NS PREVIEW: 2022 Commonwealth Games – Group A

NS PREVIEW: 2022 Commonwealth Games – Group A

Contributors: Ariane Virgona, Kyle Fortune, Georgia Doyle, Cara Gledhill, Zara Collings, Emily Bruce, Katrina Nissen, Ian Harkin

Photographers: Simon Leonard, Marcela Massey

 

Not long to go now and the action will get underway in Birmingham in the 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games. Netball has been a medal sport since 1998, so this will be the seventh time that the sport takes pride of place as one of the most watched competitions at the Games. In Part One of our three-part preview, we take a look at the six teams that make up Group A; Australia, Jamaica, South Africa, Wales, Scotland, and Barbados.

 

GROUP A

Australian captain, Liz Watson. Image: Simon Leonard

AUSTRALIA 

Tournaments: 6
Matches: 41 (Won 37, Drawn 1, Lost 3)
Medals: 3 Gold (1998, 2002, 2014), 3 Silver (2006, 2010, 2018)

Australia has made the final of all six Commonwealth Games tournaments. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (95 goals) were both from the same match when they defeated India 113-18 in Delhi in 2010. Their lowest score in Commonwealth Games history is 42 goals. But that was still a win. They beat New Zealand 42-39 in the 1998 Final in Kuala Lumpur. Australia has had just three losses (all in finals) and the biggest of those was their 5 goal loss to New Zealand in 2006. Their longest winning streak in Commonwealth Games matches is 16 matches. But their longest undefeated streak is 19 and went from their opening match in 1998 through to the 2006 semi-finals. Australia is currently the number one ranked team in the world. 

Team:
Sunday Aryang
Kiera Austin
Ash Brazill
Courtney Bruce
Gretel Bueta
Paige Hadley
Sarah Klau
Cara Koenen
Kate Moloney
Liz Watson (Captain)
Jo Weston
Steph Wood (Vice Captain)

Coach
Stacey Marinkovich

2018 Result
2nd

2019 NWC
2nd

Preview by Ariane Virgona: 

Strengths
Coming off the back of a premiership win in Suncorp Super Netball, the Fever defensive end of Courtney Bruce and Sunday Aryang will have momentum and an opportunity to showcase their versatility coming up against the shooting end of England, New Zealand and their SSN teammate, Jhaniele Fowler, for Jamaica. With the addition of Jo Weston and Sarah Klau (both also premiership winners in recent years), the defensive unit for Australia has the combinations of speed, height and familiarity to step up in pressure situations and shut down both dynamic and holding shooter attacking lines. 

It is without question that player of the Quad Series, Gretel Bueta will also be another strength of Australia, with players like Kiera Austin and Steph Wood creating space and opportunity for Bueta’s strong drives and athletic split. However, given that the world has already seen what the combination of Wood and Bueta can be capable of in the Quad Series, Austin and Koenan will need to be ready to inject different styles of play and setups to help keep opponents guessing. 

Challenges
Despite being number one in the world, the Australian team do not have any of the silverware in their cabinet and have the weight of the country on their shoulders as they go out to prove their ranking. The team has had limited time together and has played little test netball in recent years, due to Covid. However, much of the team is retained from the Quad Series in January, meaning that players are familiar with one another’s styles of play, which can be an advantage to settle the nerves and provides a solid foundation to work on in the camp in Perth.  

There was much debate around who would be selected to represent Australia in the midcourt. The combination from the Quad Series of Ash Brazill, Kate Moloney, Paige Hadley, and captain Liz Watson were retained, and it will be most interesting to see the fluidity and strength of the combinations that are put on court. 

Lastly, we couldn’t talk about challenges of the tournament without acknowledging the force of the Jamacian defensive end. Getting around this will require full 60 minute focus, a short, fast and flat style of play, which the Australians should be able to execute, given that players like Shamera Sterling and Jodi-Ann Ward play each week in the SSN. 

Players to watch
Aside from Bueta, a solid pillar of consistency, Aryang will be a player to watch. Aryang plays on Fowler each week at training and has incredible athletic ability to have a fly and be clean with the ball, which will bode well against moving circles. Bruce will also be another player worth watching.  It will be imperative for Bruce to stay in play, however, on the international stage Bruce is no stranger. 

Kiera Austin returns from an ACL injury, after her debut in 2020 for the Diamonds and will be someone to watch, both individually and also in combination with her shooting partner. Her dynamic and relentless nature, alongside her defensive pressure and ability to read the play, add depth and fight to the lineup.

 

Jamaican captain, Jhaniele Fowler. Image: Simon Leonard

JAMAICA 

Tournaments: 6
Matches: 40 (Won 26, Drawn 1, Lost 13)
Medals: 3 Bronze (2002, 2014, 2018)

After missing out in 1998, Jamaica has made the semi-finals at every Commonwealth Games tournament from 2002 to 2018, but has yet to reach the final. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (73 goals) were both from the same match when they defeated India 100-27 in Delhi in 2010. Jamaica’s lowest score is 33 goals against Australia in Manchester in 2002 when they were beaten by 27 goals. Their heaviest defeat (32 goals) came in the 70-38 loss to Australia in 1998. Jamaica’s longest undefeated run at the Commonwealth Games is six matches. Jamaica is currently ranked fourth in the world. 

Team:
Shanice Beckford
Kadie-Ann Dehaney
Nicole Dixon-Rochester
Jhaniele Fowler (Captain)
Shadian Hemmings
Shimona Nelson
Rebekah Robinson
Shamera Sterling
Adean Thomas
Jodi-Ann Ward
Khadijah Williams
Latanya Wilson

Coach
Connie Francis

2018 Result
3rd

2019 NWC
5th

Preview by Kyle Fortune:

Strengths
Coming into this year’s competition, Jamaica is going into the games with one of the most, if not the most lethal defensive ends of our time. Playing for the Thunderbirds in Australia, Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson have proven to be the best defensive pairing in the competition, with the lowest total goals scored against them. Once you bring in the likes of Jodi-Ann Ward and Kadie-Ann Dehaney, you have a constant headache for opponents with the possible combinations they could put out on court. 

Rob Wright coming on board as a specialist coach can only be seen as an asset. With his extensive experience in the world’s top leagues, he will have a niche for high performance coaching that is needed for a tournament like the Commonwealth Games. 

Challenges
The midcourt is the most inexperienced part of the team. It has been the missing puzzle piece in recent years when it comes to the full court performance. It will be very important for the Sunshine Girls to get a consistent performance from their midcourt if they want a sniff at the medals. 

Their fiery flair has always won over the support of crowds around the world. We have, however, seen how easy it is to rattle key players in the squad. It will be essential for the team to keep composed and stick to the game plan especially in the latter stages of the competition

Players to watch
Even with the overwhelming amount of talent and athleticism in the squad, it can’t be denied that the most important players to look out for, stand at opposite ends of the court. Sterling at goal keeper and Fowler at goal shooter. It will be great to see the young and talented Collingwood Magpies shooter Shimona Nelson utilised in the side as well. 

For Jamaica’s chances, dynamic and speedy Nicole Dixon-Rochester really needs to cement herself on the world stage. We have seen glimpses of excellence from the centre but are yet to see it through a full competition. Lastly, there is Wilson, who took the SSN season by storm, shutting down most attacking ends with her teammate Sterling. The amount of ball this pair is going to win will be incredible to watch. On paper, there should be no stopping this incredible team. One can only think that it will be their best run yet!

 

South Africa’s captain, Bongi Msomi. Image: Marcela Massey

SOUTH AFRICA

Tournaments: 6
Matches: 36 (Won 19, Lost 17)

South Africa’s best finish in the Commonwealth Games is 4th in the inaugural tournament in 1998. Their highest score is 92 against Fiji in 2018, and their biggest winning margin is 69 goals when they defeated Sri Lanka 91-22 in their first Commonwealth Games match in 1998. Their lowest score and biggest defeat (41 goals) came in the same match when they were beaten 70-29 by New Zealand in Delhi in 2010. South Africa is currently ranked fifth in the world.

Team:
Khanyisa Chawane
Izette Griesel
Phumza Maweni
Tshinakaho Mdau
Bongiwe Msomi (Captain)
Lefebre Rademan
Nicola Smith
Nicholé Taljaard
Elmeré van der Berg
Shadine van der Merwe
Ine-Marí Venter
Zanele Vimbela

Coach
Dorette Badenhorst

2018 Result
5th

2019 NWC
4th

Preview by Georgia Doyle:

Strengths
South Africa have shown over recent years that they can match it with the best, beating three of the top four teams since their last appearance at a major tournament. The Proteas play a much higher number of international matches compared to their fellow top five ranked nations, mostly due to their regular participation in the Africa Netball Cup. While they tend to dominate all their opposition, this chance to expose players to regular International competition, and build combinations can’t be underestimated. Plus adding in their more experienced players who ply their trade in England and Australia, expect South Africa push for finals, and hope to secure their first Commonwealth Games Medal in Netball.

Challenges
This is the first major tournament the Proteas enter without stalwarts Maryka Holtzhausen, Erin Burger, Lenize Potgieter, and Karla Pretorius with the former two having retired from international netball while Potgieter has not been medically cleared to compete, and Pretorius has recently welcomed her first child. They still have players through the court that can bring leadership and experience in big games, but the likes of Phumza Maweni, Shadine Van de Merwe, and captain Bongi Msomi will need to lift their work rate to support the less experienced players around them if they hope to challenge for a podium finish.

South Africa will also be without Norma Plummer in the head coach role for their first major tournament since 2019, having led them to one of their best performances in Liverpool, falling just short of featuring in their first major tournament final since the 1995 World Cup. While this is a significant loss, they have still retained the services of Nicole Cusack as a specialist coach and Plummer will continue to mentor the current coaches, although her level of direct involvement during the tournament remains unclear.

Players to Watch
Ine-Marí Venter previously sat behind Lenize Potgieter for the starting goal shooter bib, but she had a breakout performance at the 2022 Quad Series against the top three nations to demonstrate that she is capable of matching it with the best. With Potgieter now missing, so much of the load will fall on Venter, but her recent form is so good, the Proteas may still be able to get over the line in big matches. Defender Nicola Smith also shows great promise.

 

Wales co-captain, Nia Jones. Image: Marcela Massey

WALES

Tournaments: 5
Matches: 28 (Won 8, Drawn 1, Lost 19)

Wales’s best performance at the Commonwealth Games was in 2002 when they effectively finished equal fifth, after losing to Jamaica in the playoff to reach the semi-finals. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (49 goals) at the Games were both from the same match when they defeated Fiji 81-32 in 2018. Their lowest score and biggest defeat (73 goals) came when they lost 94-21 to New Zealand in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Wales is currently ranked eighth in the world. 

Team:
Betsy Creak
Suzy Drane (Co-Captain)
Bethan Dyke
Clare Jones
Nia Jones (Co-Captain)
Shona O’Dwyer
Ella Powell-Davies
Eleanor Roberts
Georgia Rowe
Christina Shaw
Leila Thomas
Phillipa Yarranton

Coach
Sara Moore

2018 Result
11th

2019 NWC
Didn’t qualify

Preview by Cara Gledhill:

Strengths
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, 11 of the 12 players in the Welsh team played for the Celtic Dragons. With six from the Dragons this time around, there remains the benefit of known combinations, especially given limited international minutes for many members of the squad. For example, in the midcourt, Shona O’Dwyer, Clare Jones and Nia Jones regularly played for the Dragons at wing attack, centre and wing defence respectively. However, the spread of players across four other VNSL teams gives them an element of unpredictability in their starting line-up which they did not have previously.

Three circle defenders have been named along with Nia Jones who is known as a wing defence, but has also been named as a goal defence. With a number of midcourters pushing for starting spots, and at least two players (Suzy Drane and Clare Jones) able to play across all three centre court positions, it will be interesting to see what combinations are used throughout the tournament. 

The team has a nice balance of youth and experience. Drane retired from the VNSL at the end of the 2019 season, but has retained her place in the national side to line up for her fourth Commonwealth Games, while Bethan Dyke and cross-code star Nia Jones will play in their third Games. Ella Powell-Davies has been named a vice-captain despite limited minutes at this level.

Challenges
The Welsh team did not qualify for the 2019 Netball World Cup. This followed by the pandemic meant they had no opportunity to gain international caps until late last year with only practice matches possible. This has meant limited opportunities to blood younger players coming through and limited time to test combinations.

They played two tests against the Isle of Man in late-2021 before winning the O’Neills Wales Series against Ireland, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man earlier this year. Coach Sara Moore will have a further opportunity to see some of the younger players perform at this level when the Welsh team hosts the South African SPAR Proteas in the coming days in what will be an important test ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

The team are also particularly lacking in experience in the shooting end with only Georgia Rowe remaining from the 2018 team and the other three shooters with limited or no VNSL minutes. Rowe will need to step up as the experienced head in the shooting end, with the greater experience in midcourt also needing to come to the fore. 

Players to watch
Ella Powell-Davies only debuted for Wales at the end of last year, but should make waves after a brilliant season for Wasps in the VNSL playing across goal defence and wing defence. Her speed off the mark and reading of the ball saw her named Coaches Player of the Season. In the Welsh international series earlier this year, she also claimed player of the series honours and has been given the role of Co-Vice Captain, despite her limited experience.

Bethan Dyke stepped up for the Severn Stars in 2022 on the comeback from an ACL injury and will look to continue her form throughout the Commonwealth Games. Dyke can play at centre or wing attack and offers speed and creativity in the midcourt. Having played with Nia Jones in her time at the Stars, Dyke could be rewarded with a starting spot, or be used off the bench as an impact player.

 

Scotland captain, Claire Maxwell. Image: Simon Leonard

SCOTLAND

Tournaments: 2
Matches: 12 (Won 4, Lost 8)

Scotland has competed at the last two Commonwealth Games tournaments, finishing 9th on each occasion. Their highest score and biggest winning margin (28 goals) came when they beat St Lucia 58-30 in 2014. Their lowest score and biggest defeat (57 goals) came when they were beaten 71-14 by New Zealand in the same tournament. One of Scotland’s best performances was actually in defeat, when they went down by just one goal to Malawi on the Gold Coast. Scotland is currently ranked ninth in the world. 

Team:
Emma Barrie
Kelly Boyle
Iona Christian
Rachel Conway
Bethan Goodwin
Hannah Leighton
Emma Love
Sarah MacPhail
Claire Maxwell (Captain)
Niamh McCall
Emily Nicholl (Vice Captain)
Lauren Tait

Coach
Tamsin Greenway

2018 Result
9th

2019 NWC
11th

Preview by Zara Collings:

Strengths 
The acquisition of Tamsin Greenway as head coach is a big plus for Scotland. It will be a largely young and inexperienced Scottish side that will compete at this Commonwealth Games, with only five of the named squad having played in that 2018 Gold Coast campaign that saw Scotland finish ninth. Widely regarded as one of the tactical masterminds of the game, Greenway’s ability to coach her team through each style of play Scotland face will be crucial to their success.

The majority of players will have had few opportunities to be exposed to the different styles of play that will feature at this Commonwealth Games. Scotland do however, have the advantage that a core group of their players also play for Strathclyde Sirens in the Vitality Netball Superleague, so they will already have strong connections and understandings.

Challenges
With so many new faces to Team Scotland, ensuring that players adapt and learn quickly will be vital if they are to have a successful campaign. Unfortunately, Lynsey Gallagher has been ruled out due to injury. Defender Lauren Tait is also coming in off the back of a serious injury and will look to settle early to set the tone for their competition. In the shooting circle, both Goodwin and Barrie have rotated through the Goal Shooter position this season for Strathclyde Sirens, with neither arguably having their most consistent season. Finding that consistency early and having the confidence to turn to post in pressure situations will be vital in maintaining confidence throughout the team. 

Scotland will be looking to place either in line with, or higher than their world ranking of ninth. In the Group stages this will likely mean a win over both Wales and Barbados, the latter of whom Scotland comfortably beat in a three game series earlier this year. 

Players to watch
Iona Christian will play a huge role in Team Scotland’s attack; a crafty and agile midcourter, formerly part of the England Roses setup, seems to have slotted in well to her new colours. In the past, Scotland have tended to struggle with the final feed into the circle, often opting for a shorter and lower style of attack, however the introduction of Christian to Team Scotland does provide them with the creativity required to mix this up. Christian is accurate when feeding from off the circle edge and when you have players with the height of Emma Barrie in the shooting circle, the feeding rate of Christian could be a real metronome for the success of this team. 

At the other end of the court, Goal Defence Emily Nicholl will play a huge role in the Scottish team’s defensive end. The only defensive player who has played regular minutes of elite level netball this year, Nicholl has been in excellent form for her club Strathclyde Sirens. A real ball winner, her confidence and fearlessness to contest has the ability to raise the energy of those around her. 

 

Barbados co-captain, Latonia Blackman. Image: Simon Leonard

BARBADOS

Tournaments: 6
Matches: 33 (Won 9, Lost 24)

Barbados has been to every Commonwealth Games netball tournament. Their best result was in Delhi in 2010, when they finished 7th. Their highest score is 65 against Fiji in 2010 and their biggest winning margin is 28 in the 58-30 defeat of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. The lowest score for Barbados is 20 goals, once against Jamaica in 2002 and also against England in 2010. Their biggest defeat was 75 goals when New Zealand beat them 97-22. Barbados is currently ranked 12th in the world. 

Team:
Faye Agard
Shonette Azore-Bruce (Co-Captain)
Latonia Blackman (Co-Captain)
Vanessa Bobb
Samantha Browne
Brianna Holder
Zakiya Kirton
Tonisha Rock-Yaw
Stephian Shepherd
Sabreena Smith 
Akeena Stoute
Shonica Wharton

Coach
Margaret Cutting

2018 Result
10th

2019 NWC
12th

Preview by Emily Bruce:

Strengths
This team includes some very experienced campaigners, in particular the co-captains Latonia Blackman and Shonette Azore-Bruce. Blackman will be one of just two athletes (the other being Geva Mentor for England) to achieve the astonishing feat of playing in her sixth Commonwealth Games. Azore-Bruce is playing in her third games, having also attended four Netball World Cups. Their leadership will likely bring calm and composure to the side. 

The team has real versatility, with a number of players being able to play at both ends of the court, giving the Gems the ability to keep other sides guessing. It also has a number of strong shooting options. In a recent invitational mini series against St Vincent and the Grenadines, the combination of Blackman at goal attack and Shonica Wharton at goal shoot impressed with their communication, movement and shooting accuracy. 

Challenges
The Gems are the underdogs of the tournament, having qualified last (12th). There will be no time to find their feet either, as their first game will be against Australia. 

The side has also had limited game time in the lead up to the games, thanks to Covid-19. No doubt at least in part due to this, they were at times slow with their starts in games in the recent invitational series, a luxury which they will not be able to afford in a pool containing Australia, Jamaica and South Africa. 

Players to watch
In the defensive end, it will be hard not to talk about Shonette Azore-Bruce. The talented 40 year old has previously shown herself to be a dynamic player with a powerful jump and this tournament will surely be no different for her. 

Shonica Wharton will also be one to watch. The talented shooter is not afraid to confidently turn and shoot from anywhere in the circle, which will be a real asset to her  side.

 

Our preview of Group B is HERE.

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