It has been a very different year in sport. Netball has certainly been adversely affected by COVID-19, with some competitions cancelled, some postponed, and all compromised in some way. But thanks to the tireless efforts of those involved, both the Suncorp Super Netball and ANZ Premiership seasons were able to be completed, along with a small amount of international netball. And we saw great players performing at their best in trying conditions.
So, we are back again with our annual poll to find the world’s best netballer. Once again, we have gathered the thoughts of ten judges; five writers from Netball Scoop (Jaimie Keay, Andrew Kennedy, Katrina Nissen, Jenny Sinclair and myself), and five other judges from the world of media and coaching (Lisa Alexander, Erin Delahunty, Liz Ellis, Tamsin Greenway and Bridget Tunnicliffe).
Each person was asked to list their top five netballers in the world based on form throughout 2020, and rank them from one to five. In total, 17 players got a mention, with four of them getting at least one top nod from the judges. Incredibly, when the votes were tallied up, the top three players were separated by just two votes. Any one of these three athletes would have been a very worthy winner, but to find out who took the crown, read on.
Here are our top four players for this year…
4th – MWAI KUMWENDA (13 votes)
The 2020 Super Netball competition began with Mwai Kumwenda sharing court time with Melbourne Vixens’ other two shooters, Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip. Over the course of the season, she lifted her game to such a high level that come finals time, she was an indispensable and integral part of the premiership-winning team at goal shooter. Her form peaked at season’s end with a masterful display in the grand final, where she shot 47/50.
Kumwenda has turned in many fine performances over the course of her netball career. But it’s doubtful any of them were better than the show she put on in the SSN decider. Her flexibility, poise and confidence saw her get the better of Australian goal keeper Courtney Bruce and deservedly take out the player of the match award. 2021 will bring new challenges. Thwaites and Philip have now retired, and Kumwenda will have to shoulder even more responsibility.
Lisa Alexander – “Mwai Kumwenda combined her technical prowess with complete understanding of her team and the game plan, culminating in a superb match in the Suncorp Super Netball grand final.”
3rd – JHANIELE FOWLER (29 votes)
Jhaniele Fowler had yet another dominant year in 2020. A great team player and leader for club and country, Fowler is always supportive and conscious of doing what’s best for her team. On most occasions, that is simply scoring goals. And lots of them. Her Super Netball numbers are simply amazing; over 200 goals more than her nearest challenger during the regular season, and then she managed to add a further 170 goals in three pressurised finals matches.
While still continuing to use her height and size to great effect, in 2020 Fowler’s versatility was on display. She was successful in scoring several super shots, demonstrating that she is no one trick pony. Far from being “just tall”, she uses athleticism and skill to beat her opponents, and she makes it look easy. Sadly, she’s now been involved in two narrow grand final defeats with West Coast Fever, so she will be fiercely determined to go one better in 2021.
Andrew Kennedy – “An absolute powerhouse, ultra-reliable, great timing and choice of holds and split, plus a good natural leader. Fever would have been also-rans without her dominance.’
Jenny Sinclair – “For me, Fowler continues to cement her place as the world’s best netballer. She’s not only tall, but athletic, incredibly accurate and can haul in the worst of feeds. She is close to unstoppable, although many goal keepers have given it a crack.”
2nd – LIZ WATSON (30 votes)
It’s no longer enough to just consider Liz Watson one of the best wing attacks in the world. She is simply one of the best netballers in the world. And she proved it in 2020. When it comes to feeders, there is no player more dynamic or prolific. Seemingly able to run all day, she puts herself in the best positions and can find the circle edge with ease. She finished the Super Netball season with 46 more goal assists than the next best, despite playing three less games.
The success of the Melbourne Vixens in attack largely revolves around Watson. She is the driving force behind everything they do offensively. Under the intense pressure of the grand final, she had 57 feeds, 38 assists and 32 centre-pass receives. These are truly mindboggling numbers. In 2021, she will have two new Vixens goal attacks to work with, but if anyone can turn this potential problem into a winner, it will be Watson.
Erin Delahunty – “It may seem simplistic, but when selecting the best player in the world in what has been a truly extraordinary season, I landed on the idea of “school yard pick”. If I was building a team, who would be the first player I picked? And for me, in 2020, that was Liz Watson, despite her injury-interrupted season. The Vixens were always going to win or lose that Super Netball grand final based on her fitness/inclusion. She plays, they win. Pure grunt, pure class.”
Liz Ellis – “She took her game to another level this year. Played the entire year a step ahead of every defender, and changed her game to suit whatever game plan the Vixens were working on at the time.”
Tamsin Greenway – “Quite simply the Vixens couldn’t win without her, she is crucial in every part of that attacking unit. Her availability, feeding and leadership was incredible this season and to play with 2 completely different styles of shooting circle and still nail it was very impressive.”
1st – AMELIARANNE EKENASIO (31 votes)
The status of Ameliaranne Ekenasio in the sport of netball continues to rise to ever greater heights. Her performance as goal attack for Pulse and New Zealand in the past two years has been extraordinary. Game after game, she continues to find space effortlessly and put up shots with high volume and great accuracy. In a year of “super shots”, Ekenasio regularly shoots from distance successfully, and she often does it under the most extreme pressure.
Not only has she now developed her own game to a very high level, but she has also proven to be an instant hit as a leader. Taking over from the legendary Laura Langman as Silver Ferns captain, she has slipped into her new role with class and composure. The future for New Zealand netball is looking very strong and Ekenasio is right at the forefront of it. There’s every chance there will be more success for her in 2021, and in the years to come.
Jaimie Keay – “She had another incredibly strong ANZ Premiership season and led the Silver Ferns with poise, mana and grace. Continuing on from her efforts in 2019. The sky is the limit for hopefully international netball in 2021.”
Katrina Nissen – “She is so entrancing. Her movement and reading of the game has always been world class. But she has taken her game and leadership to another level this year. I have been really impressed with her approach to captaining the Ferns and can’t wait to see what she can do with that role in the years to come.”
Bridget Tunnicliffe – “For me, Ameliaranne Ekenasio is the best goal attack in the world and the complete package. She can shoot from anywhere, is high volume for a GA, and works cleverly in tandem with whoever she’s paired with. She has to be incredibly fit physically and mentally to put in the work rate that she does and still hold her nerve to complete pressure shots from distance. Another fine season for the Premiership winning Pulse and as the new leader of the Silver Ferns.”
FINAL POLL RESULTS:
31 votes – Ameliaranne Ekenasio (NZ)
30 votes – Liz Watson (Aus)
29 votes – Jhaniele Fowler (Jam)
13 votes – Mwai Kumwenda (Mal)
8 votes – Caitlin Thwaites (Aus)
7 votes – Courtney Bruce (Aus) & Karla Pretorius (SA)
4 votes – Kate Moloney (Aus) & Jane Watson (NZ)
3 votes – Sulu Fitzpatrick (NZ), Jamie-Lee Price (Aus) & Shamera Sterling (Jam)
2 votes – Laura Langman (NZ), Geva Mentor (Eng) & Jo Weston (Aus)
1 vote – Karin Burger (NZ) & Maia Wilson (NZ)