Calling a win over the world champions “quite unrealistic”, the Northern Ireland coach said he would instead “embrace” the game as an opportunity for his squad to “learn and grow”.
“It’s really just an opportunity to get into the World Cup,” Ryan said. “If we can do some good stuff today, it’s really just a stepping stone.”
Towering shooter Caitlin Bassett made it look easy, setting the pace of the 96 per cent shooting accuracy and pushing her team to a 45-15 half-time lead. It was here that shooter Caitlin Thwaites and Paige Hadley were brought into the game, who alongside Caitlin Bassett are the only three players who remain from the 2015 World Cup.
The combination of the two star shooters made it almost impossible for Northern Ireland to appear a threat.
The game was briefly paused when Northern Ireland captain Caroline O’Hanlon hit the floor hard after a nasty collision with Jamie-Lee Price. It was the last thing Northern Ireland needed, with their skipper escorted off the field midway through the third quarter.
Diamonds debutant Sarah Klau was called up to join the starting seven, looking as if she had been in the side for years, with every player brought onto the court in the opening match.
Vice-captain Liz Watson was placed in the centre, away from her usual position of wing attack, leading to a few errors in the first half.
Alexander said she expected the tournament as a whole to be “one of the most keenly contested” ever, with the globalisation of the game outside “New Zealand and Australia” pushing other nations to evolve their game and become real threats to Australia.
“I think there’s been massive changes over the last four years and really to the benefit of the sport as a whole as a global sport,” she said on Thursday. “We know we are the world’s best at this stage according to the rankings and we want to make sure your netball does the speaking for us.”
The Diamonds will be required to back up the performance less than 24 hours later when they face Cup debutants Zimbabwe on Saturday at 5:45pm Sydney time.
“I think we know that there’s a certain style in Africa that probably fairly similar to Malawi,” coach Lisa Alexander said. “They like to keep possession of the ball, there’s a bit of basketball zoning there, because their coaches have basketball background mostly, so we will expect the unexpected.”
Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.