Netball: England must not fear Australia - Helen Housby

By Gary RoseBBC Sport
Helen Housby has been an England international since 2014

Shooter Helen Housby says a lack of fear is vital when England host world champions Australia in Wednesday's three-game International Series opener.

The first match is in Liverpool, with the remaining two fixtures in London on 22 and 24 January.

The world number one side won their 11th title at last year's World Cup in Sydney, where England finished third.

"If we are going to beat them, we have to offend them, we have to go hard on them," said 21-year-old Housby.

"It will be a massive challenge.

"They have just come off the back of a very successful World Cup, but key for us is to not be scared to play."

Rising stars hoping to shine

Pamela Cookey
England lost one of their most experienced players last year when Pamela Cookey, capped 114 times, retired

Australia, looking to avenge a 3-0 series defeat by England in 2013, will be without a number of key players, including captain Laura Geitz, and have instead included a number of promising prospects in their squad.

It will also be a different England side from the one that featured at the World Cup, with Joanne Harten, Serena Guthrie and Geva Mentor rested, while experienced duo Pamela Cookey and Tamsin Greenway retired last year.

It means Manchester Thunder's Housby, who has been part of the England set-up since 2014, will be one of the most experienced players in the squad, despite her age.

"It is strange to be branded an experienced person," added Housby.

"I have only played against Australia for half a match before, but hopefully I can use the bit of experience I have to help the other players. It is also a chance for me to step up and still improve my game.

"There are some young talents coming up that have great prospects. People like Jodie Gibson, who has not had an international cap yet - she is one for the future and is such a powerhouse.

"Even though we are not the most experienced team and they are not the most experienced team, any Australian team that takes to the court, you know they are going to be competitive and driven to win. So we will have to match that."

England v Australia International Series
1st Test: Echo Arena, Liverpool, Wednesday, 20 January, 19:30 GMT
2nd Test: Copper Box Arena, London, Friday, 22 January, 19:30 GMT
3rd Test: Copper Box Arena, London, Sunday, 24 January, 18:30 GMT

'Tracey Neville is England's rock'

Tracey Neville
Tracey Neville was appointed MBE in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to netball

The series represents the first major test for Tracey Neville since she was appointed permanent England head coach in September last year.

Neville, sister of former Manchester United footballers Gary and Phil, was interim coach of the national team as they won bronze at the World Cup.

On the day of England's opening game at that tournament, her father Neville Neville died.

"It was a difficult time and the way she handled herself was impeccable," said Housby.

"She was such a rock for the England team, she made sure she got through the World Cup and dealt with it all afterwards, which we all respected her for. I think the whole world respected her for it.

"It was hard, but I think she is such a strong person. Her personality is incredible and infectious. We are working hard for her and hopefully we can deliver."

Big hopes for club and country

Dan Ryan
Dan Ryan spent four years working as an assistant at Australian side Adelaide and has recently been named England Under-21s coach

Neville led Manchester Thunder to the domestic Superleague title in 2014, but she was replaced by 31-year-old Australian Dan Ryan when she left to take charge of England.

Ryan, who plays goal attack for the Australia men's team, is the only male coach in the Superleague.

"He brings a different dynamic, but that is to be expected," said Housby.

"He has come over from Australia with a completely different set of coaching values. I do enjoy change and do enjoy being shaken up a little bit. He is a fantastic coach and is especially good with shooters, so that works well for me.

"He has been brilliant so far. Dan has big ambitions, not just for the team but for me, too. I want to make my stamp on the Superleague and on the international scene as well."

Shooting hoops and studying zoology

Housby, like most of her England colleagues, is semi-professional and is combining her netball commitments with completing a degree in zoology at Manchester University.

"I have always liked animals and I think it is good to have something that is completely unrelated to netball," she said. "I think it provides a good life balance.

"I have thought about going into veterinary science but I am keeping my options open. I am enjoying doing what I am at the moment.

"It can be hard but my university professors are really good. One of my head tutors is a netball fan, so on my first day I went to her office and had a big discussion, mostly about netball."