Advantage Malaysia for SEA Games netball
Hosts are favourites for 2017 SEA Games, but Aitken says future's bright for Singapore netball team
The Malaysian netball team have a settled squad, an Asian title under their belts and home ground advantage at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
Little wonder then that outgoing Singapore national coach Ruth Aitken brands the Republic's arch-rivals as favourites to wrest the SEA Games gold medal from Singapore next August.
"Generally, when you have a four-year cycle between tournaments, like the World Cup or in the Olympics, it allows you more time for player development before bringing them up," said the 60-year-old Kiwi, who leaves her post next month to move back home.
"I do think that next year will be a big challenge for us because of the shortness of preparation time, but I think Singapore should be absolutely ripe to go when we host the Asian Championship in 2018."
Hosts Singapore beat Malaysia 46-43 in a tense SEA Games final at the OCBC Arena last year.
The World Cup followed, after which veteran stars Micky Lin, Chen Huifen and Premila Hirubalan retired.
In contrast, the Malaysian side remained intact and went on to win the Asian Championship earlier this year in Thailand, as defending champions Singapore, with a new-look team, could only finish third.
Aitken, though, is not ruling out an upset at the SEA Games.
The former Silver Ferns player and coach said: "I am a firm believer that anything is possible, and on any given day, with the correct combination of players, and their heart and soul, upsets can happen.
I Do think that next year will be a big challenge for us because of the shortness of preparation time, but I think singapore should be absolutely ripe to go when we host the asian championship in 2018. — Outgoing singapore national coach ruth aitken (right) on next year’s sea games
"At the Asian Championship, Hong Kong nearly beat Malaysia in the semi-finals, so you just don't know."
One weakness among the current group of Singapore players is confidence.
"The thing about... our players is that they are very humble and don't like to talk themselves up," the veteran coach said.
"The reality is that with sport, you need confidence to take you through games, and building that confidence is something that we need to do in the next 12 months."
Aitken does not have any competitions left with the team, but intends to leave the squad in good shape for her successor
She said: "This is the first time that we'll have a proper pre-season, with the Nations Cup held earlier this year. The girls have had a good break... and so now it's about the basics, in terms of developing or reinforcing their skill under pressure.
"It (training) won't be so much tactical because the new coach may have a different approach, but about being able to up their intensity levels in terms of training load."