In an era where much of the focus is on ‘the talls’ of the game, Australia had doubled down on its traditional flat and fast game to cling onto netball’s number one ranking.
Our middies are the star of our show now more than ever, and the make up of the Diamonds centre court will be crucial in regaining the silverware this year and next at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup.
With so much talent in our mix, who should get the nod? Ex-Australian Men’s team captain and NSW coach Heath Brown shares thoughts on the tough decisions ahead for the Aussie selectors.
With Australians now having broadcast access to the English and New Zealand national leagues, we get to see the mix of talent in the global game every week, allowing us to see up how our international opponents are shaping up. When you compare the pace of the game watching Super Netball compared to the equivalent European and NZ comps, they are worlds apart.
Whilst the rest of the world has caught up if not overtaken Australia at the bookends of the court, it is the midcourt where Australia still holds bragging rights as being in a league of their own. All SSN teams’ midcourts are filled out by Aussies – a stark contrast to the shooting and defensive circles which are dominated by the internationals. Our champion middies have become our point of difference on the international scene – the engine room for our victories as we outrun, outfox and outlast the rest of the world.
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While the other big five contenders for international silverware attempt to find solutions for their comparative lack of midcourt depth, Australia’s conundrum is who to choose from amongst the abundant supply of midcourt stars they have in the mix? On current form, Australia has most of the top 10 mid courters in the world at their disposal. Watson, Hadley, Maloney, Ravaillion, Proud, Price, Parmenter, Brazil, Simpson and Browne to name a few. Whilst this is a dream for the talent pipeline, it is a decision-making nightmare for selectors trying to find the winning combination to get Australia back to gold.
If you had the unenviable task of only picking four midcourters, who gets the nod?
It is very rare you find a player who is a chameleon that can change their game on a whim depending on the bib they are wearing. That is, a player who can specialise in two to three positions rather than be a generalist. Paige Hadley is that once-in-an-era player who can do this – as lethal in WA as she is C. She even gets a run in WD and delivers. For me, she is the Diamonds’ first midcourter picked, without question. She is the best all-round midcourter Australia has had in a very long time.
Our captain and WA specialist Liz Watson is next most critical. Her ball-handling skills are like wizardry and she’s the best in the world at generating ball speed ahead of her pace on foot. She processes the ball with deft touch within milliseconds, leaving defenders’ heads spinning. There is rarely an error from the hands of this chief of the Aussie front court – as safe as houses on the pass with her possession playmaking style.
If pick one and two give you versatility and steadiness respectively, pick three has to be something different that injects X-factor into the line. Someone who can change a game. A line breaker who when steadiness isn’t working, can carve up tiny spaces like they are gaping holes. And for this, the Diamonds need to look outside their selected squad, because there is no-one else like Kelsey Browne for this role. No one can tag her, nor can she be tamed from taking the game on and letting the ball go when others are hesitating around her. She lights a game up, and there is no way I would be going for a gold medal without a game-changing weapon like Browne.
Every successful Aussie team has had a specialist WD at the back of their midcourt, tagging the opponent’s playmaker out of the game. Think McKinnis, Squire, Gilsenan, Hallinan. All of these players can intercept ball, but it is more about the shutdown plays from an incessant WD tagging game that win big moments and matches. This is the only decision where I’m still on the fence. Do you go early with Parmenter, who will definitely own the bib for most of the next decade and is currently in red hot form. Or do you give one last dance to Ash Brazill, who fitted the role like a glove on the last Aussie tour. I would decide this one after squad camp and whoever takes the cake there.
That obviously leaves some big names out – so who would be your four mids?
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