World ranking: 1st
Previous Commonwealth Games results: 1998 (Gold), 2002 (Gold), 2006 (Silver), 2010 (Silver), 2014 (Gold)
Commonwealth Games win/loss record: 32 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw.
It’s hard to go past the Australians as favourites. However, it won’t be a straight forward task, with at least four other nations genuine title contenders. The reigning Commonwealth and World Champions are the hunted and with the additional burden of playing at a home Games, it’s a lot of pressure to absorb.
Coach Lisa Alexander is all too aware of the difficulty ahead.
“In my view it will be one of the most hotly-contested, strongest Commonwealth Games ever in netball’s history.”
So, what are the challenges the Australians will face?
Firstly, the game is becoming truly international. Players from around the world are competing in the strong English, Australian and New Zealand domestic leagues, taking their learnings home with them. Experienced coaches are also taking up opportunities in developing netball countries, with Jamaica, South Africa and Scotland particularly experiencing the benefit.
Jamaica are in Pool A with Australia and will be formidable opponents in the preliminary rounds. They’ve been little sighted since the 2015 World Cup, which makes them unpredictable and have produced some outstanding results in the recent Taini Jamison Series, beating New Zealand twice.
Alexander said, “From everyone’s point of view it was surprising compared to previous performances. However, since the last World Cup Jamaica are a different team with different coaching staff. They’ve made very significant changes to how they are approaching their test matches and this tournament. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with and we will have to do lots of preparation to get ready for them.”
South Africa will be the other significant challenge in Pool A. They have a stable starting seven that is loaded with stars, and have gained experience and confidence under the tutelage of Australian coaches Norma Plummer and Nicole Cusack. Their best ever result came against Australia in the recent Quad Series, where they went down by just four goals.
The Australians have also had less preparation than most would expect, Alexander explained.
“We haven’t had a lot of time together. Since the Quad Series we’ve only had a camp and the rest of the time the players have been in their domestic teams, working away.”
“The concentration at camp was on team work and combinations. It’s boring, but it’s the stuff that brings great teams together in terms of what they can put out on court. We will be like everybody else – the first game will be nerve racking and we will have to work our way into the tournament.”
With so many relatively new faces in the team, it will be fascinating to watch how Alexander uses her players. She and her support staff carefully monitor workloads, aiming to keep all players as fresh as possible for the finals. This can lead to some combinations less commonly seen in test matches and some scratchier passages of play than by those teams with a more fixed starting seven.
This conundrum of player balance has seen the Australians scrape over the line with very narrow wins in the second or third game of previous big tournaments. It’s an area that Alexander is addressing.
“We will be fine tuning our combinations and how we put them out. We have to try not to disrupt flow, but still get players out on court and manage them across the week, which will be really important. You have to settle in to an opposition, and that is what is a challenge for us in making changes and doing it seamlessly.”
Having six team members new to the Commonwealth Games environment has also led to a measured approach to settle them in.
“There is massive excitement among all the team, particularly the players who haven’t been before. It will be the wonderment of getting into the village, getting our rooms and all of that. We’ve put a day aside to get that done, spend a night in the village, get accustomed to it, and then get on the road to start preparing specifically for the start next week.”
On the Australians’ side are numerous advantages, however. A home court and crowd, knowledge of how to win the big games, an underpinning domestic league that is the best in the world, strong financial support, and a stable team of support staff.
One of the most important keys is the work the Diamonds have done with Leading Teams over the last six years. It’s fostered a team known for its harmony, unity and inclusiveness, an outcome that is perhaps unparalleled in Australian sport.
The sign of a champion is continually searching for ways to improve and that’s just what Bassett has done. Already one of the most accurate shooters in the world, she’s been working on movement outside the circle, adding variety to her game. At some point in the finals she will likely play against frenemy Geva Mentor – Sunshine Coast Lightning teammate, but England opponent – and it will be one of the most enthralling battles of the Games.
She’s a silent achiever in the Australian team – rarely flashy, but quietly goes about the role of shutting down her opponent. Brandley has challenged herself with directly causing more turnover ball and has a strong combination with Bruce after their shared time at West Coast Fever. With the Diamonds’ limited preparation, this could be a crucial factor in the bigger matches.
In 2017 Bruce was given an international opportunity in the absence of Geitz (maternity leave) and Layton (medical leave) and grasped it with both hands. Having cleaned up her soft penalties and improved her footwork, Bruce creates numerous turnovers and is particularly strong in the air. She can play all three defensive positions and creates a tall and formidable option when used across the line.
It will be fascinating to watch Geitz’s comeback from leave. Most of her post-natal court time has been behind closed doors, with fans wondering if she’s back to her inspirational best. With alternative goal keeper Courtney Bruce in strong form, Geitz isn’t guaranteed the starting bibs, but she adds much needed leadership and experience to a largely inexperienced defensive end.
The renaissance continues, with Pettitt recalled for her first major tournament since the 2006 Commonwealth Games. After being told she should retire a few years earlier, her selection is a wonderful reward for perseverance and self-belief. Pettitt can always be relied on to do her job. She works tirelessly in general court play and goes to the post with accuracy. A fan favourite, Pettitt will thrive back in the national team.
Had a quieter domestic season in 2017, but was in blistering touch during the last internationals of the year. Her game has matured to the point where she now drives play rather than working off her wing attack. Needs to cull soft obstruction penalties to build pressure through the court. The likely match between Ravaillion and Serena Guthrie (England) – the world’s two best centres in Laura Langman’s absence – will be mouth-watering.
Was out of form in the 2017 Constellation Cup and dropped from the Diamonds. Her selection for the Commonwealth Games was a surprise to some, and yet when she’s in touch, there’s no better feeder of shooter Caitlin Bassett. Her timing and placement of the lob is glorious to watch and fans will be hoping that Robinson is back to her best.
The Australian vice-captain has been putting miles in her legs; she’s had more court time than any other Diamond in the last year. She’s another player who mostly does her job through tight marking, wearing opponents down, while producing speccy intercepts that leave the crowd gasping. She will come up against some dominant wing attacks in Chelsea Pitman (England) and Bongiwe Msomi (South Africa) and will need to be in top form against them.
In the Diamonds environment Thwaites was originally used as an impact player off the bench, relieving Bassett when necessary. Confuses opposition with her ability to hold or move, shoots from range, has a great connection with Susan Pettitt and is now a genuine point of difference for Australia when needed. Held Collingwood together last year when their forward line struggled. The ultimate team player.
Snatched the wing attack bib from Madi Robinson last year and shows no signs of wanting to let it go. She’s an incredibly powerful player who hits the top of the circle and won’t be moved off it. Watson has added greater speed to her game, and tirelessly offers and reoffers until she’s free. Look to see her at centre when Ravaillion is rested, as she’s equally at home in both positions.
While one of the less experienced Diamonds, Weston made the most of recent opportunities in the 2017 Constellation Cup and 2018 Quad Series. She did a superb job of curbing Maria Folau, shutting down New Zealand’s gun goal attack. While Weston makes good use of her rangy limbs and timing to create intercepts, her specialty is wearing opponents down through her dogged defence. At 187cm she also adds crucial height to the defensive end. A star in the making.
While she’s yet to play a full international match for the Diamonds, Wood is set to make a big impact at the Games. She has impeccable timing and deception, great body strength and the ability to go to the post from range. Her combination with Caitlin Bassett, which started at the Sunshine Coast Lightning last year, will continue to grow with every outing. Another star of the future.
Lisa Alexander, coach
One of the most experienced national coaches who’s been through this process before. Alexander has many strengths and perhaps the greatest is her ability to listen to feedback from her players and support staff. She has confidence in her whole team – off and on the court – allowing them to do their jobs and they respond to that. As a result, Alexander superbly combines the balancing act of building fluid combinations, but keeping legs fresh for the business end of the tournament.
Last five international results
Australia def South Africa 54-50 (2018)
Australia def England 50-46 (2018)
Australia def New Zealand 67-48 (2018)
Australia def New Zealand 58-42 (2017)
Australia def New Zealand 55-43 (2017)