Tracey Neville is “living the dream” as she sends her England netball side out, gunning for a place in the World Cup final.
And she has pleaded with fans to rise up and roar the Roses to victory on Saturday in their semi-final showdown against New Zealand at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena.
The host nation will be in desperate need of an ‘eighth player’ as they take on a resurgent Silver Ferns in their bid to reach their first ever World Cup Final.
And coach Neville said: “My dream has always been to have a stadium full of red and white in my home region. I’ve never had this in my life.
“They scared me, at first. We’re getting on for 10,000 people and it was intimidating. But now we expect something from them too. We want to hear noise. We need them to be the force that’s driving us.”
Captain Serena Guthrie faces the battle of her life as she takes on netball’s equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo in his prime — New Zealand counterpart Laura Langman.
The sensational centre jumps like a cricket, bends like rubber and races around the court like a speed skater. It was her energy that drove New Zealand to within a single goal of world champions Australia in their last match of the group stage.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Langman said. “Serena loves an event and this is going to be one. The crowd is going to play an epic role.”
Neville is convinced her centre has just as much right to her place in the spotlight though, having been instrumental in England’s 58-47 victory over South Africa on Thursday.
“Serena was world class before she became our captain but now she’s a leader,” Neville said. “She’s unique. The only player I can think of who can match her at this tournament is Laura Langman and Serena is going to go down in the history books just like her.”
Neville knows her own legacy is also at stake. Having announced her intention to step aside after the tournament, she knows that after winning Commonwealth Games gold last year, a place in the final is the least fans expect from the Roses.
“Every day is a building day for us,” she said.
But it will need to be more than that.
New Zealand come into this match resurgent.
They were dire at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last year, leaving without a medal for the first time ever having previously won two gold and three silvers.
England's star shooter Helen Housby agreed they have come on in leaps and bounds since the Gold Coast.
“We know they have some huge players on court,” she said. “We’re confident going into the game but we know they will be strong.”
WEEKEND UK TV SCHEDULE
TODAY Semi-finals: Australia v South Africa (11.15am, live on Sky Sports), England v New Zealand (3pm, live on BBC2 and Sky Sports).
SUNDAY Bronze medal match (2.30pm, live on BBC2/Sky Sports), Final (4.45pm, live on BBC2/Sky Sports).