How the Australian netball brains trust quietly built a new way of winning as the rest of the world caught up.

– by Heath Brown

Since the turn of the century, the commercialisation and growth of world netball has caused Australia’s dominance to wane.

Australia’s own competitions are developing other countries’ talent – something that has been great for the game but a tough pill for patriotic Aussie fans who are not used to losing. The team that could always win from any position in a game or tournament lost its gap to the rest of the world, as the Diamonds lost consecutive gold medals at the Comm Games and World Cup.

But the tide is turning and the gap is returning, despite Australia arguably no longer having the best positional players in the world. While the rest of the nations were building the world’s best single position players, Australia doubled down on a transition from specialists to multi-position players and combinations, who have clearly become the world’s best players.


For me this is critical – world’s best position players are great, but it’s the world’s best multi-position players that have delivered the big titles in recent years. Why? Simply, it makes you unpredictable to coach against. It gives coaches more options. It develops combinations that end up figuring out a one dimensional single position opponent and expose them because of their versatility. Most importantly it builds team players who have a wider perspective on the systems because they play multiple roles.

So let’s take a look at what this means for World Cup, and selections that are almost locked in under this world beating strategy.


The makeup of the attacking circle has to be built around Gretel Bueta. If she’s available, her dual position impact means you can pick Sophie Garbin and Cara Koenen, given Gretel can swing out to GA, and then pick Steph Wood as the only specialist GA. If there’s no Gretel, you are likely to pick Kiera Austin with the other three. Koenen and Garbin have proven internationally that they are now match-winning targets, so for the first time in a long time Australia goes into a major tournament with Plan A, B and C in goal circle combinations – each as lethal as the other. The mobility of this circle is the best the Diamonds have had for some time – it splits defenders in offline structures or double-ups, and as we know when oppositions go back to one-on-one they simply cannot run with an Aussie side, and this is how we break the games open.


The defensive circle is building similarly in that we have a clear trio to win the big matches – Sarah Klau, Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce. Their relative flexibility to play two positions gives us plan A and B, but the fourth selection is where I think we are barking up the wrong tree. For me, the fourth position should be Ruby Bakewell-Doran, Maddy Turner or Matilda McDonell. Others being given the opportunity just aren’t yet performing to a level where they’ve claimed a future bib, or owned contests against lesser lights. I would love to see McDonnell let loose against the emerging shooters we at times have trouble stopping.


The rest of the world may have caught up at the bookends of the court, but our middies are streets ahead. Watson and Hadley pick themselves for the front midcourt, after not putting a foot wrong in recent outings. Hadley is critical to this as she can play all three positions as well as anyone – which is what makes her, I believe, the best player in the world right now. Brazill is going to win you critical ball as well as shut down the defensive transverse and will get the bib before handing it over to Amy Parmenter for the next cycle.

Kate Moloney should be the fourth midcourter in on paper, but I’d still have an eye on Kelsey Browne. When we have been beaten recently, the single reason is foot speed in attack, something Kelsey will never be beaten on as the world’s leading linebreaker. If Austin is picked amongst the goalers, they will likely use her as WA back up, opening the door for Moloney. Otherwise, I’d consider Browne.


I speak often about the eighth player on court and the critical role that culture plays. The Taurua-led Kiwis found their eighth player to go from lagging to leading four years ago. Meanwhile the Aussies ushered in a new generation of player and the culture was rebuilding. For me, the Diamonds now lead here as they addressed the two areas that exposed them culturally. Firstly, during those gold-less years the Aussies appeared to panic on and off the court in key moments (I still have PTSD from the memories of Laura Geitz and Madi Browne being taken from the court in the Comm Games gold medal match). Too many changes when a match turned, instead of backing your best players to work it out. Then there was on-court panic when the opposition had surges, with the stress clearly visible. (Yes we all hope Courtney Bruce gets a body language coach, but she’s getting better!) The off-court panicked decisions and on-court big play meltdowns have now largely disappeared, and instead we are forcing opposition teams into these behaviours because of our confidence, calm and clinical finishes under pressure.

On a final note – I have to take my hat off to the brais trust that built this strategy to respond to the rest of the world. As a traditionalist coach who loves specialists, I never truly trusted a multi-positional team or program strategy. Proven wrong. There is always a place for specialists, but I think the grassroots coaching community in Australia can align to this better and teach multi-positions to our specialists at all levels of the pathway.

What are your thoughts on specialist vs multi-position players? Would love to hear from you!

Heath Brown is a former Australian men’s team captain who has coached at the elite level in both Victoria and New South Wales. He is now heavily involved in corporate leadership.

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