Netball Scoop World’s Best Netballer 2021

Netball Scoop World’s Best Netballer 2021

By Ian Harkin

 

It’s time to announce who has come out on top in Netball Scoop’s annual World’s Best Netballer poll. Once again, we invited some special guests to help us this year in choosing the world’s best netballer. Liz Ellis, Tamsin Greenway, Erin Delahunty, Chloe Merrell and Bridget Tunnicliffe all submitted their top five players from 2021. They were joined by Netball Scoop writers Jenny Sinclair, Katrina Nissen, Andrew Kennedy, Zara Collings and myself. Then the votes were tallied up to see who came out on top.

2021 was a tough year to vote on. This year’s panel came up with some of the most varied responses we’ve ever had. In all, 23 players got a mention; seven from New Zealand, six from Australia and England, two from Jamaica and one each from Malawi and Trinidad & Tobago. There are certainly some surprises on the list. Here is a look at the top eight players in our poll who finished clear of the rest…

 


 

Sam Winders during the Taini Jamison series

Photo: Steve McLeod

Equal 7th – SAM WINDERS (New Zealand)

In 2021, the most unenviable job in netball possibly belonged to Sam Winders. As Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic captain, she fronted up week after week to after-match interviews as leader of a losing team. She always did it with a smile, and answered questions with grace and honesty. By season’s end, even neutral fans were hoping for a Magic win to reward her perseverance. No doubt she was incredibly disappointed at the results, but the midcourter could hold her head high as she was regularly Magic’s best player. Internationally, Winders played consistently well for the Silver Ferns in their Constellation Cup win and also in the series against England. She is a fiercely determined player who gives her all for four quarters every week.

“For me Sam Winders was the most consistent domestic and international netballer this year. She toiled hard during a tough ANZ Premiership for the Magic, never giving up. Winders really grabbed that wing defence spot for the Silver Ferns during the Constellation Cup against Australia earlier this year and was one of the standouts from that series. She then followed that up again during the October series against the England Roses, being the most consistent performer for New Zealand. Winders would have to be up there for the most court time this year of any of the Silver Ferns. It’s not just her consistency, she’s entertaining to watch. She’s a magnet for loose balls and despite being short for an international netballer, she’s also great in the air. Her spatial awareness and timing gets her lots of tips and intercepts.” – Bridget Tunnicliffe

 

 

Serena Guthrie passes during the Roses Reunited Series. Photo: Ben Lumley

Photo: Ben Lumley

Equal 7th – SERENA GUTHRIE (England)

Judged against her own extremely lofty standards, some may think that Serena Guthrie wasn’t at her absolute best in 2021. But they would be hard markers. Perhaps we can sometimes be guilty of taking her all round brilliance for granted, because she has a knack of making the difficult look easy. Her ability to read the play, both in attack and defence, is remarkable. Whether it be a pinpoint pass or a spectacular intercept, some of her efforts for runners-up Team Bath during the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season were breathtaking.

As captain of England, Guthrie led the Roses to two important 2-1 series wins in the latter stages of the year. First there was the Taini Jaimison Trophy, where they beat the Silver Ferns in a series in NZ for the first time, then they followed it up by defeating Jamaica at home. While Guthrie had a top year in 2021, 2022 promises to be much bigger again as leader of a team trying to defend their Commonwealth Games title on home soil. That will place a huge amount of pressure on her, but there’s no reason why she can’t handle it.

 

 

Sam Wallace receive a pass

Photo: May Bailey

Equal 5th – SAM WALLACE (Trinidad & Tobago)

Sam Wallace’s imposing record in Super Netball continued in 2021.  She is the epitome of a big game performer. In 2019, she was voted player of the match in the Swifts’ grand final win. She must have gone mighty close to getting the nod again in 2021 with a dominant display, shooting 51/55. Swifts’ grand final opponents, the Giants, must be having nightmares about coming up against her. In the two finals games they played, she scored 96 goals, made up of 89/92 from regulation distance and 7/11 from super shot range. Her calmness and steadiness are great assets, and then there are those incredible hands that can hold on to the most difficult of passes. Altogether, it makes her lethal.

“As much as it pains me to have a shooter on top spot, there is no doubt that Sam Wallace is the master of her craft. She just shades Jhaniele Fowler because of the greater variety in her game. So often she took the game by the scruff of the neck for the Swifts and reached deep into her bag of tricks when the game was in the balance. Her ability to be cool under pressure and shoot goals like a metronome makes her the world’s best netballer in 2021.” – Liz Ellis 

 

 

Towera Vinkhumbo

Photo: Ben Lumley

Equal 5th – TOWERA VINKHUMBO (Malawi)

This selection may be a surprise to some, but also popular to many. Quite simply, Malawian defender Towera Vinkhumbo had a brilliant year in the Vitality Netball Superleague in 2021. This is remarkable, considering the fact that she wasn’t even originally signed to Strathclyde Sirens. She only found her way into the squad after an ACL injury forced Van Zimbela to pull out. Vinkhumbo then went on to dominate the season in defence and her form helped turn Sirens into a highly competitive team that consistently threatened most of the top clubs.

“Selecting Towera Vinkhumbo as the world’s best player for 2021 might surprise some people, but to me, she was simply outstanding. She is one of the shortest goal keepers we’ve seen on the international circuit, and yet she was in superb form for the Strathclyde Sirens. A late injury replacement, Vinkhumbo traded the African warmth for an icy Scottish winter, adapted to the cold, living away from her home and family, had limited experience of strength and conditioning, and yet dominated the shooters she came up against. Her quick reflexes, athleticism and ability to hunt the ball was exceptional.” – Jenny Sinclair

“At just 175cm, Vinkhumbo is short for a goal keeper. But that didn’t stop her as she led the VNSL for intercepts and deflections, on the back of a last-minute call up, no preseason and arriving at a new team.” – Katrina Nissen

 

 

Shamera Sterling during the Roses Reunited tour

Photo: Ben Lumley

Equal 3rd – SHAMERA STERLING (Jamaica)

It was another disappointing year for the Adelaide Thunderbirds in 2021. Despite some encouraging signs, they could finish no higher than seventh on the ladder. But that certainly wasn’t down to star Jamaican defender Shamera Sterling, who had another fine season. Picking up intercepts, deflections and rebounds with regularity, she provided her team with loads of possession. On the international scene, Sterling has shown adaptability, playing at goal defence for Jamaica, and it has been a successful move. If anything, perhaps this position suits her better, as playing one on one against a tall holding shooter can sometimes dull her undoubted brilliance.

“Shamera Sterling was once again a consistently shining light for her Adelaide Thunderbirds teammates, sitting fifth for overall Nissan Net Points and first for intercepts, second for deflections and third for defensive rebounds throughout the 2021 Suncorp Super Netball Season. Yet it was her ability to step up on the international stage that impressed me most this year. She was fiercely competitive and performed well against the Jamaican Men’s and Trinidad and Tobago in the Sunshine Series, but really hit her stride against England in the Roses Reunited series at the end of the calendar year. Demonstrating a significant improvement in overall fitness, Shamera was able to produce some impressive performances out of position in goal defence and proved to be a vital link in the Sunshine Girls attack. Her mental fitness has also improved, and I think we are only beginning to see her reach her full, mature, dynamic and intelligent potential.” – Zara Collings 

 

 

Courtney Bruce on the drive

Photo: May Bailey

Equal 3rd – COURTNEY BRUCE (Australia)

2021 Liz Ellis Diamond winner, Courtney Bruce, is consistently one of the top performers in Super Netball and 2021 was no exception. She finished with the competition’s most possession gains, most deflections, equal most defensive rebounds and second most intercepts. Overcoming a three game penalty for salary cap breaches, Fever eventually came up one game short of the grand final, but Bruce played a huge part in them getting so close. Whenever the team needed a spark, it was often their captain who provided it with a magical intercept, turning defence into attack. So impressive was she, that she took out Netball Scoop’s Suncorp Super Netball MVP.

The Australian Diamonds only played four tests in 2021, but Bruce was definitely among their best. Just like Shamera Sterling, she spent a lot of her time not at goal keeper, but out at goal defence, and she proved to be damaging there. In the Constellation Cup in March, she came up with 20 possession gains over the four match series, including eight in the first test alone. It will be interesting to see if this move to goal defence continues to be a regular tactic for Australia under the coaching of Stacey Marinkovich. Either way, Bruce is one of Australia’s most important players as they look to reclaim their Commonwealth Games title in 2022.

 

 

Karin Burger looks to pass during ANZP 2021

Photo: Steve McLeod

2nd – KARIN BURGER (New Zealand)

New Zealand defender Karin Burger continued her rapid netball improvement in 2021 to take out second spot in our poll. Burger’s move to Tactix was a real winner, as her athleticism and anticipation made life difficult for attackers everywhere in the ANZ Premiership. Having played mostly at wing defence at club level previously, she was now freed up to play in the goal circle alongside Jane Watson. And they became the most formidable defensive duo in the competition, with the Christchurch based team ultimately coming up just short in the decider against Mystics.

Burger was just outstanding at goal defence, forcing opponents into error and snapping up possession for her team seemingly at will. As well as topping the league for intercepts, she also finished second overall for deflections and rebounds. Her dominant season saw her take out the official player of the year award as well as Netball Scoop’s ANZ Premiership MVP. While she was a big hit in club netball, it’s fair to say that Burger didn’t have quite the same huge impact on the international scene in 2021. But you just feel it’s a matter of time before she puts it all together and stamps her authority on the Silver Ferns goal defence position.

 

 

Jhaniele Fowler takes a shot

Photo: Clinton Bradbury

1st – JHANIELE FOWLER (Jamaica)

West Coast Fever’s Jamaican superstar, Jhaniele Fowler, has capped off another top year, taking out our award as the World’s Best Netballer by a comfortable margin. Perhaps surprisingly, given the other accolades she’s received, this is the first time Fowler has finished on top in our poll, although she has gone close previously. Once again, she was a dominant force in Super Netball this year. Fowler was instrumental in getting Fever to within three goals of a spot in the grand final. Meanwhile, on the international scene, she showed in the final test against England how damaging she can be and put other countries on notice ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year.

“She is still the most dominant force in any shooting circle and a nightmare for any defender or coach to face. Her take and strength on the ball is incredible, her shooting accuracy is frightening, and more importantly she is still adding to her game especially with her circle release and offloads.” – Tamsin Greenway

“Adjudged the best player in the world’s premier netball league for the fourth consecutive year, top spot simply has to go to “Fever redeemer” Fowler, who has almost single-handedly helped lift West Coast from also-rans to genuine title contenders since arriving in 2018. Since recruiting the Jamaican captain, Fever has missed finals just once and played in two grand finals, albeit losing ones. Now 32, she has gone from strength-to-strength, using her tall frame to full effect, scoring almost at will and rarely, if ever, being beaten one-on-one. In a “school yard pick”, Fowler would be the first selected by any right-thinking captain thanks to her volume, accuracy, rebounding ability and pure intimidation factor.” – Erin Delahunty

“Jhaniele Fowler is the epitome of a professional athlete – reliable, dominant beyond words, calm, great leader and also a team-player, and so very gracious. She massacres the opposition single-handedly. She is a jewel and a blessing to the sport of netball.” – Andrew Kennedy

“Fourth straight Suncorp Super Netball MVP award winner Jhaniele Fowler is my player of the year. We dance around calling her the best shooter ever but for me the Jamaican truly is. She’s a permanent threat, a tide-turner and you just know every team has to engineer their way around her if they hope to win. Is there a greater compliment? The third test of the recent England v Jamaica series really highlighted her force for me.” – Chloe Merrell

 

OVERALL VOTING

31 . Jhaniele Fowler (Jam)
16 . Karin Burger (NZ)
15 . Courtney Bruce (Aus)
15 . Shamera Sterling (Jam)
10 . Sam Wallace (T&T)
10 . Towera Vinkhumbo (Mal)
8 . Sam Winders (NZ)
8 . Serena Guthrie (Eng)
4 . Beth Cobden (Eng)
4 . Grace Nweke (NZ)
4 . Jane Watson (NZ)
4 . Paige Hadley (Aus)
3 . Jo Harten (Eng)
3 . Nat Haythornthwaite (Eng)
3 . Tiana Metuarau (NZ)
2 . Cara Koenen (Aus)
2 . Ellie Cardwell (Eng)
2 . Jamie-Lee Price (Aus)
2 . Maddy Proud (Aus)
1 . Amy Parmenter (Aus)
1 . Gina Crampton (NZ)
1 . Layla Guscoth (Eng)
1 . Sulu Fitzpatrick (NZ)

 

HONOUR ROLL

2016 . Sharni Layton (Aus)
2017 . Geva Mentor (Eng)
2018 . Geva Mentor (Eng)
2019 . Karla Pretorius (SA)
2020 . Ameliaranne Ekenasio (NZ)
2021 . Jhaniele Fowler (Jam)

 

Jhaniele Fowler takes a feed under the post. Image: Clinton Bradbury

Photo: Clinton Bradbury

About the Author: