** With thanks to Michael Hutchinson and Ian Harkin for statistics.
With the 2023 Netball World Cup just six months away, this year’s Quad Series will be a testing ground ahead of the pinnacle event. All four squads are different from their Commonwealth Games outings, with Australia missing a few stars, New Zealand back to full strength, and South Africa and England both in a period of transition. So what are we likely to see? Netball Scoop looks at some of the prospects, and the many questions that need answering ahead of the World Cup.
Finished 1st at 2022 Commonwealth Games
Finished 2nd at 2019 Netball World Cup
Liz Watson (c)
Coach: Stacey Marinkovich
It’s been a strong six months for Australia, taking out the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Constellation Cup, three tests against England, and the Fast5 tournament. While continuing to develop some of their younger athletes, the Diamonds have also been forced into change, with key personnel Gretel Bueta and Jo Weston missing from their Birmingham success story.
With Bueta yet to announce her future in netball after a devastating miscarriage late last year, the Diamonds have trialled Sophie Garbin and Donnell Wallam at goal shooter. If there was a chink in the Diamonds armour during recent series, it was the lobbed circle passes picked off too frequently by the opposition. It’s a strategy that needs reworking – Australian feeders in adjusting their decision making and ball placement, the shooters by offering a greater variety of positioning. And while Wallam had an outstanding debut against England and continues her rapid growth trajectory, at the moment Garbin has a few more tricks up her sleeve against opponents.
Australia have developed a more mobile shooting circle under coach Stacey Marinkovich’s tenure, and the agility of Cara Koenen, the court craft of Steph Wood, and the versatility of Kiera Austin – who also plays a cool-headed wing attack – should see them get plenty of court time, but Sophie Dwyer is unlikely to feature much as the team locks down preferred combinations.
The battle of the midcourts is going to be fascinating, and will go a long way to determining the outcome of the Quad Series. For Australia, Amy Parmenter has been a casualty of stiff competition, with Ash Brazill preferred at wing defence after a break to spend time with her young family. Captain Liz Watson’s selection is inevitable, but Jamie-Lee Price, Kate Moloney and Paige Hadley will need to let their play do the talking. Omitted from the Commonwealth Games, Price’s recent form has been irresistible, and she has the added experience of picking her way through a New Zealand zone. The three athletes’ ability to feed the rejigged circle, maintain ball security, and offer a strong defensive presence, are likely to be key determining factors in their final selections.
While Jo Weston’s omission through injury will challenge, it gives Tara Hinchliffe an opportunity to stake her claim in the defensive end. Leapfrogging over fellow squad members Maddy Turner and Ruby Bakewell-Doran surprised many, but it’s a selection that makes a lot of sense. While we don’t know how squad members performed at the Diamonds’ recent camp, Hinchliffe had an outstanding Fast5, offers more height and reach in the circle, plenty of game smarts and some sterling leadership qualities. Able to play across all three defensive positions, she adds crucial flexibility to the Diamonds, and also gives Courtney Bruce the opportunity to move out to goal defence.
After outstanding 2022 seasons, expect Sarah Klau and Bruce to pick up where they left off, preferably with reduced penalty counts, while the talented Sunday Aryang will need a strong tournament to nail down her place in the team.
Finished 4th at 2022 Commonwealth Games
Finished 3rd at the 2019 Netball World Cup
Natalie Metcalf (c)
Coach: Jess Thirlby
England have a lot to prove after a disappointing fourth at the Commonwealth Games, although remain in a transitional period prompted by retirement and form.
After sitting out the Jamaican series through injury, the strong bodied and accurate Eleanor Cardwell will hopefully make her return to the shooting circle, while Liv Tchine’s recent but classy debut will give the Roses’ selectors plenty to think about. Helen Housby’s return to form makes her a given for plenty of court time, but there will be some questions over Jo Harten’s longevity given her recent injury woes. She was outstanding in one match against Jamaica, but sat out the other two matches, and all of the previous Australian series. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis’s position is under threat, and she could potentially fall out of favour for Tchine, or an athlete with the capacity to slide between goal and wing attack.
It was apparent at the Commonwealth Games that England need a more balanced midcourt after years of wing defence heavy selections. Captain Nat Metcalf is undeniably their first choice wing attack, but other options are needed to give her a breather. Thinking outside the square, the Roses could look at taking five midcourters and three specialist shooters to the World Cup, with Metcalf sliding between the two as needed. It would free up room for another attacking mid, with options including the experienced Chelsea Pitman, or the more versatile Elle McDonald, to spice up the attack. Both were trialled against Jamaica, and hopefully will see court time in South Africa.
Imogen Allison and Jade Clarke provided great spark at centre in the recent Jamaican series, feeding the circle well and transitioning into defence effectively. Laura Malcolm received limited court time, so it will be fascinating to see where she factors into coach Jess Thirlby’s thinking moving forwards, and how much she is used in the Quad Series. Malcolm can be expensive with the ball at times, but her flexibility across a range of positions is an undoubted asset.
The retirements of Eboni Usoro-Brown and Stacey Francis-Bayman have created room in the defensive end – one place will be filled by the outrageously talented Funmi Fadoju, with Fran Williams or Alice Harvey likely to grab the other. Questions being asked include whether the Roses are taking their regeneration one step further, as Geva Mentor hasn’t been selected for a string of recent games. However, with Fadoju undersized for goal keeper, and Harvey inexperienced, it would be a risk not to include her. England looked at their best during one of the Jamaican matches when she sat behind Fadoju and Layla Gusgoth, locking down the circle and allowing them to hunt the ball. Each of the defenders will press their claims in the Quad Series, but at this stage it appears that only Fadoju and Gusgoth are guaranteed further caps this year.
Finished 3rd at 2022 Commonwealth Games
Finished 1st at the 2019 Netball World Cup
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (c)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit
Coach: Dame Noeline Taurua
After the Silver Ferns finished strongly at the Commonwealth Games, the return of Jane Watson (maternity leave), captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio (maternity leave) and Karin Burger (injury) has bolstered their young line up and should make 2023 an exciting time for the team.
Given judicious court time after a nervous start to her international career, the powerful and athletic Grace Nweke continues to build on her domestic promise and is likely to become one of the team’s biggest weapons in the years ahead. She and Ekenasio are the first choice pairing in the circle, with the latter’s silky long-range shooting, smart movement and leadership skills critical for the Silver Ferns to retain their World Cup title. Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Maia Wilson both offer flexibility, height and accuracy, making New Zealand’s shooting circle one of the best in the business.
After several years spent developing midcourters, the Silver Ferns now have a headache – of the good kind, and it will be fascinating to see how coach Dame Noeline Taurua uses her options. The tactical mastermind is aware of Peta Toeava’s undoubted connection with Nweke and sublime feeding skills, making her hard to overlook, but with Gina Crampton returning after a short sabbatical, is there room in the team for two specialist wing attacks? Will they be swapped in and out at the Quad Series, or will Crampton potentially be moved to centre?
Athletes such as Whitney Sounness and Kate Heffernen are still developing their craft in that role, but their ability to play several positions should see them gain plenty of court time in South Africa, while Claire Kersten is also part of the mix. Heffernen in particular has been a revelation in her brief career to date, rapidly becoming essential to the Silver Ferns’ success. For all the midcourters, ball security will form a key part in selection, as it’s one of the team’s non-negotiables, and a feat they’ve managed outstandingly over the past year.
If New Zealand had an area of weakness at the Commonwealth Games, it was their lack of stopping power in the pool matches, and Jane Watson’s and Karin Burger’s return to the defensive circle will add much needed steel. Both players have great game sense and an ability to hunt, but during their absence, Kelly Jury has stamped her name on the goal keeper’s bib. Her height and reach over the shot give her a point of difference and some advantage against taller opponents. With Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka also in the mix, New Zealand will need to whittle five defenders down to four, and are unlikely to take three specialist goal keepers – Jury, Watson and Fitzpatrick – to the World Cup.
Finished 6th at 2022 Commonwealth Games
Finished 4th at the 2019 Netball World Cup
Bongiwe Msomi (c)
Shadine van der Merwe
Coach: Norma Plummer
It’s been a tumultuous period for South Africa – their team riddled with injury, a disappointing sixth place finish at the Commonwealth Games, subsequent removal of the management, and reinstatement of legendary coach Norma Plummer. And with the pressure on as they move towards a home World cup, expect more ups and downs at the Quad Series. Superstars Karla Pretorious (maternity leave) and Lenize Potgeiter (injury) return, but in a case of two steps forward and one step back, the unavailability of Elmere van den Berg (ankle surgery), Lefebre Rademan (ACL) and Nicola Smith (knee injury) will hurt. While most of these players are expected to be back in action before the World Cup, it leaves South Africa with limited opportunity to build on their combinations, but conversely the ability to get court time into young players.
Potgeiter will make a welcome return to the shooting circle, but her place as first choice shooter is under threat, with the calm and collected Ine-Mari Venter finding good form over the last 12 months. Rademan is a huge loss at goal attack, but rising star Nichole Taljaard – who was player of the tournament at the recent Fast5 – will hopefully once again take the opportunity to impress. The young Nomfundo Mngomezulu, a dual code athlete, and Sesandile Ngubane could struggle for court time behind the more experienced shooters, but are exciting prospects for the future.
The South African midcourt are still trying to adjust to the retirement of Erin Burger, and opportunities beckon for her replacement at centre. Bongiwe Msomi and Izette Griesel have both been used there when not playing at wing attack, while the gritty Khanyisa Chawane continues to earn her stripes. Local fans will be excited to see the introduction of Rfebe Nketsa, who plays across wing defence as well as centre. Msomi remains the Proteas’ best option at wing attack, so they will be searching for the most effective centre court to work alongside her.
The Proteas greatest strength is in their defensive end, and the return of Karla Pretorius is key. While she will be easing her way back after maternity leave, the goal defence is one of the world’s greatest ball hunters, and has a telepathic connection with goal keeper Phumza Maweni after their years together at Sunshine Coast Lightning. In Pretorius’ absence, Shadine van der Merwe has filled the gap at goal defence, but adds strength to the midcourt at her more usual wing defence. Zanele Zimbela should see some court time, along with rising defenders Monique Reyneke-Meyer and Boitumelo Mahloko, who plays across all three defensive positions.
The Quad Series
2023 is the eighth edition of the Quad Series, which began in 2016. This year’s event in Cape Town is a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, which will be held there in July.
Australia has dominated the competition to date, winning six of the seven previous Quad Series titles, with New Zealand taking out the other. The Diamonds also have clearly the best overall win-loss record. Of 22 matches per country, they’ve taken out 19 wins, one draw, and just two losses. In five of their six series wins, the Diamonds have been undefeated.
New Zealand is the only other team to have tasted success in the Quad Series, having won the most closely contested series in September 2017. Coming into the last day in Invercargill, three countries were still in contention, but it was the Silver Ferns who eventually took the trophy with a 10-goal win over Australia. Overall, their competition record stands at 11 wins and 11 losses.
England’s Quad Series tally is 11 wins, one draw, and 10 losses. That draw was a memorable come-from-behind effort against Australia in last year’s pool play, before going down to the same team in the final.
The host country of South Africa has had just two wins in Quad Series history, but have been highly competitive. Both wins have come against England, but they have also taken both the Roses and Silver Ferns to extra time in other matches. In last year’s tournament, they lost the third-place playoff to New Zealand by just a single goal. The closest they have come to Australia is four goals.