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Netball: Wildcats sharpen claws on elite sides as part of 2014 preparations

They're not quite on their ninth life yet, but the Wildcats seem to be enjoying their new lease of it.

Captain Lesley MacDonald leads Wildcats into action today. Picture: Kirsty Anderson
Captain Lesley MacDonald leads Wildcats into action today. Picture: Kirsty Anderson

This week, on their own patch, Glasgow's netball team will face one of the most stringent tests of their development in the inaugural World Premier Club Challenge at the Emirates Arena. For Denise Holland, the national coach, and her players, the opportunity to get their claws into some of the game's most respected and resolute sides is one that is being eagerly anticipated.

With the core of the side set to represent Scotland when the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow in 2014, this six-team round-robin affair, which gets under way this morning, is another major stepping stone in their build-up.

Last season, having lost all 16 games in the Fiat Netball Superleague, the Wildcats' place among the elite, which they had held for three years, was taken away by the powers-that-be. Plunged into something of a netballing wilderness, the Wildcats, aided by the continued support of the city council, Glasgow Life and Netball Scotland, are now in the midst of a second coming.

"We just had to get on with it," reflected Englishwoman Holland, who has been involved with the national set-up since 2004 and represented Hong Kong as an expat in the world championships of 1991 and 1995.

"We could have sat around and moped about but we wouldn't have got anywhere. You have to stand by what you believe in. I'm not a quitter by nature. I needed to stand tall at the time we lost the franchise.

"The players put in a lot of work and committed their time to the cause. If I was weak and didn't show strength then I would have let down all the others who had shown great commitment. They believed in me and, as long as there was that mutual respect, then I agreed to stick with the task."

Trying to provide the players with competitive opportunities has been key to the re-building process.

In January, the Wildcats hosted and won the British Invitational event at the Kelvin Hall and this week's contest on the other side of the city has been devised to bolster the preparation programme ahead of the 2014 Games.

"The players didn't have the competition but we are working hard to find new avenues where they can compete," added Holland, who is eager to see how her players react to the pressures of intense competition under the scrutiny of a home crowd.

"This will be a very big deal for the players, playing at home and with those pressures. We can't brush that under the carpet; we need to address it. We have 18 months until the 2014 Games and this will be a good test of their resolve."

First up for the Wildcats this morning will be a testing encounter with Manchester Thunder, the Superleague champions.

In what will be a robust schedule over the next five days, the hosts will also square up to Surrey Storm, the league runners-up, and Ireland's representatives, the Northern Panthers, as well as two leading sides from the ultra-competitive Australian and New Zealand scene, namely West Coast Fever and Haier Central Pulse.

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