Couldn’t make it to the Australian Diamonds’ final practice match this week? Former Australian men’s team captain and elite coach Heath Brown was there, taking a look at some of the final kinks that need ironing for our girls in green and gold on the home straight to Liverpool.
It was such a treat to be able to watch the training game this week for our Diamonds as they took on a team that could easily have been called the All Stars.
More than 20 exceptional athletes, all playing at a level worthy of a World Cup bib. It showed the depth of talent in this country.
As I watched I went into envy mode, remembering how exciting this phase of preparation is as a player or coach before a big tournament. It made me remember that this time is all about tinkering, so I put my ‘passenger seat coach’ hat on again to see where I would be fine-tuning if I was in the driver’s seat.
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Here are some thoughts that might stimulate thinking for all grassroots coaches on how they prepare for match day, finals, carnivals and tournaments. For me, it’s all about the tiny details, so here are some insights I took from the game, plus a little bit of a preview for those that couldn’t make it!
C-Bass is back
You don’t have to be a high performance analyst to think C-Bass has been out of form. We have all been scratching our heads wondering how Lisa Alexander was going to pluck her from a patchy season in the orange dress and have her slaying in green and gold come Liverpool.
With benchings, injuries and outright beatings from lesser-light defenders, Australian fingers were collectively crossed that the tide was going to turn and the Diamonds captain would find her groove.
Enter the reunion with her old Lightning teammates in Steph Wood and Kelsey Browne. It took barely a minute to see C-Bass amass goal after goal and pull in ball after ball. Browne put on a lesson in how to feed a tall, with punching circle edge drives, quick hands and deft ball placement. Steph Wood played the perfect nurturing role around the two, popping shots as needed to release the pressure and carving out crafty moves to create space for the stars around her. This would be my starting three in the big games. They are back to back Super Netball champions and will return Lisa a similar medal on the world stage, in my view.
I should mention that Caitlin Thwaites was equally impressive, and while I don’t think she’ll be the starting option for the big games, the Diamonds are so lucky to have a player of that caliber just waiting in the wings.
Cape Town for Kiera
We have Liverpool to get through first, but Kiera Austin stood out so much on court in the practice match that I reckon she nearly booked her spot for the 2023 World Cup. If Sharelle McMahon and Cath Cox had a love child, she would be it. She has the long range accuracy and courage of Cox and the pace and grunt of Sharelle, and she gave the Diamonds wings and GDs a bath most of the time she was on court.
It seems clear that she’s next in line, which poses the question: is she the answer to the Giants’ forward line flops? And if she is continually on the bench, if I was a Magpies or Fever coach I’d be in her ear reminding her I have a starting position for her next season. For both of these franchises GA has been the missing link standing between them and a premiership, so I expect that after her showing against the Diamonds the recruiters will be out in force throwing some GA bibs at this star on the rise.
For those of you in the ‘Parmy Army’ fan club, Amy Parmenter continued her breakthrough this season as one of the best youngsters on court. She’s one of those players that is in every contest and gets to ball in the air consistently. The mind boggles at how good this youngster will be with another few seasons under her belt. Sophie Garbin also looked the goods behind the two Caitlins, showing she’s ready and waiting in the wings for a crack in shooter.
There is one thing you never saw on a court in a Laura Geitz or Lizzie Ellis-led Diamonds side. And that’s teammates serving up shade to each other on court.
In those sides, a shady glare was saved for a dodgy umpire call and salty comments were reserved for opposing players. Never would it turn inward. There have been some big question marks over the culture and connectedness of the current Aussie side in recent years. It’s tough to build connectedness in a side where selections are cut-throat because of competition for spots like never before, and many of these girls are still youngsters.
Culture and world-beater bonds are built in moments that matter. Its easy to have your teammate’s back and throw them a bum tap or high five when things are going swell. But when the tide turns, that’s when a team’s culture is tested. Do they turn toward each other to fight together, or turn against each other, even if for just a moment. Because it’s that split-second crack that an opposing side is looking for and will take it and turn it into a gaping hole.
In the trial match a crack appeared. It was an experienced campaigner becoming audibly and visibly rude to a debutant player on two occasions, leaving that new player looking shell-shocked. It was within eye and ear shot of the Diamonds bench and most of the fans nearby. And if you believe the rumour mill, it’s not an isolated incident for the offending player. I’m not mentioning names as it’s not about shaming, it’s about fixing it. If the Diamonds can reclaim that “stand together and fight” bond that has now become a legacy of our national team on the World Cup stage, that will be the difference between a heartbreaking repeat of the dying minutes of the Comm Games final, or a ruthless rendition of our usual heroics where we simply say, “we don’t lose”.
The practice game showed just how close, hard and gut-wrenching the marginal selection decisions would have been. Klau or Mannix. Moloney or Price. Philip and Simpson all must’ve been so close.
Put simply, I don’t think there is a right or wrong decision with many of the names above, and all you can do is separate them on form, as it’s the fairest equation.
In my mind, the right players were chosen. To their credit Mannix, Simpson, Philip and Moloney starred against the Diamonds. You could see a little bit of disappointment and a lot of desire to show the coaches they are ready in the future, and that made the practice game a lot more than a friendly. Moloney probably outperformed everyone but Browne in the midcourt, but was potentially a few training games and camps too late. Whilst many would’ve picked her before Jamie-Lee Price, Price had great patches back in her favoured WD bib to justify her place in the team again.
The final word
The selectors have a great list boarding the flight to Liverpool in coming weeks. The big question is how quickly this revised unit gels on and off the court. Although I’m very confident we have the answers for the Silver Ferns, the Proteas and the Sunshine Girls, the gel and the glue that binds the Roses have been fusing even tighter since Comm Games.
Let’s hope the Aussies find the cracks in their opposition come finals time and avenge the heartbreak of a home court loss by dealing out the same to the Roses team and fans on their doorstep.