With the culmination of the domestic league’s across England, New Zealand and Australia, national squads assembled in the hope that some international netball would be able to take place. Despite the ongoing uncertainties surrounding Covid 19 and the various border and state restrictions across the world, on the 26th August the English Roses boarded a plane to New Zealand without definitively knowing that any netball would be able to take place.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, with MIQ complete, the Roses are set to take on both New Zealand and Australia in two thrilling three-match series over the next few months. With six international matches on the cards, head coach Jess Thirlby will be looking to offer her squad the chance to shine ahead of the home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. Thirlby’s initial squad of fifteen will be bolstered in the Australian leg of the tour with the addition of four Australian based players, Stacey Francis-Bayman, Helen Housby, Jo Harten and Natalie Haythornthwaite, who is set to make her return to the UK after the international season.
With this in mind, it is likely that Thirlby will use the matches against the Silver Ferns to give opportunities to some of the less established international players. Potential debutante Rhea Dixon has had a standout season with Leeds Rhinos, and her impressive circle movement and confidence to post helped push the new franchise into the semi-finals in their inaugural year. Yet, with strong competition for the starting goal attack bib, Dixon will have to really step up in training and practise matches to earn a spot on court.
Loughborough Lightning wing attack Hannah Joseph was a surprise inclusion in the party, who after making her Roses debut in 2016 and earned 3 international caps that year, has not taken to court in the red dress since.
Whilst the series does feature a number of the Roses most well-known performers, there are some talented players who have been unfortunate to miss out on selection this time around. Championship winning Captain Natalie Panagarry was not named in the travelling squad, despite an incredibly strong season that saw her lift the trophy with Loughborough Lightning earlier this year.
Chelsea Pitman was also not named in the Squad, raising questions as to whether the world-class wing attack will be able to fight her way back in to the squad after failing to secure a contract in the 2021 SSN season. After suffering an injury during the VNSL season, goal keeper Razia Quashie has also not been named in the squad. With little information surrounding the extent of Quashie’s injury, it remains unknown whether or not she was eligible for selection.
Despite having travelled across the world and spending two weeks in quarantine, the Roses will enter both legs of competition with the competitive advantage, having a more fluid and structured preparation than both the Silver Ferns and Australian Diamonds, who continue to be restricted by Covid state border closures and lockdowns. The Roses will need to use this to their advantage and must look to start strongly in both first round matches.
Selection in the attacking line is perhaps the most intriguing heading into the series. With Housby and Harten not joining the team until the Australian leg, there are two starting shooting bibs up for grabs and five shooters to fight over them. Both Eleanor Cardwell and George Fisher are arguably most comfortable and have the greatest impact when playing in goal shooter, yet Cardwell has proven her versatility this year in the domestic competition, earning the majority of her court time in goal attack. As George Fisher has played her netball with the Southern Steel in the ANZ Championship this year, it is likely that she will claim the goal shooter bib after a breakthrough season which saw her Southern Steel side finish third. Shooting the third highest volume of goals at 91% accuracy, Fisher is certainly heading into the series in good form.
It has been some time since Ella Clark took to court as an English Rose, with only five international caps to her name. Yet, Clark offers height in the circle and is a confident long range shooter, so could match up well at 188cm against the likely Ferns goal defence Karin Burger, who stands at 184cm. This will also be a significant series for Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, who played a pivotal role in Team Bath’s VNSL campaign which saw them finish in second place. Drakeford-Lewis is an excellent mover within the circle and excelled in the latter matches of the Roses previous battle with the Ferns back in 2020. Her versatility to move into wing attack offers something different to the tall timbers of Cardwell and Clark and it is this versatility that stands her in good stead to earn significant court time in the first leg of the tour.
Heading into the Commonwealth Games, Thirlby has five standout performers who have featured in recent international matches that look likely to battle for four spots. With Housby and Harten looking certain to retain their position in the squad, which will see them fight for back-to-back Commonwealth Golds, the remaining two spots are very much up for grabs. It is down to Fisher, Cardwell and Drakeford-Lewis to use this series as an opportunity to prove why they should be considered for the two remaining spots. Each offers something significantly different, with Fisher’s experience of playing and training week in, week out, in New Zealand a significant advantage for any Roses side facing the Silver Ferns. However, this advantage is reciprocated, with the Ferns defence of Burger, Sulu Fitzpatrick and Kelly Jury also having had a year to work out Fisher’s strengths and weaknesses.
The midcourt will once again be marshalled by captain Serena Guthrie, who earned her 100th cap when the Roses took on the Silver Ferns last year. In New Zealand, the Roses will be without specialist wing attack Nat Haythornthwaite, so it will be likely fall on Laura Malcolm and Hannah Joseph to share the duties.
After an incredibly strong season in the VNSL, Beth Cobden will look to get plenty of court time at wing defence and it is her connection with Hannah Joseph that could see the wing attack push her way into a starting seven spot, despite only having three international caps. Cobden’s armspan and timing could wreak havoc in the Fern’s front line and her arms over pressure will look to obscure the vision of the Fern’s feeders in to the circle.
Imogen Allison also had a strong domestic competition and her partnership with Serena Guthrie has done wonders for the youngster’s development. The duo have formed a formidable midcourt defensive partnership and their understanding and ability to support each other and chase the other’s loose balls makes them a tough partnership.
The Roses midcourt features an exciting blend of youth and experience, with Clarke and Guthrie able to offer strong leadership and guidance to their teammates, with over 270 caps between the two. This experience will be crucial against the Silver Ferns, matching up against the likes of Shannon Saunders, Gina Crampton and Sam Winders.
Against Australia, I look forward to seeing the impact of four-time domestic league winner Nat Haythornthwaite, who is undoubtedly the Roses best option in the wing attack position. Her connection with Housby and Harten is second to none and Haythornthwaite is particularly successful in opening the court to balance play. With tall defender Jo Weston and the potential debut of Amy Parmenter in wing defence for the Diamonds, Haythornthwaite could prove to be a vital link in ensuring the Roses secure the victory in the series.
The big addition to the Roses defensive unit for this series is the return of legendary goal keeper Geva Mentor. Bolstered in by the return of Layla Gusgoth to the international scene, the Ferns will certainly have their work cut out for them in attack. Without recent Ferns Captain Ekenasio, the experience of Mentor will be a huge advantage to the Roses who look likely to come up against Maia Wilson and potential debutante Grace Nweke in goal shooter.
After struggling somewhat to find her usual blistering form due to injury in the 2021 SSN season, Mentor will be looking to put out a strong string of performances to solidify her position in the Roses starting seven. In recent series it has been young Razia Quashie who has managed to secure the GK bib, yet with Quashie ruled out through injury, the Roses will rely heavily on the experience and leadership of Geva Mentor to unify the defensive combinations.
Mentor will be joined by her World Cup teammates Gusgoth and Fran Williams, who both offer something slightly different in the goal defence position. With Fern’s goal attack Ekenasio ruled out of the series as she prepares for the birth of her second child, Gusgoth and Williams will look to capitalise on any miscommunication in the circle. Both are ball hungry and will grind their opposing player down and whichever can step up and lock down their starting bib, could prove key in the Roses success.
Leeds Rhino Vicki Oyesola will also look to challenge for selection, currently having earned six caps in the Roses dress. Oyesola had a strong season with Leeds Rhinos, yet struggled with an ongoing injury that saw her regularly rested throughout matches.
With rumours circulating about her return to the Vitality Netball Super League, Stacey Francis-Bayman will need to impress against the Diamonds. Despite playing the majority of the SSN season in wing defence, it is likely that Francis-Bayman will provide cover for the Roses in goal keeper. Francis-Bayman has somewhat of an unorthodox style when back at keeper and her tenacity to hunt ball outside the circle could put doubt into the minds’ of the feeders. With Mentor or Francis-Bayman likely to match up against young Diamond Cara Koenen, they will need to shut down the baseline and prevent Koenen from exploiting her dynamic speed and change of direction, that proved so effective in the recent Constellation Cup series.
The last time they met…
England Roses v Silver Ferns (Cadbury Series, October 2020)
Roses 45 Ferns 58
Roses 47 Ferns 54
Roses 47 Ferns 62
England Roses v Australian Diamonds
Quad Series January 2019
Roses 52 Diamonds 49
Quad Series September 2018
Roses 47 Diamonds 52
Commonwealth Games Grand Final April 2018
Roses 52 Diamonds 51
|Jo Harten *
|Helen Housby *
*only available for the Australian leg of the tour