Coverage of England’s semi-final against New Zealand is underway on Sky Sports Netball from 2.30pm and also on Sky One and Sky Sports YouTube
By Paul Prenderville in Liverpool
Last Updated: 19/07/19 11:38pm
Netball is as much about combinations and partnerships as it is anything else, and as they prepare for potentially the biggest weekend of their lives, England have a pairing that is the envy of world netball.
With only two positions allowed to score goals – those two players had better be good at their job. Fortunately for Tracey Neville, Jo Harten and Helen Housby are very good at doing their job.
Perhaps, more importantly, the star shooters seem to have the knack for knowing when to do their job – this weekend that is exactly what England are going to need as they chase a first World Cup title, starting with Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand.
Defenders and mid-courters will tell you that it’s they who make the plays, but it’s equally true that to make those contributions worthwhile someone has to put the ball in the goal.
It’s an art Housby and Harten – or H2 as they have become known – have perfected having come together over the last international cycle.
They’ve scored 282 goals between them this week in Liverpool and a goal from one of them, with all due respect to Rachel Dunn, is likely to be the reason England win gold.
“It is a gold medal-winning performance and a partnership that goes ahead with it,” says Neville when asked about the pairing.
The England coach has been quick to not single out performances as these Roses have risen together but Harten’s highlight reel and Housby’s nose for the winning moment means the pair have stood out.
“It’s just about tasting it all the time, getting together and improving on performances,” Neville adds.
“They’ve had a lot of the international season together. They were a little bit scratchy coming into this tournament because obviously they’ve been playing completely differently for their club.”
Harten, the vice-captain, is playing in her fourth World Cup, all have ended in semi-final defeat, twice against Australia and twice against New Zealand.
I am not sure where H2 has come from but the partnership has been bubbling now for five years.
It doesn’t happen overnight and we’ve been working on our own games in Australia and now coming together for England we are playing some really good netball at the moment.
We have fun with each on and off the court and that’s showing.
Harten on Housby
It is Housby’s second World Cup, but the 24-year-old has previous for the biggest moments, stepping up to sink the winning shot for a Manchester Thunder team that won the Superleague title in 2014.
She repeated the feat in 2018 when she found the last-second winner to beat Australia in the gold medal match the Commonwealth Games that brought England their first major netball title.
Harten had set the tone, sinking a last-second winner herself to see off Jamaica in the semi-final that set up the Gold Coast gold-medal shootout.
It’s nice to know where she’s going to be and how she likes to play.
She’s a little bit of an unorthodox shooter but I love playing with her.
It’s always so athletic and dynamic in the circle and I think that it keeps defenders guessing.
Housby on Harten
In Liverpool both have had their moments. Harten has gone viral with an array of ball skills and long bombs that have become her trademark.
Housby has set the tone, her all-action style from the goal attack position has forced timely turnovers: “I love getting some intercepts. I think that anybody is a defender when you don’t have the ball. I don’t think that shooters are known for strong defensive pressure but I think that can be a mark.”
There is a chemistry between the pair that is worked on – like the whole squad there is a camaraderie that comes from winning and to see how the team interact with each other is to see a team comfortable in their goals.
It’s a partnership almost unique in netball teams in that each player is comfortable in either the GA or the GS bib.
Most teams predominately have a main shooter but that’s not necessarily the case for the Roses. It’s Harten who wears the GS, but the reality is that the pair can switch it up at a moment’s notice, and for as long as the game might require.
“They both play both positions as well and it confuses defences who don’t know who is going to be where at any given time, you’ll see Jo Harten coming out and Helen going into the back space,” says former England shooter Pamela Cookey.
“In that circle, it’s such a tight space, it’s how they use their footwork and their body positioning to create space for each other.
“That’s what they’ve started to do really well and not just in those tight spaces, when the ball is coming through the court they change their leads up too.”
That they both play in Australia Super Netball completion can only help – as it has done for most of this squad hardened by playing against the very best the world game has to offer in its pre-eminent domestic competition.
Housby stars for the table-topping NWS Swifts, while Harten dazzles for the Giants and both have the big-game temperaments to step up and keep their cool when they need to.
They, and the Roses, are about to face one or possibly two of the biggest games of their careers.
Successful, or least close to being successful England teams have had partnerships working in tandem. Shearer and Sheringham, Lineker and Beardsley, Botham and Willis – netball might just have a pair to trump them and lead England to World Cup glory
Watch coverage of the climax to the Vitality Netball World Cup on Sky Sports Netball, Sky One and YouTube on Saturday and Sunday, starting with Saturday’s semi-final double header from 11am.