By Ian Harkin and Katrina Nissen
The 2024 Netball Nations Cup was the perfect medicine for netball fans itching for more international tournament action. It saw old rivalries reignite, debutantes take to the court like seasoned veterans and history made in a thrilling Round 3 contest.
With so much to analyse, here are our five take-aways from the Netball Nations Cup.
1 – Uganda eyes the top three
What a breath of fresh air the Uganda She-Cranes and their coach Fred Mugerwa were during this tournament. Seeing them come up against Australia for the first time in test match history, was a genuine highlight. Unfortunately, they finished the series in fourth place after some close losses, but that’s not a fair reflection of their performance.
They troubled the three best netballing nations with their unique style of play, particularly their brand of keepings off, possession-style netball. They regularly frustrated opponents by being more than happy to bide their time passing the ball around in their centre third until they found an opening. Fans are so used to seeing the way the top nations play, but that shouldn’t be seen as the default. There’s room for more playing styles in netball.
One problem the She-Cranes have had in this series, however, is not finishing matches off strongly. Over the course of the four games they played at the Nations Cup, Uganda was more than competitive in the first 30 minutes but tended to fall away in the second 30. The more experience the She-Cranes get against top-quality opposition, the better they will get at closing out games well.
Uganda at the 2024 Nations Cup
1st half: Minus 6 goals (116-122), 31 turnovers
2nd half: Minus 24 goals (106-130), 39 turnovers
2 – Silver Ferns debutantes impressed
New Zealand would be disappointed to finish third in the 2024 Netball Nations Cup. But there were some reasons to be upbeat about the future. In goal shooter Grace Nweke, the Ferns have an absolute star who will dominate for the next decade. And in this series, they unearthed three talented debutantes.
After initially being named as a training partner by Dame Noeline Taurua for this series, Georgia Heffernan was not only a late inclusion in the Silver Ferns squad but was brought straight into the starting lineup at goal attack for her test debut in Round one against Australia.
She impressed by showing few nerves and combining nicely with Nweke. With that game under her belt, Heffernan displayed even more confidence in the following game, which reflected on the scoreboard in a higher return at the post, more assists, and fewer turnovers.
In Round three, two more players debuted for New Zealand, with another goal attack emerging. Amorangi Malesala came on to replace Heffernan during the second quarter against England and played with great composure throughout the remainder of the game. Midcourter Tayla Earle also made her debut just a couple of minutes later. And what a debut! In just 35 minutes on court, Earle racked up 20 goal assists.
These three players then all featured in the third place playoff against Uganda, with Tayla Earle taking out the Player of the Match award after a tremendous performance; 28 assists and just one turnover. All three should have a bright future in the black dress.
New Zealand’s debutantes
#185 – Georgia Heffernan: 3 games (146 minutes)
#186 – Amorangi Malesala: 2 games (92 minutes)
#187 – Tayla Earle: 2 games (95 minutes)
Georgia Heffernan had an impressive tournament.
Amorangi Malesala with the ball.
Tayla Earle takes the ball mid drive.
3 – England fall at the final hurdle. Again.
It’s hard to know what to feel about England Roses’ performance at the Netball Nations Cup. There were some great moments for sure and finishing second is still something to be proud of. But there would be an empty feeling for many with Jess Thirlby’s team being on the receiving end of a 20 goal defeat in the final – their most significant loss to Australia since 2016.
Tournament finals are very different from round games. No one understands or absorbs this pressure quite like the Australian Diamonds. Their recent successes are a testament to this. But this toughened mentality is something that the Roses are yet to master. And after stumbling at the final hurdle so spectacularly, questions will certainly be asked.
The Roses appear to be still unsure of their best lineup, although star goal attack Helen Housby is one who is an absolute certainty. She played a blinder in the game against New Zealand to get the Roses into the final. Then she worked overtime doing all she could to keep her team in the hunt in the decider. Her shooting partner, Eleanor Cardwell, and versatile midcourter, Imogen Allison, are also highly favoured in the current Roses team, but after that it gets a bit tricky.
The Roses defence is where the most uncertainty lies. Captain Fran Williams is best suited at goal defence, but so is Funmi Fadoju. Specialist goal keeper Razia Quashie also had a good tournament. So then, how do you fit them all in? In the final, Fadoju was tried at wing defence which didn’t really work out against the best wing attack in the world. Meanwhile, Amy Carter, who had played well at wing defence in the earlier clash with Australia, wasn’t put there until the final quarter when it was too late.
There were numerous changes made, possibly too many, to England’s lineup at quarter time and half time in the final, but all to no avail as the margin continued to grow. Three times in the past 2 years, Australia and England have met in the final of a big netball tournament after having also played each other in the rounds. These are the results…
2022 Quad Series
Final: Aus by 12
2023 Netball World Cup
Rounds: Eng by 1
Final: Aus by 16
2024 Netball Nations Cup
Rounds: Aus by 2
Final: Aus by 20
Funmi Fadoju battles Cara Koenen for the ball.
Imogen Allison gets some air to tip the ball over Sara Klau’s waiting hands.
4 – Playing depth made a big difference
Australia was the only team to effectively utilise their full bench during the tournament. In all four matches, the 12 members of the gameday squad got on court. No other team did this. And why wouldn’t they use their bench when there was no discernable drop-off in ability. With each on-court change, the side seamlessly adapted and, in some cases, substantially improved, showing the depth of talent pushing for a starting spot.
Courtney Bruce played the most minutes of any Australian player with 212. Sunday Aryang was used the least (of the players named in all four matches), at 66 minutes. First choice goal defence Jo Weston was clearly being managed for a minor injury issue, as she came off at around the 25 minute mark in three of the four games. But again, this didn’t prove to be a hindrance to the team at all.
There was no better example of the Diamonds’ depth than in the use of their shooters. Coming into this tournament, Cara Koenen and Kiera Austin would probably have been regarded as the Diamonds’ two leading shooters. But come the final, there they were, sitting on the bench applauding as the two Sophies, Garbin and Dwyer dominated.
Garbin was given the Player of the Match award and Dwyer can’t have been far behind. Such is the versatility of this team, if the final opponent had been another country, perhaps a different combination would have been used. Throughout the series, the Diamonds were able to change up their shooters regularly, and the team never missed a beat.
Diamonds’ minutes played
Courtney Bruce – 212
Jamie-Lee Price – 199
Liz Watson – 189
Paige Hadley – 155
Sarah Klau – 143
Kate Moloney – 120
Sophie Garbin – 119
Kiera Austin – 110
Jo Weston – 110
Cara Koenen – 104
Sophie Dwyer – 98 (3 games)
Sunday Aryang – 66
Donnell Wallam – 45 (1 game)
5 – Culture and consistency high for the Diamonds
It’s a full to overflowing trophy cabinet for the Australian Diamonds right now after an emphatic 69-49 win in the final against England. Under the coaching of Stacey Marinkovich, the last two years have seen the Diamonds turn into a juggernaut, such that they now hold every single title that’s available to them; the Netball World Cup, Commonwealth Games Gold, Constellation Cup, Quad Series, Netball Nations Cup, and even the Fast5 Netball World Series.
Marinkovich has been successful in not just putting together a winning team, but a very happy one. The great team culture and bond between the players in the squad and the coaching staff was evident throughout the series. All the players fully supported each other, no matter which seven were on court.
When interviewed by commentary during the final, coach Stacey Marinkovich stated that their outstanding result was credited fully to the players’ efforts, not her ‘pulling the strings.’ This level of respect between the players and coaching staff should be celebrated.
Captain Liz Watson has been a big part in the success of this Australian team, not just with her play, but her calm, understated leadership. She leads by example. She was off her game to a degree in a couple of the round games, and some were questioning her form ahead of the final. They needn’t have worried. As she has done before, she lifted for the big one and racked up 28 assists and just one turnover. This is what she does; she rises to the big occasion.
Paige Hadley was named Player of the Series. She is a selfless player who just goes about her business, and she’s perfected her midcourt role to such a degree that she’s a vital member of this Australian team. When Watson was having a below-standard game in round 2 against the Roses, Hadley just calmly took over the wing attack position and proceeded to claim the Player of the Match award. In her 155 minutes on court during the series, Hadley gave up just four turnovers.
Turnovers were a key during the tournament, and it was highlighted in the final. Australia committed just 11 of them compared to England’s 19. And when it comes to total losses of possession, Australia had just 13 to England’s 23. With Australia’s attack end converting almost every chance they got, the margin blew out quickly and there was no coming back for the Roses.
Total tournament turnovers
1 Australia – 59
2 England – 64
3 New Zealand – 66
4 Uganda – 70
2024 NETBALL NATIONS CUP SCORES AND STATS
ROUND ONE – AUSTRALIA v NEW ZEALAND
ROUND ONE – ENGLAND v UGANDA
ROUND TWO – NEW ZEALAND v UGANDA
ROUND TWO – ENGLAND v AUSTRALIA
ROUND THREE – AUSTRALIA v UGANDA
ROUND THREE – ENGLAND v NEW ZEALAND
3RD PLACE PLAYOFF – NEW ZEALAND v UGANDA
FINAL – AUSTRALIA v ENGLAND