Today, the Australian Diamonds revealed their 2019 Netball World Cup dress and shared the sentimental meaning behind the moving design that will help drive their World Cup campaign.
On both the vibrant yellow [home] and vivid green [away] strips, are placed the names of every netballer who has ever taken the court for Australia.
The 176 women who have been so integral to the Diamonds journey are represented on the strip in a show of respect, and as a way to honour those who have come before them.
Listed are familiar names like Joyce Brown, Annie Sargeant, Liz Ellis, Vicki Wilson, Catherine Cox and Sharelle McMahon. The current crop of talent know that the Diamonds brand has been forged over many years, and they have great for respect its history.
Diamonds’ captain, Caitlin Bassett, said the team hoped they could make Sarah Klau Diamond 177 at some point during their campaign in Liverpool, which kicks off on the July 12 against Northern Ireland.
“For us it is really important that we mention and honour the girls who have come before us, the women who have come before us, and how important the achievements that they have done for the Diamonds has helped us get to where we are today. It is not just players who have played in World Cups before, it is every single Diamond who has come before us, because we believe everyone is important, and whether you make the great achievement of making a World Cup team, which is extremely hard, or maybe you just miss out, you have still been such an important part of that journey in helping us to get to where we are today.”
In a lovely touch to the design, it was something that the playing group came up with themselves, so it will no doubt serve as great inspiration for the team when they take the court as defending champions in Liverpool.
Representing the Diamonds at the dress reveal was Caitlin Bassett and World Cup debutants Courtney Bruce, Liz Watson and Steph Wood. The quartet looked relaxed as they chatted to the media and laughed as they had their photos taken, in what are no doubt the more casual moments in the lead up to stepping on the plane next Friday, bound for Liverpool; which is when the nerves will no doubt start to creep in.
With the disappointment of a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 still burning strongly, the Diamonds will look to even the score with England, who will certainly enjoy the home court advantage.
At 27, Steph Wood is now a solid fixture in the Diamonds squad, and it’s hard to believe that Liverpool will be her first Netball World Cup campaign.
We first met Wood properly in 2015 when she lined up for the NSW Swifts in the ANZ competition. That season she took the court several times as wing attack and not her preferred position of goal attack, but it did not seem to matter; watching Wood glide around the court with such amazing timing and incredible ‘netball smarts’, fans quickly realised they were watching the real deal.
In 2016 Wood had regular court time with the Swifts, and was afforded time in goal attack. It was in this position that she really started to shine. That she would catch the eye of Diamonds selectors was inevitable, and later that year Wood made her Diamonds debut against South Africa.
The gravity of this moment is not lost on the crafty goal attack, who is both humble in her selection for the World Cup and reflective of the incredible legacy that she is representing.
“It is actually really special. It takes so many people to go to a World Cup, and for them to be represented on the dress that we wear I think is amazing. I have been able to go through and look at all the names, and there is a lot that I do not know but then when you go through there is a lot that you do know…it is a really special touch and it probably makes me realise that when we go to a World Cup, you are not just playing for the girls in this team, it is a lot bigger than just us.”
Since Wood’s debut in 2016, she has been a regular feature in a star-studded Diamonds squad; her silky movement on court, timing and great form have made it hard for selectors to ignore her, but she is an older and wiser head on court these days, and spends less time sweating the small stuff.
“Probably for me I have stopped wanting perfection. I think sometimes we can get really stuck on wanting things to go from A to B to C, and I understand the game of netball is not like that. There are ebbs and flows in the game.”
“So, being able to accept that and not get frustrated was probably something very early in my career I struggled with a little bit, and now having added that [understanding] to my game has only made me grow and have a bit more confidence at the end of games that I can finish things off and not be too concerned with previous mistakes I have made during the game.”
Currently more than half way through the Suncorp Super Netball season, which will now halt for the World Cup, players have been solely focused on form for their club team, the realisation that she is heading to a World Cup, has only recently sunk in for Steph Wood.
“We got the team announced and I was still in ‘Lightning land’, so it probably did not dawn on me until I got into camp and saw all the girls…and then we have been talking about what this journey is going to be, and it’s made me really excited wanting to do really well for Australia.”
“I know it is probably not just going to be smooth sailing, I am enjoying the rollercoaster ride that this is going to be, because who knows if I will ever get to put the Australian dress on again or even get to a World Cup.”
The Diamonds brand and what is stands for is arguably one of the most revered in the country, not only in terms of the culture it develops for its players but also for the success that it has been able to maintain over such a long period of time. Wood attributes the Diamonds success to an environment where everyone feels valued and part of something undeniably special.
“Personally, for me, I think there is no hierarchy… here it doesn’t matter if you are the first person in, or if you have never had a test cap, or if you are a training partner or if you are someone who has been here for years, everyone’s opinion counts and it starts from the top.”
“Lisa [Alexander] is very good at not letting someone just be a passenger in these things, everyone has to contribute, which I think is really good, and we genuinely like to hang out with each other. We don’t just want to know people on court – I think when you can have those personal connections off court, it makes you stronger on court.”
There is certainly no doubt that this World Cup will be the most hotly contested in the tournament’s history. There are at least five squads who are genuine contenders for a podium finish, and there will certainly be no time for complacency for any teams in Liverpool.
While Wood agrees that England is a hot favourite, she believes her Sunshine Coast Lightning Coach, Nolene Taurua, also the New Zealand Silver Ferns coach, might be able to deliver some surprises in the tournament, despite an incredibly rocky 18 months, which has seen them slip to fourth in the latest INF world rankings.
“I think New Zealand will shock a few people. I get coached under Noels [Taurua] at a club level and I know what a brilliant coach she is, so I know she is going to put them in tip-top shape when they step out, I know they are going to be a massive challenge.”
“South Africa are only getting stronger and stronger and I play with two of those girls back in the defence end so I know how hard they are to play against. There are lots of teams… like Malawi and Uganda. They are teams that if you do not bring your A-game you could actually be beaten, and I think that is so cool about where netball is at the moment.”
“When you go to these World Cups it is not just one game you go to watch because there are going to be some really tough contests. That is a credit to what Suncorp Super Netball has been able to do for international netball… we will have to bring our A-game to every game.”
Since the inception of the Suncorp Super Netball Competition three seasons ago, Steph Wood has refined her skills with back to back competition winners, the Sunshine Coast Lightning and is an integral part of their squad. The team boasts four other international players, Peace Proscovia from Uganda, Laura Langman from the Silver Ferns and Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius from South Africa.
All of those players will be representing their respective countries in the World Cup, which speaks volumes of the depth and diversity that the team has, and also highlights Wood’s comments when she credited the SSN for the development of international netball.
The player that Wood is most looking forward to playing is Pretorius, and that is because Wood acknowledges her as the player that is able to bring out her best.
“As much as she has been called a ‘thief’ in Super Netball because she is the intercept queen, she is such a challenge to play against. Training against her week in and week out, I actually think she has been able to make me a better player because I have to take my game to the next level to beat her.”
Wood says she did not realise how nervous she was about making the squad until she heard the words, ‘congratulations’ from Lisa Alexander. After those words were spoken the tears came as the realisation of making her first World Cup team stopped being a dream and became a reality.
“I definitely knew I wanted to go to a World Cup but after getting the phone call and her [Alexander] saying, ‘You are in the team’, it made me realise how much I wanted to go… I remember I sat on the couch and had my little sausage dog, Neville, with me, and I remember talking to him telling him, ‘I made it, I am going to the World Cup!’…There was definitely a lot of tears and a lot of happiness when that call came.”
Steph Wood now has the chance to continue the proud legacy of the Diamonds tradition; her name forever etched into its rich history. While Neville is surely her biggest fan, the rest of us can still enjoy watching the ease and grace with which she plays the game. We can hope that by the end of her first World Cup Wood is at the top of the podium, shining bright with the rest of the team, knowing that they stand on the shoulders of all the Diamonds that have come before them.