NS Preview: 2022 January Quad Series

NS Preview: 2022 January Quad Series

When the teams take to the court for the first match of the 2022 Quad Series, it will have been 1,092 days since the last time the series was played. Much has changed in that time, but one thing which remains is the excitement surrounding international netball. For some teams, this will be their first (and only) chance for the intense match play ahead of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. For others, it is merely another notch in their preparations for the main event.

So how are the teams shaping up? What can we expect from these squads of 15? Who is likely to walk away with the trophy and bragging rights?

 

English Roses. Image: Steve McLeod

Image: Steve McLeod

English Roses

Preview by Zara Collings

Coach: Jess Thirlby

Team List:

Attack Midcourt Defence
Eleanor Cardwell Serena Guthrie (c) Stacey Francis-Bayman
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis Imogen Allison Layla Guscoth
George Fisher Jade Clarke Geva Mentor
Helen Housby Beth Cobden Eboni Usoro-Brown
Nat Haythornthwaite (vc)
Jo Harten** (withdrawn) Laura Malcolm

Strengths and Weaknesses

Heading in to this year’s Quad Series, the English Roses are arguably the in-form team and the ones to beat. Fresh from a series win against Jamaica and claiming the historic victory over the Silver Ferns in New Zealand earlier in 2021, the Roses are beginning to look like the well-oiled machine that steamrolled to the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2018. With solid time spent in preparation camps, the home crowd advantage and the most international match play this cycle, expect the Roses to come out hard in their series opener against the South African Spar Proteas.
Yet, the key to success for this group of Roses lies in the consistency of their performance. The Roses come in to the series with the largest squad selection, despite the unavailability of key players through injury. It is how Head Coach Jess Thirlby uses this that will demonstrate England’s ultimate goal this series. With less than 200 days to go until the group defend their Commonwealth Games title, will we see England put out a more settled line up than in recent series, using key international players in Mentor and Housby to build and solidify combinations on court, keeping one eye on Birmingham in a few months time. Or, will we see players rotate in and out of the twelve; Thirlby using this as another opportunity to test how players perform against some of the world’s best on home soil? In the recent Roses Reunited series we saw how this squad rotation impacted the Roses and the unsettled line-up contributed to a loss in the final game of the series, particularly in the midcourt where we see six players compete for what will likely be four spots.

Shooters

With the unfortunate news from the England Camp that star shooter Jo Harten has returned a positive Covid-19 test and will therefore miss the series, England will yet again turn to their young guns in Cardwell, Fisher and Drakeford-Lewis to get the job done in the circle. It will be an important series for Helen Housby, who struggled at times against Jamaica with her confidence to post and connections in the circle in what can only be described as some uncharacteristic pre-season cobwebs. One of the Australian-based Roses, it is vital that Housby is able to use this opportunity to build the on-court relationships with her shooting teammates. As yet, Housby will have had little to no international game play with Southern Steel’s George Fisher or Team Bath’s Sophie Drakeford Lewis, but if these combinations can click, England will have a potent and flexible shooting circle that could prove unstoppable for defenders.

Midcourter

With both Captain Serena Guthrie and Vice-Captain Natalie Haythornthwaite looking to be in great form, it is likely that they will claim the starting Centre and Wing Attack bibs for the Roses respectively. Yet, the real key for the Roses midcourt is who supports them in the Wing Defence position. Specialist Beth Cobden, the Vitality Netball Superleague Player of the Year and Grand Final MVP makes a good case, with her arms over pressure able to slow down the oppositions attack so effectively and the added bonus that she is able to swing in to the centre position, something we have seen at club level for Loughborough Lightning but are yet to see Thirlby draw upon on the international stage. However, that would leave England legend Jade Clarke and her 183 caps of experience off the court. We have seen England rely on Clarke’s composure, patience and leadership skills time and time again, playing a key role in England’s Cadbury Series victory over the Ferns last year.
From England’s most capped, to the squad’s least capped in Imogen Allison, who would earn her eighth cap if she took to court this series, we see the importance of relationships built at club level. At Team Bath, Guthrie and Allison have formed a formidable combination, with a now innate understanding of each other that allows them to create an incredible defensive pressure throughout the midcourt. Whilst Allison may not bring the experience now, exposure to the top teams this early in her international career can only be positive for her and England’s future, so securing a place on court and making the most of her opportunity will be key. And where does this all leave Laura Malcolm? Versatile and tenacious, Malcolm covers all three positions on court, yet is arguably also most at home in the Wing Defence position. Thirlby has dedicated time to allowing Malcolm to grow in Wing Attack and develop the creativity required for the role. However, in the recent Roses Reunited series, at times we saw these connections break down on court. A strong performance, which ever bib she wears, will be key to ensuring Malcolm pushes for that Commonwealth Games selection spot.

Defence

In defence, England are stacked with talent and the addition of Geva Mentor has only bolstered that. Returning from Australia and having not played with her World Cup and Commonwealth Games partner in crime Eboni Usuro Brown since 2019, getting that partnership firing will be Thirlby’s first port of call. Usuro-Brown gave a standout performance against Jamaican Captain (and Netball Scoop’s Player of the Year for 2021) Jhaniele Fowler in 2021, a performance that really solidified her position back within the squad following the birth of her daughter and her return to play. Layla Guscoth is a proven ball winner and has plenty of experience working with Mentor, as well as Usuro-Brown when they partner in the circle for Team Bath. With the ability to also swing out to Wing Defence, Guscoth’s athleticism and grit on court ensures she always has an impact. After taking a number of years away from the Roses setup, West Coast Fever’s Stacey Francis-Bayman is also firmly back in the fold, although lacked impact when matching up against Fever teammate Fowler back in November. With so much firepower in defence, it will be a fierce battle for court time and any one of these defenders has the ability to change a game.

Key Matchups

After such an extended period without international match play against the Diamonds and the Proteas and a Silver Ferns team gunning for revenge, there are some thrilling match ups across the court. We will also likely see some club-on-club action, with Magpies Captain Geva Mentor matching up against new Pies recruit Sophie Garbin as she dons the green and gold for potentially her second cap. Helen Housby will also likely face one of her Premiership-winning Swifts teammates in Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner in the Australian defensive end. Without any international match at all play since 2019 and the Roses not having faced the Diamonds since the Quad series in January that year, this knowledge from club and league level could prove to be key in unlocking the Diamonds. Expect both Housby and Mentor to have a significant say in the success of the Roses when they face the Diamonds in the last round of matches before the finals.

 

The Origin Diamonds. Photo Steve McLeod

Photo: Steve McLeod

Australian Diamonds

Preview by Andrew Kennedy

Coach: Stacey Marinkovich

Team List:

Attack Midcourt Defence
Gretel Bueta Liz Watson (c) Courtney Bruce
Steph Wood (vc) Paige Hadley Jo Weston
Cara Koenan Kate Moloney Sarah Klau
Sophie Garbin Jamie-Lee Price Maddy Turner
Sophie Dwyer Ash Brazil Sunday Aryang

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Diamonds enter this series full of adrenaline and pride to show the world how tightly they have bonded, and that despite less experience together in 2020-2021, they have nothing in their sights other than white-washing this series against strong opposition. They desire the series win but the longer goal is establishing systems for the Commonwealth Games this year, given the new captain, the pandemic, new coaching, some debutants and novices, and a lot of travel and emotion amongst the team. They begin against world champions New Zealand, then South Africa, and hosts, England.

From youngest, Sunday Aryang, to oldest, dual-code player Ash Brazill, and the power-packed veterans and leaders in each section of the court, Marinkovich’s athletes come from the toughest league in the world, as well as a sense of safety and sacrifice. The Diamonds have been staying mostly isolated since Christmas to make sure they could make the plane to the United Kingdom. They are a different squad, with most players aged 25-29, and literally no veterans, so they can forge a different kind of identity.

Having said that, this is a “bibs-in-the-air” moment for those outside the Diamonds camp, since there is confusing versatility, particularly in the midcourt, whilst not really having an experienced “target” style goal shooter. Important players have been selected from the Vixens, who finished dead last in the national league, and despite enormous commitment, their confidence could be questioned. They also have to be ready to compensate for new or recurrent injuries in star players on a long tour, whilst giving opportunities to brand new players to ensure they prove themselves for the Commonwealth Games. Liz Watson herself has only three tests as Australian captain. She definitely has the confidence of the group but has been off the court for nearly a year.

Shooters

The shooting end holds the most doubt – with Caitlin Bassett and Kiera Austin starting the last Constellation Cup and now both injured. The pressure now falls to the extremely new Cara Koenen, and her familiar partner, wily vice-captain Steph Wood; the pair likely to be the starters. There is no real post target shooter, although novice Sophie Garbin can play that role with demonstrated and devastating impact. Gretel Bueta, returning from her first child’s birth, is a bit of a wildcard, who had many errors early in Super Netball but improved sharply through the year. She could play both positions and give special input in defence at goal attack. Sophie Dwyer must be absolutely thrilled to get called up and will make the most of her chances, but is less than likely to be named for match day let alone get more than a few minutes of court time. Still, you only need that brief shot to give you the thirst to improve and demand your spot. She will most likely be used in training games and for giving a rest to established players.

Midcourt

Australia’s midcourt is also full of doubt in selection, as the players are almost too adaptable. This gives them the advantage of keeping the opposition guessing, and the changes in a moment to alter the pace of the through-court play. New captain Liz Watson, coming back from ankle surgery, is in reportedly great health, and is sure to start at either wing attack or centre. That means that the balance has to be whether Paige Hadley is needed for speed in wing attack or another spot. Jamie-Lee Price and Kate Moloney have been very solid players throughout 2021, both highly suited to centre or wing defence. Naming Ash Brazill for a game day twelve will not be surprising, but she is the outlier of this five, especially as her time at centre for her club always had a very tall post shooter with little movement. A smart move will be to bring in Brazill when another team is tiring and start to pass the ball long and wide. It really will be a day-to-day analysis and a hard look at opponents that make up the mind of Marinkovich.

Defence

Defence has only one big question: Sunday Aryang or Maddy Turner? There’s no doubt that after amazing seasons and boundless experience, Courtney Bruce, Sarah Klau, and Jo Weston, should dominate court time. Aryang at only 21 years would make her debut and is inspirational in her thief-like intercepts, whilst Turner is a tagging player who won best on the ground in the 2021 Super Netball grand final, but she has less than five test caps, so experience is not a real advantage. Which of those is favoured likely comes down to camps and to practise matches, which the public does not see.

Ones to Watch

The exciting selections of the series are Aryang and Watson. Liz Watson continues to be one of the best players in the world, even from the bench. It awaits to be seen how she will come back from injury, and if anything, we have to expect that Moloney’s rise to a new level for Vixens will make that pairing even tougher to beat in the midcourt. Aryang seems to be a sponge, absorbing new tactics so well. Stacey Marinkovich is familiar with Aryang’s ability and no doubt her combination with arguably the world’s best goal keeper, Courtney Bruce will help settle any pre-match nerves. Expect Aryang to really threaten for court time even against the toughness and smarts of Weston.

 

 

New Zealand Silver Ferns. Photo: Steve McLeod

Photo: Steve McLeod

 

New Zealand Silver Ferns

Preview by Emily Bruce

Coach: Dame Noeline Taurua

Team List:

Attack Midcourt Defence
Tiana Metuarau Gina Crampton (c) Karin Burger
Grace Nweke Claire Kersten Sulu Fitzpatrick
Filda Vui* Mila Reuelu-Buchanan* Kayla Johnson
Maia Wilson Shannon Saunders Kelly Jury
Sam Winders Phoenix Karaka

 

The Silver Ferns Squad

The Ferns squad features a mixture of experience and exciting new talent.

Midcourt

In the midcourt, coach Dame Noeline Taurua may look to solidify a combination of players who have frequently featured in starting lineups in other recent series, namely captain Gina Crampton, Sam Winders and Claire Kersten. However, Shannon Saunders – well known for her high fitness levels – has been in incredible form over the past year. When brought on in recent international outings, she has immediately opened up space with her speedy drive to circle edge. Able to cover centre and wing attack, she has also formed a slick combination with Tiana Metuarau at goal attack throughout the domestic season.

Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, an explosive player who usually features at centre, will likely make her debut. She will combine well with Gina Crampton, with whom she plays at domestic level. Taurua could also try out some circle defenders at wing defence. She famously moved Katrina Rore out of the circle and into the starting wing defence bib during the Netball World Cup. Karin Burger and Kayla Johnson both have experience at wing defence and would add height and supreme ball-hunting skills to the midcourt.

Defenders

Taurua has depth and versatility in her pool of defenders available for this series and we can probably expect to see her try out a range of combinations. Without Jane Watson (out due to pregnancy), Sulu Fitzpatrick or Kelly Jury seem likely to take on the goal keep role.

Since Casey Kopua’s retirement, there has been a need for a goal defence who can not only find intercepts but also assist consistently in driving the ball down the Court.  Karin Burger has been formidable as a goal defence in recent times, but Phoenix Karaka and Kayla Johnson are also options.

Many fans will hope to see plenty of court time for Karaka and Johnson, who return to the Ferns for the first time since giving birth and will be travelling with their young daughters in tow.

Shooters

In this squad, there are two players who traditionally play goal attack: Tiana Metuarau and debutant Filda Vui. Maia Wilson – normally a goal shoot – has also been developing her game to include this role.

The Ferns have a potentially lethal weapon in the form of 19-year-old Grace Nweke, who at 1.93 metres (six foot three) is a strong holding goal shooter. This series will hopefully boost her confidence and improve her feeders’ ability to reach her under the post.

A Player to Watch

Tiana Metuarau had a dream Ferns debut last September in the Taini Jamison Trophy Series against the England Roses: She played a full 60 minutes and was named player of the match. This was after a non-traditional rise through the ranks over the last couple of years, which started with her being dropped from the Ferns Development Squad in 2020 and saw her benched for most of that domestic season. But in 2021 she become an essential member of Southern Steel’s squad.

Taurua describes Metuarau as a player with a “bit of sass” but who has maturity out on court. Despite being only 20 years of age, she gave Geva Mentor a real run for her money in her first test. If she demonstrates consistency in these series, in particular up against the likes of Courtney Bruce and Sarah Klau, she may well find herself named in the Commonwealth Games squad.

Weaknesses and Strengths

A strength for the Ferns is their ability to play a patient game of netball, frequently returning to the transverse line where needed on attack. We will likely also see a disciplined side with a low penalty count. A number of the players seem to be at peak fitness – no doubt in part thanks to Taurua’s famously rigorous fitness standards – which should ensure speed and stamina under pressure.

A challenge for the Ferns is the lack of established combinations and the fact that a number of players have had limited opportunities to take the court at the international level.  In the most recent series against England, this sometimes impacted their ability to execute their traditional off-the-player defensive marking as a unit and to respond cohesively to changes made by the Roses.
SPAR Proteas. Image. May Bailey

Image. May Bailey

 

South African SPAR Proteas

Preview by Kyle Fortune and Sindiswa Ganda

Coach: Dorette Badenhorst

Attack Midcourt Defence
Sigi Burger Bongiwe Msomi (c) Simone Rabie
Ine-Mari Venter Khanyisa Chawane Monique Reyneke
Lefebre Rademan Izette Griesel Phumza Maweni
Elmere van der Berg Tshinakaho Mdau Nicola Smith
Jessica du Plessis Zanele Vimbela

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Netball South Africa will have a very fresh look this Quad series with players like Shadine van der Merve (injured at team camp) and Lenize Potgieter (taking a mental health break) out for the foreseeable future. There is also the exciting news that international superstar, Karla Pretorius and her husband, are expecting their first child in 2022. This rules out three of the squad’s most experienced players whose leadership and through-court connections will be missed.

But it also creates a bit of excitement with a new-look squad who had the opportunity to build with their Ireland tour, as well as the African Netball Cup. The latter tour saw the debut of the shooting combination Elmeré van der Berg and Jessica Du Plessis and in defence it saw the return of Zanele Vimbela. The Quad Series will really test the depth of this new South Africa squad going into the Commonwealth Games and to see if they are able to bring it to the top nations in the world. But it paves the way to show that this Protea squad is more than just their familiar starting seven.

The real task for SA will be building these young players and executing the experience the side has gained in their 2021 tours.

Shooters

One cannot help but be fearful for the young, inexperienced shooting circle who have not yet come up against such tough competition. A rising star to look out for is Elmeré van der Berg. The u21 superstar got a call up to the national squad last year and has shown herself to be deadly accurate and a target at the post. It will be interesting to see how much court time she will get ahead of shooters Ine-Mari Venter and Sigi Burger who, until now, were from-the-bench players behind Potgieter and the now-retired Maryka Holtzhausen. This is really their opportunity to fight for a starting position.

Defence

A big question for the coaching staff is who will take up Karla’s vacant GD position? Zanele Vimbela who really had a blistering start to her season last year before her ACL injury, is an option. Vimbela and Phumza Maweni are a familiar partnership, having played together during the 2019 Netball World Cup. So, they are likely the preferred starting defensive line.

Simone Rabie or Monique Reyneke are also a reliable pairing. The defenders play together for the Flames in the national league under the guidance of their national coach. They were the more regular combination during the proteas in 2021 African Netball Cup campaign. Nicola Smith is another exciting goal keeper option. The defender was pivotal for the Western Cape Sting in the 2021 TNL and was named defender of the tournament.

Midcourt

The Proteas fiery midcourt is where the most experience is found in the team. The likes of Khanyisa Chawane, Bongi Msomi and Izette Griesel will be the backbone of the team. The duo has played together at the international level for a few years and are very familiar with each others style of play. Expect to see them play a short, sharp game using their considerable speed to their advantage.

The Ones to Watch

The squad will be looking to Bongi Msomi and Phumza Maweni to step up and take charge of the leadership of the squad on court as longest standing team members.

Some of the Fresh Faces in the Mix

By: Katrina Nissen

Unsurprisingly, the Roses are the only team entering the Quad Series with a squad full of experienced athletes. Both the Diamonds and Silver Ferns have two potential debutants, and South Africa bring with them 5 athletes who only have a handful of caps between them and are relatively unknown to their competitors and international fans.

For the Diamonds, the Quad series is the first tour for bookends Sunday Aryang and Sophie Dwyer. Both athletes had outstanding 2021 domestic seasons, with Dwyer taking home the rising star award at the 2021 Australian Netball Awards. Both athletes offer versatility to the Diamonds, with Aryang menacing in goal defence, goal keeper or wing defence, and Dwyer a calm, smooth and potent option in goal shoot and goal attack. Look for both athletes to be used for impact, with Aryang renowned for picking off surprise intercepts.

New Zealand will be hoping to get Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Filda Vui on the court at some stage through the series. Reuelu-Buchanan is an explosive attacking midcourter with speed to burn and reliable bullet-like feeds. Vui had a dream 2021 coming from the Mystics bench to a Silver Ferns callup. At 180cm, Vui is short for a shooter but makes up for it with constant movement and poise when going to post. Reuelu-Buchanan’s agility will be a challenge for the Diamond’s mid-court defence. Vui will have to rely heavily on her movement against the experienced and tall Roses and Diamonds circle defence.

South Africa has travelled with an array of newly debuted athletes in Simone Rabie, Nicola Smith, Monique Reyneke, Jess du Plessis and Elmere’ van der Berg. Many of these athletes earned their first caps during the Africa Netball Cup in November and collectively they have little more than 10 caps between them. The defensive end has the largest grouping of debutants with Rabie, Smith and Reyneke; the latter combined impressively with Phumza Maweni during the Africa Netball Cup. Expect to see Varsity Netball teammates duo of Plessis and van der Berg combined on court at some stage, with du Plessis able to effectively play wing attack and goal attack to van der Berg’s goal shoot. The advantage that each of these athletes has is their anonymity. This makes them dangerous and unpredictable as their competitors have little opportunity to do their homework before meeting them on court.

Dates

The Quad Series kicks off on January 15 (January 16 for Australian fans) as is played in the following order. Please note times are UK local:

January 15, 2022 Vitality Roses vs South Africa 2pm
January 15, 2022 New Zealand vs Australia 4.15pm
January 16, 2022 Australia vs South Africa 2pm
January 16, 2022 Vitality Roses vs New Zealand 4.15pm
January 18, 2022 South Africa vs New Zealand 5.30pm
January 18, 2022 Vitality Roses vs Australia 7.30pm
January 19, 2022 Third vs Fourth 5.30pm
January 19, 2022 Final 7.30pm

UK-based fans can watch live on Sky Sport or on Sky Sports YouTube channel.

For Australian-based fans, you can watch the action live on Foxtel and Kayo Freebies (check locals guides for times).

New Zealand-based fans can watch on Sky Sport (check locals guides for times).

Broadcast details for South African fans will be added once known.

All matches will be available on replay via the Sky Sports YouTube channel.

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