This is the second part of our look back at the past decade in netball. In Part 1 we reviewed 2010 to 2012. Today we look at the years from 2013 to 2016.
The year began with a Diamonds tour of England. Australia was not at full strength, at a bad stage in their preparation and playing away from home, but even so, coach Lisa Alexander made the bold statement that her side should beat England by ten goals. That comment came back to bite her.
An inspired England team roared on by incredible crowds, went on to claim their first-ever series victory over Australia with wins in the first two tests by five and two goals respectively. And, gathering in confidence as they went, they steamrolled the Diamonds in the final test by seven to make it a clean sweep.
England beating Australia 3-0 was something that had seemed totally implausible and unimaginable. But they had done it. Expectations were now high for England to perform at the highest level, with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games just 18 months away.
The Australian team appeared shell-shocked. They had been ambushed by a well prepared and extremely motivated England team. For the Diamonds, it was a series best forgotten. But there were positives. An injury to captain Nat von Bertouch meant a surprise test debut for 19-year-old Kim Ravaillion.
Ravaillion’s case was noteworthy in that she played her first test match before she had even played an ANZ Championship game. She had earned selection for the England tour based purely on form shown in 2012 at the U21 National Championships and then the Fast5 World Series. Her first game for the Queensland Firebirds came two months after her test debut.
Another player debuting in the ANZ Championship in 2013 was Jamaican goal shooter Jhaniele Fowler. The Adelaide Thunderbirds had tried unsuccessfully to bring her into their team the previous season, and the Southern Steel snapped her up instead. She went on to break all sorts of scoring records in her stint there.
The early part of the ANZ Championship season was dominated by talk of physicality, with a growing number of New Zealand players, coaches and fans critical of the defensive tactics of Australian teams. It started with the round two clash between Firebirds and the Central Pulse.
A stray elbow from Firebirds captain Laura Geitz to the back of Pulse shooter Donna Wilkins, saw Wilkins end up on the floor. Wilkins milked the incident for all it was worth, but nonetheless, it brought the subject of netball physicality into the spotlight.
Then just six days later, after being defeated in Perth, the normally reserved WBOP Magic shooter Irene van Dyk created a storm with her extraordinary comments in relation to West Coast Fever’s defensive combination of Eboni Beckford-Chambers and Josie Janz.
“There’s a fine line between playing with skill and coming out and being dirty and I think they crossed the line,” van Dyk said. “I’ve been playing netball for a very long time, and I can honestly say I have never come across a defensive pair that are as physical and get away with murder.”
All this talk of physicality bubbled away in the media for several weeks. Come grand final time however, that was all forgotten and it was all about the battle of the birds. Adelaide Thunderbirds had dominated the season, losing just one game. Their opposition, the Queensland Firebirds had come home strong, making the big one from fourth on the ladder.
Adelaide was six goals up entering the final quarter, but their Queensland opponents had come through two tough away finals just to get there, so they weren’t going to go down without a fight. For Thunderbirds, Erin Bell’s sublime shooting repeatedly saved her team under pressure. Fittingly, she sealed the 50-48 victory with a goal in the final seconds.
In the week following the game, an emotional Thunderbirds’ captain Nat von Bertouch announced her retirement from netball. She was a big loss to the Thunderbirds, one they still haven’t fully recovered from. Once perennial finalists, the team hasn’t finished any higher than seventh in the six seasons since von Bertouch’s retirement.
Von Bertouch’s replacement as Australian captain was Laura Geitz. She was the first Diamonds captain decided by way of a vote of the players. It was a very inauspicious start, however. In game one of the 2013 Constellation Cup series, Geitz was benched in a 55-51 defeat to New Zealand in Invercargill.
For Kim Ravaillion, this was her tenth match in Australian colours (four tests and six Fast5 matches), and she had lost every one. Thankfully for her, better was to come. Australia went on to win the next four tests to reclaim the Constellation Cup 4-1. In fact, under the leadership of Geitz, Australia went on an undefeated run of 21 tests in just under two years.
2013 Honour Roll
Constellation Cup: Australia
ANZ Championship: Adelaide Thunderbirds
UK Superleague: Team Bath
Liz Ellis Diamond: Renae Hallinan
In 2014, the ANZ Championship welcomed it’s first male head coach as Rob Wright took over at the NSW Swifts. The Swifts were starting to rebuild after a poor 2013, and they also signed Caitlin Thwaites and Sharni Layton. Under Wright’s coaching, Swifts climbed from 8th to 3rd, before being beaten at home by Magic in the minor semi-final.
But it was the minor-premiers, the Melbourne Vixens who dominated, first with a five goal win over the Queensland Firebirds in the major semi-final, then a commanding 53-42 win over the same opponents in the grand final. Geva Mentor and Madi Robinson were at their brilliant best.
However, the highlight of the grand final for many was when an emotional Cath Cox, playing in her last game, was brought on in the closing stages and played out the last couple of minutes in tears. At the end of 2013, Cox had transferred from Fever to Vixens, in the hope of playing for a championship-winning team in her final season. Nat Medhurst had been another big off-season signing, moving from Firebirds to Fever to take Cox’s place.
It was also the end of an era in New Zealand. The form of champion goal shooter Irene van Dyk was on the wane, and she began to spend more time on the bench at her new team, the Central Pulse. On June 5, she announced her retirement from international netball.
“I have really high expectations of myself and my match statistics over the past few months in the ANZ Championship are simply not good enough to justify taking my game to the international level”, van Dyk said. She finished her international career with 217 test caps (72 for South Africa and 145 for New Zealand) and 5,917 goals at 90%.
Meanwhile, a star was born in the UK Superleague in 2014. 19-year-old rookie Helen Housby had a fabulous season, and she finished it off in the most amazing way. The young Manchester Thunder goal attack was the star of the show in an exciting grand final against Surrey Storm. She played beautifully all game and then featured in an unbelievable finish.
Tied up at 48-48 in the final minute, Thunder got the ball from a Storm mistake. With time running out, they took the ball down court, eventually finding Housby just inside the circle. She quickly turned and slotted the winning goal in literally the final second, prompting wild scenes as a jubilant Thunder coach Tracey Neville raced onto the court in celebration.
Housby’s form was enough to earn herself a spot in the England team for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, although she didn’t play a big part. The event turned into a nightmare for England. Going into the tournament full of confidence, results went from bad to worse.
In the group stage, England came up against world champions Australia, the country they had swept 3-0 in such emphatic fashion just the previous year. They got out of the blocks quickly and had a handsome lead, before team changes saw Australia fight back. With time running out and scores level at 48-48, Jo Harten missed a chance to go ahead. When Caitlin Bassett duly converted at the other end for an exciting 49-48 win, the Australians were ecstatic. Harten was inconsolable.
It was a game full of great contests. Players hit the deck with regularity, in particular, England’s Serena Guthrie who had a running battle with Australian wing defence Sharni Layton. After the match, Guthrie claimed that the physical tactics of the Australian team had been “over the top” and that they “didn’t deserve to win”.
Finishing second in their group, England came up against New Zealand in the semis. The kiwis had dramas of their own thanks to a series of niggling injuries to their shooters, most notably Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu. Unable to send for replacements, New Zealand narrowly escaped an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Malawi, in a match that had fans everywhere on the edge of their seats.
The semi-final really was a game that England let slip. There’s no other way to put it. In a defence-dominated game, both sides struggled to score. New Zealand, hampered by their injuries, had big trouble at the attack end. But luckily for them, England could do no better.
At three-quarter time, it was 29 apiece. In a chaotic last quarter, just 11 goals were scored. The kiwis looked gone on numerous occasions, but thanks largely to some heroic work from their defence, most notably captain Casey Kopua, England repeatedly failed to convert turnovers into goals.
It was an error from England goal attack Kadeen Corbin late in the game that gave New Zealand their chance, and Maria Tutaia sank the winning goal with just three seconds left. Final score: New Zealand 35 England 34. The English players were just devastated. Gutted. They couldn’t believe it.
Somehow they then had to pick themselves up for the bronze medal playoff against Jamaica the very next day. Not surprisingly, the Jamaicans appeared the more motivated, and thanks to a strong last quarter, they ran out deserved winners, 52-48. Having entered the tournament hoping for gold, a despondent England team left without a medal of any colour.
Reaching the gold medal final somewhat against the odds, New Zealand was eventually no match for a classy Australian team, which won 58-40. Captain Laura Geitz led the way in defence and Caitlin Bassett dominated the scoring with 49 goals from 53 attempts. It was Australia’s first Commonwealth gold medal since 2002.
The Diamonds went on to have an unbeaten 13 match year in 2014, recording another two victories against England and winning all four tests of the Constellation Cup series against New Zealand. Making her debut for the Silver Ferns in the second test of that series was Ameliaranne Wells.
Born and raised in Queensland, but of New Zealand heritage, Wells represented Australia at under 21 level and spent four seasons at the Queensland Firebirds. But she had become disillusioned there, spending most of her time on the bench. She even considered giving the game away, before receiving a contract offer from Central Pulse. As soon as she accepted the offer, she became eligible to play for New Zealand. The rest is history.
2014 Honour Roll
Commonwealth Games: Australia
Constellation Cup: Australia
ANZ Championship: Melbourne Vixens
UK Superleague: Manchester Thunder
Liz Ellis Diamond: Madi Robinson
In 2015, talk was getting louder of possible conflict between Netball Australia and Netball New Zealand, over the running of the ANZ Championship. There were rumblings that NA wanted to include more Australian teams, and some people even publicly suggested dropping a New Zealand team. This was all due to the one-sided nature of the results.
In the seven years the competition had been staged, only one New Zealand side had won the title, and on three occasions the grand final had been an all-Australian affair. Kiwi teams were already given a leg-up by only having to play Aussie teams once, but the balance of power was still uneven.
There was a worry that New Zealanders would stop watching, especially come finals time. A decision was made to address that with the introduction of conferences, which assured a kiwi presence in the competition at least until the second last week and gave them a greater chance of making the grand final.
This decision didn’t go down well with many, arguing that it was giving kiwi teams an armchair ride into the playoffs. This was basically proven when Southern Steel made the NZ conference finals despite winning just three of their 13 regular season games.
As it turned out, it made little difference in the end, as it was once again two Australian teams that reached the grand final; the Queensland Firebirds and the NSW Swifts. And what a grand final it was. Two great sides fought out an outstanding contest in Brisbane.
The visitors got out to a good lead early and looked to be in some sort of control for most of the game. Susan Pettitt and Caitlin Thwaites were doing everything right in the Swifts shooting circle, and Sharni Layton was holding her own against Romelda Aiken. But with three minutes left, suddenly doubt and hesitation started to creep in. Firebirds pounced on two errors and the score was back level inside the last minute.
With 14 seconds left and under immense pressure, young Firebirds goal attack Gretel Tippett stepped up to score the goal that put her team in front for the first time. Moments later, captain Laura Geitz snuffed out Swifts’ last chance. That was it. The Firebirds had stolen it, 57-56. The crowd went berserk and we all knew we’d seen something very special.
Just over three weeks later, the Australian Diamonds team for the World Cup was announced and much to the dismay of her many fans, Pettitt’s name wasn’t there. Would she have been chosen if Swifts had held on? Who knows? And another big name missing from the team was that of Madi Robinson.
On Easter Monday, April 6, Robinson ruptured her ACL in the round 6 clash against Fever in Perth, ruling her out of World Cup contention. It was a devastating blow for Robinson, regarded as the world’s best wing attack, as she had missed out on selection in 2011.
2015 in Sydney saw a change to the format of the World Cup. In an effort to get more competitive pool matches, the top two ranked nations (Australia and New Zealand) were placed in the same pool for the first time. Likewise, the third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and seventh and eighth ranked nations were also grouped together. But there was a problem with the other teams who were placed in these pools.
Incredibly, the world’s ninth and tenth ranked nations, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, were grouped with Australia and New Zealand. As a result, they knew before the tournament even started that they couldn’t finish in the top eight. It was much the same for countries ranked just below them too. It was an unfair system, which will hopefully never be repeated.
The Silver Ferns won the much anticipated pool game 52-47 against the Diamonds on day three. This was Australia’s first test defeat in almost two years. It no doubt gave the kiwis added confidence, but it also provided the Australians with a valuable wake up call, seven days out from a possible rematch in the final. And that is how it panned out.
For the third time in the tournament, the world record was broken for a netball crowd, as 16,752 screaming fans watched the 2015 World Cup final. And they saw the Australian captain Laura Geitz play one of the all time great first quarters as she repeatedly forced the kiwi shooters, Bailey Mes and Maria Tutaia into error.
At quarter time, Australia led 16-7. That was in fact the only quarter that the Diamonds won in the whole match. The Silver Ferns gradually worked themselves back into the game, chipping away at the margin, but the Australians did just enough to keep them at bay and eventually ran out 58-55 winners.
Goal shooter Caitlin Bassett again proved her worth to the Australian side as she shot 48/51, a record number of goals in a world final. Meanwhile, goal defence Julie Corletto bowed out of the game a winner. It was only revealed after the final that she had in fact played most of it with a fractured foot.
Two months after the World Cup, the Constellation Cup was held. It looked as if it would be business as usual, when Australia won the first two tests comfortably on New Zealand soil. But someone forgot to tell the kiwis. They fought back brilliantly, winning the third test in Melbourne by three. Then, needing a highly unlikely 14 goal win in the fourth test in Perth, they dominated the game but came up just three goals short.
In November, after the Constellation Cup series, Netball New Zealand named Janine Southby as the replacement for Wai Taumaunu who was stepping down from the role of Silver Ferns coach. Noeline Taurua, considered a chance by many, was passed over for the job. Southby had to stand down from her position as coach of Southern Steel, and it was Taurua who took over there.
2015 Honour Roll
World Cup: Australia
Player of the Tournament: Mwai Kumwenda (Malawi)
Constellation Cup: Australia
ANZ Championship: Queensland Firebirds
UK Superleague: Surrey Storm
Liz Ellis Diamond: Caitlin Bassett
In early 2016, the Diamonds toured England, and it was announced that Australian captain Laura Geitz was being rested after a big 2015. The choice as acting captain was a bit of a surprise. Clare McMeniman who had been Geitz’s ever-reliable defensive partner at the Firebirds, got the nod despite having played just five tests.
The Diamonds went on to win all three tests comfortably against a weakened Roses team missing some of their stars. Sharni Layton took Geitz’s goal keeper spot and totally dominated. In the three tests combined, she had 25 possession gains, including 17 intercepts.
Back in Australia and the rumblings were continuing that there was disquiet between the partners of the ANZ Championship, with talk that Australia may opt to go it alone. And sure enough, the big announcement came on May 19.
Starting in 2017, there was to be a new eight-team Australian league (Suncorp Super Netball), featuring the five existing Australian ANZ Championship teams, plus three new teams who each had the backing of football teams (Lightning, Giants, Collingwood). Player payments would be increased quite dramatically, and that was all being paid for by a rich new TV deal with the Nine Network and Telstra.
As for New Zealand, they were seemingly caught slightly unawares, but were more than happy to continue their association in 2017 with ANZ and Sky Sport in their own new competition, the ANZ Premiership. It would feature their current five teams as well as introduce a second team in Auckland, the Northern Stars.
Before any of that though, there was still the 2016 ANZ Championship to be played. Among the big signing news, champion Silver Fern Laura Langman signed for the NSW Swifts, having been granted a one-year exemption from Netball New Zealand to allow her to play for an Australian team and still represent NZ, something that wouldn’t continue in 2017.
One incredible anomaly associated with the ANZ Championship was finally put to rest in its final year. A big talking point had been “the ANZ Championship curse”; the fact that not one Australian team which had won the competition was able to even make the finals the following year, let alone win it again.
But here we were, one year on from their classic 2015 grand final win, and the Firebirds were back hosting the Swifts yet again in another “battle of Brisbane” to send the ANZ Championship out in style. It was an epic. And much of it was about one contest.
Under immense pressure from her opponent Sharni Layton, Firebirds shooter Romelda Aiken suffered from a serious case of the yips. She just kept missing. In the first three quarters of the match, she missed an incredible twenty shots at goal. Luckily for her, she just kept rebounding as well. Aiken’s shooting partner Gretel Tippett was also inaccurate.
It was a seesawing match with first one side on top, then the other. And despite all of the misses at the attack end, Firebirds found themselves three goals up with just a minute left in the fourth quarter. But Swifts dug deep and in a final flurry, Caitlin Thwaites was able to tie the game up 54-54 at the end of sixty minutes and send it to extra time.
Firebirds were up by two after the first extra time period, when Rob Wright made the huge call to replace his two most experienced players, Kim Green and Susan Pettitt with Paige Hadley and Steph Wood. It looked like a good move when Wood had the chance to win it in the dying seconds. But her shot missed. The teams were still dead level.
So we were now into sudden death extra-time, with a margin of two goals required for victory. And it was a brilliant Gabi Simpson intercept, which gave Firebirds the edge. Aiken then managed to put all of those earlier missed shots behind her, to sink goal number 63 (from 89 attempts).
The Firebirds had won 69-67, and for the second year in a row, there were scenes of total jubilation from the locals, while the Swifts were left just feeling empty. They had played in two classic finals, both of which could have gone either way, and they’d come away empty-handed.
Just under a month later and it was on to the international season. Laura Geitz was once again rested. But this time, it soon became obvious why. She was pregnant, a fact she had known and kept secret from Firebirds team mates while playing the grand final. With the baby due in March, she was going to be missing from netball for the foreseeable future.
In her absence, Clare McMeniman again led the Diamonds as they won another two series. They retained the Constellation Cup 3-1, and before that they captured the first edition of the SANZEA Quad Series, a new competition featuring South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.
Three games each were held in New Zealand and Australia, with the Diamonds defeating the Silver Ferns in Melbourne 60-55 to take out the first series. The four teams were then set to meet each other again early in 2017 in South Africa and England.
At the end of 2016, we here at Netball Scoop started what has now become a tradition, when we, along with some esteemed judges from the netball media, got together to vote on who we considered to be the “World’s Best Netballer”. Sharni Layton was a convincing winner.
2016 Honour Roll
Quad Series: Australia
Constellation Cup: Australia
ANZ Championship: Queensland Firebirds
UK Superleague: Surrey Storm
Liz Ellis Diamond: Not awarded
NS World’s Best Netballer: Sharni Layton