Current INF World Ranking: 1st
2015 Netball World Cup finish: 1st
Squad: Caitlin Bassett, Caitlin Thwaites, Gretel Tippett, Stephanie Wood, Kelsey Browne, Liz Watson, Paige Hadley, Jamie-Lee Price, April Brandley, Jo Weston, Courtney Bruce, Sarah Klau
Captain: Caitlin Bassett
Coach: Lisa Alexander
National coach Lisa Alexander raised a few eyebrows when the Australian Diamonds’ team to contest the World Cup was announced; none more so than by the omission of vice-captain Gabi Simpson, who made way for the recently capped Jamie-Lee Price. Nevertheless, the selectors have chosen a team that is highly versatile, and – for the most part – in good form.
The Diamonds go into the World Cup with one of their least experienced sides in recent history, following the retirement of a host of players after last year’s Commonwealth Games. Caitlin Bassett has 90 caps for her country, but there is no one else who sits over 50. Individually however, the Australians have the decided advantage of honing their skills in the inferno of the world’s best domestic league.
This could potentially also weigh as a disadvantage for the Australians, who are used to the ferocious and physical contests allowed under local umpiring. At the World Cup, the Diamonds will have to rein in their physicality, because international umpires are unlikely to give them the same leeway.
The Australian shooting circle is by far the most experienced end of the court; fortunate given the pressure of a World Cup. Bassett, and to a lesser extent the others, have been tested in the international cauldron and know how to keep their cool in a close match. Bassett’s been below her best so far this year, unsurprising given that she missed the pre-season due to a fractured arm. However, she looks to have spent that time wisely in the gym, honing her core strength, and as always will be a formidable presence in the circle. She’s currently rated first for offensive rebounds in the Suncorp Super Netball league, boxing out position to take rebounds when needed.
Caitlin Thwaites is Australia’s alternative goal shooter and continues to grow better with every passing year. She’s a far more mobile proposition when a change-up is needed. Steph Wood and Gretel Tippett are likely to be the Australian x factors. They play completely different styles of game – Wood the savvy, smart operator, while Tippett provides athletic impact and defensive stopping power. How Alexander will use their skills will be fascinating to watch.
Both goal attacks have a chink in their armour – Tippett leads the domestic competition for ball handling errors and turnovers this season, while Wood is yet to play a full game for Australia despite having 23 test caps. Given the number of back to back games that Australia will play, her conditioning might come under the microscope.
Tippett is yet to be unleashed on opponents at this level of competition, and it will be fascinating to see how they handle such an unorthodox goal attack.
Positioning of the Australian midcourt is an unknown quantity, with versatility the key to matching up against different opponents. Kelsey Browne has the speed to cut through a zone defence, Liz Watson the strength against a body defence. Both of them are ranked at the top of the ladder for goal assists and centre pass receives, and are likely to be used at wing attack and centre.
Browne’s form has been patchy as she adjusts to life at Collingwood, but she’ll relish rejoining the Bassett/Wood combination. Watson is an incredibly powerful player, and it’s a rare wing defence who can restrict her drive to prime feeding position on the edge of the circle.
Paige Hadley plays across all three midcourt positions, but will most commonly be used at centre. She is one of the safest handlers of the ball, gives away very few turnovers on court, and regularly comes up with an intercept or gain.
Wing defence may be an area of weakness for Australia, with Jamie-Lee Price having spent most of the domestic season at centre. Despite this, she was strong across the last international season, and should slot back in relatively easily. Expect to also see April Brandley or Jo Weston to slide across into that role to give Price a break.
Alexander has gone for a versatile defensive circle, with both keepers able to play at goal defence. This additional height could be a decided advantage in slowing or stopping opponents through the midcourt.
Sarah Klau has been in fine form for the Swifts this season, and her movement is reminiscent of Geva Mentor’s agility. Courtney Bruce plays a strong game, particularly in the air, but can be penalised for being overly physical at times. If she draws the umpires’ ire and struggles to adjust, Klau will likely be a cleaner option.
Brandley has been picking up more intercepts and deflections this season, while Weston’s strength is wearing her opponent down through close-marking play. Weston can give away cheap obstruction penalties outside the circle, and will need to adjust quickly to umpiring calls.
None of the Australian defenders feature highly in the intercept statistics, although Bruce and Klau both sit second and third respectively for deflections. Creating turnovers will be of critical importance to the Diamonds’ success, so hopefully the quartet can step up their numbers. Crucial to setting up opportunities will be the amount of pressure the shooters and midcourt can create defensively: they will need strong hands-over presence and the ability to stay in play if the ball is transitioning through court.
One of the Diamonds’ biggest challenges will be how quickly they can build on-court connections. The players are now scattered across seven different franchises, and have shared limited game time as a unit. Hopefully Bassett, Wood and Browne will be able to pick up the threads of their premiership winning form from 2017 and 2018, when they were a potent attacking group at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
Another talking point is how the draw will impact on Australia. They are in by far the easiest half of the competition, and courtesy of that should progress along with New Zealand to the semi-finals. However, it’s unlikely they will face an uncomfortably close game until that point, so will need to take care not to be lulled into a false sense of security.
In contrast, England, Jamaica, South Africa, Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago will all be fighting for just two berths in the medal rounds.
Australia have won the last three Netball World Cup titles, but for perhaps the first time ever, neither they nor New Zealand are favourites going into the event. The vastly more experienced English Roses, who have the benefits of a home event and an army of fans on their side, carry that tag. It might suit Australia to fly under the radar, as far as any netball team with such a legacy can.
At the Commonwealth Games, Australia was completely dominant in the earlier rounds, while using a policy of rotating players in every match. It came undone in the finals, with players struggling to adjust to running out a full game at high pressure. Alexander has stated that as the Netball World Cup moves deeper towards the finals, we are less likely to see changes. It will help combinations gel, but we could potentially see more visibly tired athletes.
Will the approach be successful? Only time will tell.
Predicted 2019 World Cup Placing: Australia fall within the easier side of the draw, so at the very minimum should make the semi-finals. From that point on it’s anyone’s guess.
Last five results
Australia def South Africa 62 – 45
Australia def New Zealand 53 – 50
England def Australia 52 – 49
Australia def New Zealand 58 – 47
New Zealand def Australia 55 – 44