongan supporters in attendance as star goal shooter Uneeq Palavi again was absolutely on target with the execution of her shots.
“We definitely came out strong and were consistent in this game. We really improved from our last two games so just really proud of the girls’ efforts tonight”, said captain Hulita Veve after the match.
The win means Tonga still has a chance to qualify in the playoff stages of the Netball World Cup.