In the last few years the way netball is played at an elite level in Australia has exploded; the speed and intensity of how the game unfolds is intense and a spectator’s delight. The athletes of the Suncorp Super Netball league have taken the game to new heights, and they just keep getting better. There are among the fittest netballers in the world, and they are certainly the most physical.
In recent times I cannot think of any player who has been more polarizing for the sport than Gretel Tippett. Bursting onto the netball scene after making the switch from what was shaping up to be a successful career in basketball and joining the Queensland Firebirds in 2013, Tippett was thrust into the limelight. She was put on the radar of passionate netball fans across the country when later that year she was selected for the Australian Under 21 Netball team, where she played in the World Youth Netball Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.
In that tournament, the young Australian World Cup team would finish with a silver medal behind the Silver Ferns and Tippett was in the company of some of the best netballers this country would go on to produce. Players the calibre of Gabi Simpson, Kim Ravaillion and Paige Hadley.
After that tournament Tippett announced that she would be joining the NSW Swifts for two seasons, and while she made her debut on court for the Swifts in round five 2014, we would not properly meet her until the following season, where she would stamp her mark on netball in this country.
Being released from the second year of her contract with the Swifts, Tippett flew back to the nest of the Queensland Firebirds. It was here under the guidance of former Australian Diamond and Firebirds coach, Roselee Jencke, that we would meet the player who would go on to cause such a stir in the netball world.
I look back now at the commotion and controversy that Tippett caused with her incredible athletic ability and her dominating physical presence on court, and I cannot help but think that she was part of the transformation we have seen netball make in the past few years.
Tippett showed long time players and fans a different way to approach the sport and she was often harshly criticised for the physical nature of her play and her untraditional style under the post. Conventional netball fans were up in arms, arguing that was not the way netball was meant to be played.
It turns out that it is the way netball was meant to be played. The game has evolved at a rapid pace and players like Gretel Tippett have been at the forefront of that change.
Tippett made her international debut as a Diamond in wing attack during the 2015 Constellation Cup, which only added to her controversy.
Despite criticism from some netball fans around the country, Tippett went about her business. She has solidly and as a matter of fact improved over each of the seasons she has played the sport at an elite level.
She has enjoyed back to back premierships in the ANZ competition with the Firebirds in 2015 and 2016 and has vastly improved her accuracy as a shooter. She is now one of the most accurate shooters in the world. Within this domestic season, Tippett has just become the only Australian to shoot an incredible 100 consecutive goals.
Thrown into the deep end early in her career to see if she would sink or swim has paid off. Tippett would have arguably been one of the first players picked in the Diamonds’ squad bound for the World Cup in Liverpool, and that is because she offers something completely different to the traditional ‘Australian style’ goal attack. She is incredibly hard to defend and can be at times quite unorthodox in her delivery of the ball. She has the ability to keep defensive opponents guessing, she works hard in defense when in transition and as we have seen this year, when under the post, she is lethal.
Gretel Tippett will make her Netball World Cup debut in Liverpool, being part of a squad whose immense talent is measured by the players who did not make it on the plane. With the Diamonds still licking their wounds from a silver medal shock at the 2018 Commonwealth Games final where they lost by one goal to an enthusiastic English team, the game plan is simple; nothing less than a win at the World Cup will do. The Diamonds are out for redemption.
Before the Diamonds jumped on the plane this week to immerse themselves in World Cup preparation, they played a match against a mixture of players from Giants Netball, the NSW Swifts and the Diamonds sensational training partners (Gabi Simpson, Kate Maloney, Emily Mannix and Tegan Philip). There was also a cameo from Sasha Glasgow from the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
“They really took it to us and put us through our paces, I think it is really exciting seeing the younger generation come through as well,” Tippett said after the game.
There were young stars on court for the ‘All Stars’ team, and fans were watching potential future Diamonds in players like Sasha Glasgow, Keira Austin and Amy Parmenter, who has had a stand out season despite inconsistent performances from the Giants. Simpson, Maloney and Mannix were outstanding and out to prove a point after narrowly missing selection.
The Diamonds were pushed in a very physical encounter playing six 15-minute quarters. Combinations were trialed and there is no doubt Lisa Alexander still has some work to do to ensure she gets the best out of this team. They are still getting to know each other and it will be an intense lead up to the Diamonds first game against Northern Ireland on July 12 to ensure they have done all they can in preparation.
Making the Diamonds squad and being able to share these next few weeks with the other athletes in the team is not a moment that is lost on Tippett, and while she owns the court with a physical presence, she is humble when talking about her chance to represent her country.
“It has been a dream of mine that has come true. I am very, very thankful for the opportunity and humbled, we just need to work hard and do Australia proud.”
“The World Cup is the pinnacle event of our sport, so it means the world and I am very grateful to be able to share it with the 11 other girls in the dress and I am really excited for the journey ahead. We have a lot of hard work to put in, but it is so exciting.”
When I asked Tippett how she complemented the squad, she had nothing but praise for her team mates. “Obviously we have C Bass [Caitlin Bassett] and Thwaitey [Caitlin Thwaites], who are exceptional shooters and then Steph Wood who is the smartest goal attack I have ever worked with. I think I add something different which I am looking to bring to the side and [I] hope to have a positive effect.”
Tippett says there are no personal goals for this World Cup, just a desire to do what is best for the team. “No personal goals, just do whatever it takes to get the win. We need to win every game and consolidate connections so when we get put under pressure, the connections come through.”
Like the rest of us, Tippett is excited about the quality and the scope of talent that teams will be producing at what is set to be the most tightly contested World Cup in the events history.
“This is the exciting thing about the World Cup, there are so many teams now who are vying for those top four spots. There is Jamaica, South Africa, England, New Zealand and England being the home team will be the team to beat.”
Should the opportunity arise, Tippett is looking forward to a match up with Silver Fern stalwart, Casey Kopua who has announced this tournament will be her swan song from all netball duties. Incredibly, this will be Kopua’s fourth appearance at a World Cup, and Tippett is ready for the challenge.
“I have watched Casey play for a few years now and she is an amazing defender who can read the game so well. I would be pinching myself coming up against Casey, but I would love to be able to play against her.”
There are plenty of athletes who would have crumbled under the sort of pressure and scrutiny that Tippett has been put under by fans since she made the switch to netball. To her credit she not only took all the criticism on board, but she used it as fuel to become a better player. She is not very vocal, she prefers to let her stats do all the talking, and at the moment they scream loud and clear that she was correctly selected into the current Diamonds squad.
Tippett’s accuracy so far in 2019 has been impeccable, so we can only hope it follows her to Liverpool. If the winning goal at the World Cup just happened to be the result of the now famous ‘Gretel Tippet lay-up’, well, that may just be enough to silence her critics once and for all.