theGeese Ellis often refers to the shooters as the “princesses” of netball; Donnas who crave a ponytail highlight. While said in jest, there is some truth to the characterization of Australia’s most capped netball player. This is because it takes a certain kind of self-confidence and composure to hold the hopes of a team, even a nation, quite literally in your hands.
It takes a very special fortitude, then, for a player to head into a Test series to represent the number one team in the world – one that has won every trophy on offer in the past year – knowing that their performance may determine selection for the tournament. The next World Cup.
Such is the chilling reality facing a group of Australian bowlers consisting of Steve Wood, Kira Austin, Kara Koenen, Sophie Dwyer and Sophie Garbin as they prepare for the four-way series against South Africa, England and New Zealand in Cape Town, starting in the wee hours of the day. Sunday (AEDT).
Vice-captains Wood, Austin and Koenen – all part of the team that won Commonwealth gold – and Dwyer and Garbin should be keenly aware that Stacy Marinkovic will only bring four shooters back to Cape Town for the World Cup in late July.
They’ll also realize that Gretel Bueta, who dominated the world stage in 2022 but didn’t make herself available for the series after suffering a miscarriage last year, looms large. Diamond Coach thinking.
Also missing from the upcoming tour to South Africa but in the World Cup mix is Bueta’s local teammate Donnell Wallam, who debuted in sexy costumes in October after being in the eye of a Hancock Prospecting sponsorship storm.
The third Aboriginal woman to represent Diamond, Walama was lucky not to be named in the series quads but still had a super netball Season to impress Marinkovic. A national coach can take just 12 players—traditionally four pitchers, two fullbacks, and two midfielders—to the blockbuster event.
With five pitchers in the round and two home runs, the math is straightforward: seven to four don’t go.
Bueta, who “definitely wasn’t retired” according to Marinkovic, was selected to any Diamonds team. Veteran Wood is a lock with her 45 overs alone experience and Koenen’s ability to play multiple styles and positions make her a likely third.
The final hole could go to Austin, Garbin or Wallam, who the coach says is “definitely still in the picture.” Given the lack of exposure for the 22-year-old Dwyer, it seems unlikely she’ll make the cut.
Austin and Garbin shot and stumbled at different times in the golden dress, so what they can produce on the series will be worthwhile. But it will all come back to Bueta.
Marinkovic’s oft-cited “team mentality” is a key part of his approach, but Bueta isn’t just a team member. As one of the few “unmatchable” players in the global game—creative and athletic in little ways or ever was—she’s the sun that all the other Diamond players revolve around. Selections should reflect that.
On defense, the Diamonds will miss the knowledge and grinding of Jo Weston, a late-series withdrawal after hitting a calf in camp. Tara Hinchliffe replaces Weston, but she’s just a placeholder for the 28-year-old Vixen, who will make it to the World Cup barring disaster, especially given her impact at the Constellation Cup in October. After missing the missing two Tests in New Zealand, Weston returned for home matches and was a decisive factor in again clinching the trophy.
She looks set to be joined at the World Cup by four-string defenders Courtney Bruce, Sarah Claw and Sundi Ariang, who are slightly ahead of Maddie Turner and Robbie Bakewell-Duran as Marinkovic’s defender of choice in the fourth district. These four will be a carbon copy of the Commonwealth Games lineup.
In the middle of the court Ash Brazill will try to re-establish a spot, after taking a post-game break in a move that some believe will leave her out. She comes back at the expense of Amy Parmenter, who couldn’t do much in her first six tests last year. You might have a hard time getting your bib back if Brazill can get you up to speed.
Brazill is joined by fellow Commonwealth Games gold medalists Liz Watson, Paige Hadley and Kate Moloney in the foursome’s squad, as well as Jamie Lee Price, who fell short of the Final 12 for Birmingham. Price will be looking to put her name in the spotlight moving forward over Moloney.
With the Silver Ferns’ uniform rebuilding looking like it means business, South Africa back under the watchful eye of Norma Plummer and the England team looking for the right balance of experience and youth, there will be plenty of anecdotes to behold, but the Australian ‘Princess’ is writing her way into one. World Cup fantasy, which may be the most urgent.