Why this year's Netball World Cup will be more closely contested than ever before

The last five World Cup finals may have been contested by Australia and New Zealand, with the Aussie Diamonds winning four. Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

When England pinched the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Australia's backyard, people sat up and listened.

Not only did it propel the Roses to stardom in their native country, but it signalled the end of the Trans-Tasman dominance of netball. The last five World Cup finals may have been contested by Australia and New Zealand, with the Aussie Diamonds winning four.

But the tide has turned -- the appetite for netball has never been greater and the standard never higher.

This summer, 16 national teams will descend upon Liverpool for nine days of jam packed netball, with the best teams in the world vying for the crown.

While the Diamonds, and defending World Champions, may be favourites to win, competition is tight between the top five ranked teams in the world.

Even experienced England Roses player Jo Harten, who is likely to get her 100th cap for her country, said: "We've blown the gates wide open now, we don't know who's going to beat who on any given day, which is great for the event and for the sport, but it is scary as an athlete."

The growing number of overseas players competing in the Australian Suncorp Super Netball League is part of the reason that any one of the top 5 could take the title in Liverpool this month.

The league continues to attract the best in the world, which has helped the international game enormously; six of the Roses squad compete in the league, as well as five from Jamaica and three from South Africa. By contrast, most players in the British Superleague, or South African Netball League are part-time.

Ahead of the curtain raiser on July 12, here are the top five teams and players to watch:

Australia: Flawless Diamonds

The ever-dominant force in netball are favourites for the tournament and will be seeking their fourth consecutive title, having retained gold in 2015 after a tightly-fought 58-55 victory over New Zealand.

But this tournament is about more than retaining the crown. They are heading to England with a view to settle some scores with the Roses after losing to them twice in ten months.

Diamonds' captain Caitlin Bassett is all too aware of the pressure of playing host for the tournament and threw down the gauntlet.

Speaking to AAP, she said: "I think back to Sydney [in 2015] and how much pressure and expectation that was put on the home country to perform and win and I don't think England will be prepared for that.

"I'm looking forward to going over there, and not being the underdog because we're world No.1 for a reason, and the focus not being all about us."

Bassett herself is one of the most formidable shooters in the world and despite being sidelined with a fractured arm at the start of this year, which she sustained while playing in England, she is expected to cause some headaches for defensive pairs.

With two World Cup gold medals to boast, the captain is a key part of the Diamonds' famous razor sharp attack and, alongside Caitlin Thwaites, will bring experience, pace and accuracy to the game.

Should centre Liz Watson also be allowed to run riot in centre-court, she too will be dangerous for any opposition; the Diamonds' player of the year boasts 256 assists from nine games in the Suncorp Super Netball League.

Head Coach Lisa Alexander raised a few eyebrows with her squad selection, taking nine World Cup rookies and leaving several experienced heads, such as Gabi Simpson and Kim Ravaillion, off of the plane.

Just Bassett, Thwaites and Paige Hadley survived the cull from the 2015 World Cup winning squad, but Alexander is confident that her squad are strong enough to go all the way again.

Jamaica: Sun rising on the sunshine girls

The Sunshine Girls rose above England in the world rankings earlier this month, and have named a squad with plenty of experience for the upcoming World Cup.

When England fielded a relatively young team against Jamaica in a series last October, they underestimated the team's athleticism and grit, and suffered a three-game thrashing.

Jamaica are a team with aerial flair and strengths at either end of the court; they have several standout stars in the ranks but may struggle in the middle.

Shamera Sterling is a towering defender who will fiercely defend the circle, known as the 'intercept queen' for good reason.

The 6-foot-2-inch Jamaican is one of the most exciting defenders in the world and has burst onto the scene in Australia's Suncorp League, being hailed as the Goal Keeper of the Season.

But any turnovers for the Sunshine Girls may struggle to make it down through the centre-court.

At the other end of the court is another pillar of strength in Romelda Aiken, who has featured in two World Cups.

The 6-foot-4-inch shooter was the first player to score 4,000 goals in the ANZ Championship in Australia and New Zealand, and her shooting prowess will be vital if her country are to better their bronze medal from the Commonwealth Games.

Jamaica won't have any easy route through the group stages as they are set to face No. 5 seed South Africa, who benefit from the wisdom of twice-World Cup winning coach Norma Plummer, but they can come out on top if they're firing on all cylinders.

England: The blossoming Roses

The Roses proved themselves at the Commonwealth Games, and now seem like a force to be reckoned with, especially with the home advantage.

Head coach Tracey Neville has selected a squad with plenty of experience on the international stage, eight players from the gold medal winning squad have retained their spot and there are star names in every third.

Geva Mentor is a force to be reckoned with in the defensive circle and proved as much by securing her 100th Suncorp Super Netball intercept in June.

The veteran Goal Keeper reads the game well and is an incredibly experienced head, with twenty years at the top of the game; both Mentor and Jade Clarke have already donned a red dress at four previous World Cups.

Although there is a shuffle with captain duties -- Ama Agbeze wasn't selected after her season was beset by injury -- centre Serena Guthrie is more than capable of taking the reins and proved herself at the Commonwealth Games to be one of the best centre-court players in the world.

Guthrie, who made her debut in 2008, isn't afraid of throwing herself into any situation. Her energy, grit and wisdom will be key in her bid motivate her teammates.

Having made headlines around the world for scoring the last-gasp attempt at the Commonwealth Games, Helen Housby has had an incredibly impressive domestic season in Australia.

Her shooting accuracy is at an impressive 89 per cent, proving that she continues to thrive under pressure -- which will be useful in front of the England crowd who have sold out their country's clashes at the M&S Bank Arena.

The Roses will need to embrace the crowd and atmosphere in order to finish Neville's tenure on a high.

New Zealand: Aiming to polish the silver

The Silver Ferns have dropped to fourth in the world rankings after a run of poor form, but their new coach is likely to change the side's fortunes.

Even Australian rival Bassett believes anyone would be foolish to write them off, saying: "If you don't think the Kiwis are a force to be reckoned with, you're silly.

"I know the power of Noeline [Taurua] first hand and what confidence she can give teams."

Head coach Taurua has an enviable record as both a player and a coach and her appointment was a huge boost for the side, who have only twice finished outside the top two in the event's 56-year history.

Veteran players and all-time favourites former captain Casey Kopua and wing defence Laura Langmam were welcomed back into the fold, which means the Ferns have one all-star in every third, bringing experience and instilling the fear factor back into black dress oppositions.

Langman, the most capped player in Ferns' history, will assume captain duties and lead from her centre-court position.

Described as the engine room of any team she is in, the netball superstar's energy levels, work rate and athleticism mean she's able to assume both attacking and defensive responsibilities.

Assisting Langman defensively is Kopua, who has come out of international retirement for her swansong.

The in-circle defender is a power house who has great strength in the air, incredible commitment for balls and sheer determination. Kopua is a motivator who leads by example.

These two experienced heads are yet to win a world championship and will be gunning for glory, alongside Maria Folau, before they hang up their international dresses.

Folau has been a mainstay of the Silver Ferns for more than ten years and will be playing in her fourth World Cup.

The star shooter is a danger from anywhere in the circle, her incredibly graceful shooting style makes her shots appear effortless -- even when it's long-bomb from the edge of the 4.9m radius.

First up for New Zealand on July 12 is Malawi, who stunned them at the Commonwealth Games, so the Ferns will need to set their tone in the opening match if they're to make it all the way.

South Africa: Gold at the end of the rainbow?

The Spar Proteas may be ranked fifth in the world, but they are one wildcard who could compete for the crown, having pushed New Zealand to extra-extra time and beaten England in London this year.

Their game is quicker and sharper since head coach Norma Plummer took over. The netball legend brings a wealth of experience having led Australia to glory at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

The rainbow nation's team do struggle with funding -- they have a physio but not a full-time doctor and train in schools and universities. But they do have several players who compete in Australia and England's highly skilled domestic leagues.

Prolific wing attack Bongi Msomi is one of the side's stars and will captain South Africa in Liverpool this summer.

While defensively South Africa are very strong in Shadine Van Der Merwe, Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni, they have a high error rate at the front end.

The Spar Proteas are very reliant on Lenize Potgieter, but her height, athleticism and fearless approach does make her a fierce competitor in the circle.

Plummer has instilled a winning mentality among her squad, which has paid dividends. They'll need to give everything they've got from early on when they face Jamaica in the group stage on July 14.

Both South Africa and England are losing their head coaches after the tournament, and with them a wealth of experience.

Any incoming coaches will need to sustain the momentum that these two have created and continue to creep up the world rankings, especially the Spar Proteas who will host the tournament in 2023.

Netball as a sport has come on leaps and bounds since England hosted the inaugural World Cup competition in 1963, but there is still a long way for it to go before it is given the esteem that it deserves.

The women's football World Cup in France drew in record breaking viewing figures and demonstrated that women's sport is certainly on the rise.

And this tournament hopes to do the same. If the buzz on social media and ticket sales are anything to go by, it suggests this Netball World Cup is going to be the biggest and closest in history.