They’re back…

After losing to England by a record margin of 13 goals, the Silver Ferns thumped South Africa by 24 goals and narrowly went down to Australia by 5. While the Silver Ferns never looked like taking the last game, they were far more competitive than anyone would’ve expected just a month ago. With the injection of Noeline Taurua as coach, and legends Laura Langman and Casey Kopua into the squad, they’ve knuckled down to some hard work. Morale has lifted, confidence improved, and new life has been breathed into despondent fans. No one enjoyed watching New Zealand’s horror run at the Commonwealth Games, so it’s heartening to see they’re back in business.

But the Silver Ferns are a work in progress!

There are a few work-ons for the Silver Ferns. They desperately need some added height in the defensive circle, more rebounding power, and the ability to take the knocks of international netball. The first can be fixed once the injury woes of Kopua and Kelly Jury are overcome, while young Aliyah Dunn looks as if she may answer the latter two points. She is a powerfully built 190 centimetres and isn’t afraid to contest the ball. The Silver Ferns shooting circle struggled to pull in rebounds across the series, an area in which Dunn excels. She’s an exciting talent, with a big future ahead of her.

Captain Laura Langman has breathed new life into the Ferns. She opposes Kelsey Browne. Photo: Aliesha Vicars

 

The times they are a changin’

When Bob Dylan sang, “Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam”, he could have been referring to the English netball team. In days gone past their players had to choose between playing down under, or playing for their country. Come 2018, all bar two of their Quad Series team has plied their trade in Australia or New Zealand, a move that current coach Tracy Neville has embraced. And why wouldn’t she? Her players are gaining regular court time against some of the toughest opponents in the world, at no cost to the cash-strapped English program. If England should take out the 2019 World Cup in addition to their Commonwealth Games gold, a policy shift away from unlimited imports in the Suncorp Super Netball league might be needed.

The marvellous Mentor

Geva Mentor showed why she is still the best goal keeper in the world. Once again, she was in imperious form, edging opponents away from the post and plucking intercepts out of the air. When South Africa looked like they might roll the Roses, Mentor stood up to be counted in the last quarter. With a six intercept, four rebound, 12 gain haul, she was instrumental in dragging England back from the edge of an embarrassing defeat. She has 135 international caps to her name and shows no sign of slowing down.

Serena Guthrie (WD) has played in Australia and New Zealand. She takes on Bongi Msomi (WA). Photo: Kirsten Daley.

Down but not out

South Africa went into the Quad Series missing three of their most experienced midcourters through injury and illness. As a result they had heavy losses to Australia and New Zealand, but were in charge of the match against England before falling away in the final quarter. However, the outcome is a win for South African netball in building much needed depth across their playing roster. The defence end stood up to all challenges, but the shooters struggled with consistency across the series. Norma Plummer was quietly pleased with the final game, but has warned her squad that some tough love is coming ahead of the 2019 Netball World Cup.

And speaking of the South African defence…

They were perhaps the most impressive unit of any team across the series. Phumza Maweni (GK), Karla Pretorius (GD) and Shadine van der Merwe (WD) were in stifling form, pulling in 15 intercepts between them in the English game alone. Van der Merwe has had limited court time in the past, but took her opportunity when a knee injury felled incumbent wing defence, Precious Mthembu, at the recent Commonwealth Games. Van der Merwe has gone from strength to strength, forcing England to try three different wing attacks against her in the penultimate game of the series.

Phumza Maweni (GK) was part of a dominant back line. Photo: Kirsten Daley

Australia can grind out a win…

There was a new look about the Diamonds with three players brought in to cover retired greats Laura Geitz, Susan Pettitt and Madi Robison. Coach Lisa Alexander trialled new combinations in the midcourt, and Kelsey Browne and Gretel Tippett both received significant court time. While play wasn’t always pretty, Australia found a way to win each match to take out the Quad series. Courtney Bruce has cemented her place at goal keeper with two MVP performances, and Browne looked right at home as a wing attack option.

But the future is a concern

Caitlin Bassett and Caitlin Thwaites are the only two Australian goal shooters that received regular court time this year, with an influx of internationals playing their trade in the Suncorp Super Netball league. Once the Vixens’ Mwai Kumwenda recovers from her knee injury in 2019, Thwaites could find herself without a home. Bassett has signed with the Giants for three years, and national coach Lisa Alexander will be crossing her fingers that she doesn’t retire from international duties within that time frame. If so, it could leave Australia without a single goal shooter receiving court time. The most obvious fix is to play 191 cm Gretel Tippett there for the Diamonds, although an eye will be kept on Kristina Brice, who has signed to play overseas next year.

Australian shooters are in limited supply. Photo: Aliesha Vicars.