After an exhaustive – and exhausting – process, the Australian netball team has been chosen to compete for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

It has been months in the making, with squad camps, training footage and international matches all part of the selectors’ decision-making process. Feel-good stories have abounded, particularly among some of the more experienced players who’ve earned a recall to the side.

The Australian team
Caitlin Bassett (captain), Gabi Simpson (vice-captain), April Brandley, Courtney Bruce, Laura Geitz, Susan Pettitt, Kim Ravaillion, Madi Robinson, Caitlin Thwaites, Liz Watson, Joanna Weston, Steph Wood.

 

The selection process

Since the announcement of the 2017/18 national squad, players have taken part in two training camps at the Australian Institute of Sport and 10 test matches across three separate series. Selectors have also remained in close contact with Super Netball clubs, reviewing video footage of squad members during training and match play.

The final team selected is one of the most even in recent years, with any one of the twelve players a genuine contender for a starting berth. The selectors will have the luxury of choice on game day – imagine choosing between Courtney Bruce and Laura Geitz for goal keeper, or Liz Watson and Madi Robinson at wing attack?

There are many factors that have resulted in such an even team, with one of the most important being the strong relationship between the Australian team and the domestic sides.

The Australian team has also benefited from having a stable coaching and support staff, with them all contracted to remain together until the end of the 2019 cycle. Staff continue to challenge themselves, so that they grow and improve alongside the athletes.

“We try and work with the franchises as collectively and collaboratively as possible to develop and support our athletes; myself with their head coaches, right through all the staff levels. It’s a real system, so the Australian physios work with the franchise physios, the strength and conditioning staff with each other and so on. It’s second to none.”

“It’s all about the athletes who really want to represent Australia and their franchises are keen to ensure that happens. Today, for example, I was talking to my performance support manager about how things are going around the country, what needs to improve and what we need to keep an eye on.”

“Just to get in the squad is hard enough. Sam Poolman, Jamie-Lee Price, Kristiana Manua are athletes who could be unlucky not to be in there. Suncorp Super Netball will provide those athletes with a way to press their claims for (the) World Cup. Although domestic versus international is very different, I think the athletes understand that and that’s why they have to be in the system for a little while with the Diamonds to understand that step up.”

“As a staff group we really challenged ourselves at the July camp. We had skill acquisition specialists come in and watch us taking our coaching sessions and then had a chance to give them feedback and explain what we were doing and we then got feedback from them. That is an area that we continue to improve on. The other area was putting us under the pump at camp, calling meetings at different times, annoying us and putting us on edge. Areas around communication are particularly important, making sure there is no confusion.”

 

The goalers: Caitlin Bassett, Caitlin Thwaites, Susan Pettitt, Steph Wood.

Caitlin Bassett and Caitlin Thwaites were automatic inclusions as goal shooters after strong domestic and international performances, in an Australian landscape where there is little competition. Most Super Netball goal shooter bibs are held by international imports.

One of the hardest decisions this year was around the goal attack position, with Australia having great depth in that position. Steph Wood and Susan Pettitt edged out squad inclusions Gretel Tippett and Tegan Phillip. The phone call to Susan Pettitt was one that Lisa particularly relished making, as the goal attack hasn’t taken part in a pinnacle event since the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

“Tegan had a really strong camp in Canberra – played really well and shot beautifully. Gretel improved over the Quad Series – her shooting was better, her ground play was better, her court craft is improving, and she’s got such athleticism. However, probably the performance that Steph and Susan put out against New Zealand back in October (in the Constellation Cup) really stood out. The ability for us to have that change up, and Susan’s ability to play her role in different situations probably got her across the line.”

“Susan is a story of persistence, a story of determination, and maintaining her belief in her ability in what we are trying to create. We’ve been on this journey together since I took over in 2011. She missed out on World Cup selection earlier that year. At the time she was caught up in having the best stats, but what she had to understand was that she had to contribute to the team success. It was more than just putting up the shots and the volume. You needed to play the way that I thought was important to what the Diamonds could possibly be all about.”

“It took Susan a while to warm to my coaching style and the change that was going on in our squad and our team. When she was a training partner for the World Cup in 2015 I saw a different Susan, she took it on the chin, but she really worked hard and helped us out so much as a training partner. Then after that she had some good seasons with her clubs, going through the Swifts versus Giants move, she really matured off and on the court and things have fallen into place for her.”

“What I now see is a really smart, creative player whose adds so much to our performances because of that. She’s got to make sure she keeps her basics ticking over. Her age is of no interest to me, I’m not ageist at all. I think she’s enjoyed it, she knows and understands her role in the team.”

“Susan has shown that she could change and do things that would contribute to our team success.”

 

The midcourt: Kim Ravaillion, Madi Robinson, Gabi Simpson, Liz Watson.

The strong form of Ravaillion, Simpson and Watson in recent months made their selection an easy decision. Robinson was dropped from the national team after Australia lost to New Zealand in the 2017 Quad Series in August. She worked hard back in her Collingwood training environment, and that form, plus her performance at the Simulation Camp in January, saw her re-selected into the team. Cruelly missing the 2015 Netball World Cup after a serious knee injury, Madi’s inclusion has delighted fans.

“We were going to be really thorough in testing out our centre court and gave everyone an opportunity. We had to select our team for Quad Series quite early, which you have to do these days because there is so much organisation required. At that time, Madi (Robinson) wasn’t in the form we needed, although what we saw at selection camp recently was much improved.”

“Kate (Moloney) had a bit of a quiet contribution at camp when we were playing each other, and that is significant, it’s part of the whole selection process. When she went into the team environment for the Quad Series she lifted. For someone who has only been involved with the Diamonds for six months, I think she has come an enormous way, and she certainly will be part of our thinking for World Cup 2019 and in the future; she’s done really well. Paige (Hadley) does her thing – she is a really well-contained player, very skilful, but it’s a fine decision at that level.”

“Sometimes form can just be mental and I don’t think we always pay enough attention to that. I’ll have a chat to Madi and try and unlock that a little bit. I think we underestimated how much the knee injury took out of her and it does take time to fine tune. It might have been that, it might have been confidence, perhaps a burden was lifted (when she was omitted) and she could just have a different perspective on things and she might train more efficiently and effectively. It’s hard to put a finger on.”

“As selectors, we went for Madi in the end – for an extra wing attack/centre in that midcourt. We believe we’ve got better coverage at wing defence with our GDs going across the line, as we need their bigger bodies against the strong opponents we’re coming up against, like the Chelsea Pitmans, and so forth.”

 

The defenders: April Brandley, Courtney Bruce, Laura Geitz, Joanna Weston

Despite their relative international inexperience, the back end of Brandley, Bruce and Weston were outstanding in the recent Constellation Cup and Quad Series. Bruce has made the most of her opportunities at goal keeper, while Weston was superb in shutting down New Zealand’s most dangerous shooter, Maria Folau.

There has been significant interest around the final selection choice, with Laura Geitz preferred over Sharni Layton and Emily Mannix. Although Geitz hasn’t played for the Diamonds since the 2015 Constellation Cup, her form, leadership and long-standing experience against Jamaican shooter Romelda Aiken were all factors in her inclusion.

“I know there has been some controversy around Laura’s inclusion, but fans didn’t see her in camp. During her match play there, she was back to where she left off (before she went on maternity leave). She ticked every box. Even while we were away (at the Quad Series) we were monitoring Laura’s training and looking at training footage.”

“She had an advantage to a degree that the assistant coach in our team (Roselee Jecke) is the coach who looks after her at Firebirds and sees her in her daily training environment. So Roselee’s opinion around whether Geitzy was ok and ready to go is very important and taken into consideration. However, it’s not the only thing, because we have a balanced look at all the players.”

“Geitzy knows she isn’t first goal keeper in the team. She’s really happy, she has her competitiveness back and she can’t wait. She was speechless when she found out. It’s been a process since last September and she’s continued to improve in every outing.”

“Laura’s leadership and knowledge of the Jamaican style of play is going to be important, as is Courtney’s knowledge of Jhaniele Fowler (at West Coast Fever). The whole approach of what we’ve got to do against Jamaica must be front and centre of our preparation which is why we’re playing the Fever in our next camp, because we want to make sure we get that right. Other teams in our pool are South Africa, who we’ve had some time against and I know Barbados and Northern Ireland aren’t going to be easy either. It’s going to be a tough little draw. So, we will certainly do our homework against Jamaica and that time in the training environment against those players will be very important.”

“There is a bit of a risk around Laura and the selectors discussed that. But she does have experience and past international experience, which has been pretty good. She’s been a captain and in the top seven for our team since 2013, so she has the form on the board. What is also interesting is that people haven’t played her for a while, so she’s a bit of an unknown – she’s almost a rookie in some ways – and neither has Madi. So, we may have a few tricks up our sleeve. We wouldn’t have made that decision if she wasn’t ready.”

“Sharni is medically fine, but in many respects, she probably left her run a little bit late in terms of having everything together for a Comm Games. I think we saw that in her acknowledgement on social media. If she’d played all of the internationals, we might have had more of dilemma of who to leave out.”

“With Sharni and Laura out of recent series we had a great opportunity to give four newer defenders a real crack at international netball. Emily stepped up and did really well and can be rightly disappointed in not being part of those four defenders for the Commonwealth Games. In some ways she isn’t, she’s pleased with what she’s done and how she is progressing, but also, she could be thinking that she’s been playing and Geitzy hasn’t.”

“When you add up the experience levels, I think you can see that from a balanced team perspective that’s part of the reason for the decision. Geitz has the experience, but our current defenders will also have to school her in what we’ve been doing, because things have changed. Laura is looking forward to working closely to our defenders.”

 

On what’s ahead

Lisa will be visiting various clubs over the next two months to monitor national squad members, watch their programs, provide feedback and watch them take part in pre-season matches. Training partners to assist in the Diamonds preparation will also be announced. The team then go back into camp at the Australian Institute of Sport from March 13-16, which will include match play against several Super Netball teams.

Work will continue on studying the Diamonds’ various opponents and possible team structures for those matches.

“My mantra for the starting seven is it’s about form at the time. We need twelve fit athletes, together with training partners, who will be next in if something is amiss. You just can’t get too far ahead of yourself. We will put some thinking in and do some bare bones planning, but really won’t decide (on team structure) until we get into the (Commonwealth Games) village and start training.”

“We need to manage the athletes and the sports scientists will have input into that, because we want to have fresh athletes at the end of the week, but we’ve still got to win every game, so it’s balancing that. We also have to make sure we get those athletes back into their Suncorp Super Netball teams in really good shape. So, we have to continue their gym work while the Commonwealth Games is going on, which is important in priming for our matches, so it is a big jigsaw puzzle to put together.”

“We think it’s a strong team that has been well tested. At the end of the day, people have to trust that we know what we are doing and that we will get the job done.”

 

 

Cover image: Simon Leonard

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