– by Heath Brown
All eyes are on the Australian Diamonds’ coaches and selectors and the direction they will take our national team in the upcoming Constellation Cup series.
The brains trust is under arguably its greatest ever pressure to deliver a winning side, as winless streak at major tournaments spilled into the satellite circuit earlier this year.
After defeats at the last Comm Games and World Cup, the Diamonds slumped to their first loss in eight years in the Constellation Cup format, as we handed over our last remaining piece of silverware to New Zealand. The question remains if this emptying of the trophy cabinet in the last two years was temporary while the team was rebooted, or if it is the start of a new era where we no longer occupy the top rung of our sport.
If you were at the selection table, with the stakes as high as they are, how would you wrestle Australia back to the top? I took a look at some of the big questions selectors will be asking each other, and do what we all do best as passenger seat coaches – naming the list I think answers most of them.
Specialists vs Generalists
Multi-day tournaments require multi-position players to share the load and manage contingency plans. But on the other hand, history shows us that when we have specialists in a majority of positions we seem to take home the trophies.
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In my view, specialists in their position deliver in the high pressure or clutch moments of a match. Generalists keep the match ticking over. The Diamonds have been ticking big games over, but not delivering in big moments. Bring back the key position specialists and perhaps those big game wins will come back?
Experience vs Youth
COVID has thrown the usual international cycles of netball programming out of whack and we find ourselves mid-cycle just a year out from Comm Games and two years out from Worlds. March’s Constellation Cup saw Australia ushering in new talent, and with even more emerging players putting up their hand during the current Super Netball season, the lineup of future Diamonds is longer than ever.
Looking at the success of previous cycles, the teams who turn up to big tournaments with “experienced spines” paired with a few emerging players, usually win the silverware. Who should make up our experienced spine, and which up-and-coming talent should we back in?
Rewind nine months and it would be nearly impossible not to name a handful of Melbourne Vixens in the Diamonds side. But with list changes and injuries creating question marks over individual form in the remaining players, it begs the question whether this year has exposed weaknesses, or if they are great players in a struggling team.
Rather than looking at form of teams or individuals, I’ve always looked at the form of combinations or clusters. For example, the Swifts’ and Giants’ midcourts are in consistently ominous form, while in my view the Fever middies are hampered by the fact they are only used to feeding one style of goal circle, which doesn’t transpose across what we currently have in the Diamonds’ goaling stocks.
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In defence, the turnover queens are the Fever, who have overtaken Swifts and Vixens as the form backline and are doing the job against international shooting line-ups. So rather than trying to mash together individuals, do you take a grab at combinations that are already beating international-level opposition in their positions?
Picking the line-up
Put this all into the melting pot at the selection table, and the way I would answer these questions is by having a slant toward experience over emerging/unproven, specialist over generalist, and form combinations.
Every week my fellow ‘back seat selectors’ and I send each other our Diamonds list, and every week it changes. But here’s the list I would go with right now, and back that in 2022 to 2023 they will be the team to bring home the silverware. Like earlier this year, I had to name a squad as there were a few decisions I struggled to make – so I’ll let you be the judge!
Cara Koenen and Sophie Garbin have to get the nods, and while all eyes are on Koenen, I’d potentially be starting Garbin so we have a traditional Aussie structure to play to.
Gretel Bueta owns the GA bib, and I would wait until the end of the Suncorp Super Netball season to check the finals form and fitness of Steph Wood and Sophie Dwyer, the latter of which could beat the long-bombing Kiwis at their own game.
It is in the midcourt where we have to get back to having the right specialists and generalists.
Paige Hadley is a walk-up start in this side for mine, as the best generalist by a mile. Her inclusion I think pulls Maddy Proud in as a combination, and Proud is also who I would pick to lead the team.
I would then bring back the line-breaking Kelsey Browne as our specialist WA (given Liz Watson is likely to miss through injury), and back youngster Amy Parmenter, who is now outperforming every other wing defence by a street and is Australia’s future captain, according to arguably our greatest captain Laura Geitz!
I would also have Kim Ravaillion in the squad because of her combination with Bueta. You could easily throw another half dozen names into the mix, but I’m most set on this list as other choices are too generalist.
Courtney Bruce is scary good at the moment at GK and is well deputised by Sarah Klau, which makes the GD selection the important one so we don’t have to play these two out of position unless we have to.
I’m going to go with a fresh face here in Sunday Aryang, for her combination with Bruce and her ability to get clutch turnovers that can change a match. It’s then up to April Brandley and Jo Weston to fight it out for the last bib as the experienced utilities who can play multiple positions.
By the time this article is posted I’ll probably have changed my mind again, so I don’t envy the Aussie selectors, who are spoilt for choice! This team definitely doesn’t pick itself and could go several different ways.
So, who would you pick??
Heath Brown is a former captain of Australian and Victorian men’s teams, has coached at the elite level in both Victoria and New South Wales, and is now involved in corporate leadership.