Will Sarah Klau and Paige Hadley be late bolters into the Australian Diamonds side for the World Cup? Hell yes, says former Australian Men’s team captain and elite coach, Heath Brown.
It’s that time of the four-year cycle when we all pop our selector hats on and predict our Australian Diamonds team for the World Cup.
We scrutinise the selectors for the controversial picks and celebrate them for picking our faves. I always challenge local coaches around their own selection time to consider different ways and thought processes to make those tough decisions.
And what better way than to use the Diamonds as our example!
At a local level, we’ve all experienced the joys and jagged edges of selections: Mums whose daughters couldn’t have possibly been overlooked for the firsts side, and players with a heightened sense of their own claims on a spot in the top teams. We use different methods to validate our decisions: a combination of athlete reputation, stats analysis, fitness, strength and conditioning results, past seasons and trials performance, to name a few.
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But when it comes down to the tougher decisions (of which the Aussie selectors have plenty to make) how do you make selections when you can barely separate a handful of athletes?
A planning approach used in many sports to assist in making these tough decisions is a solution-based selection process. What problems are we trying to solve from past seasons? What longer-term future are we trying to create and what scenarios are we building contingencies for in the upcoming season?
As part of this process, before you even look at a player’s name, your selectors must determine what are the top five problems from the past, or opportunities to be created moving forward, and map your selection process based on this.
Here’s what I’d be throwing out there in picking the Australian Diamonds.
1. Who is the line-buster we needed in the Commonwealth Games final?
International matches are normally riddled with physicality. The England Roses’ defence outmuscled our attackers at the end of our gold medal match, South Africa now possess the best goal defence in the world in Karla Pretorius, and Phumza Maweni is now also amongst the best defenders. The Silver Ferns have always had the firepower down back, despite some tough years rebuilding in the attack end, and the Sunshine girls have Shamera Sterling tearing attackers to shreds.
How do you beat them all? With speed of ball and pace of drive through the contests from a line-breaking specialist WA or GA. Liz Watson and Steph Wood are crafty and steady, but not line-breakers. The only player in the comp who has proven she can do this consistently domestically (and internationally more recently) is Kelsey Browne. She’s a must for me to beat those hit-women from the Roses and the nagging defence of the Proteas.
2. Who is our ‘giant-killer’?
The talls we see playing in Suncorp Super Netball are going to be better than ever before – we’ve groomed them that way by having them under our best coaches. Laura Geitz did the job last time and the time before, and Liz Ellis many times before that. Courtney Bruce struggled in the final last year and is injured. So we need a solid plan B.
Who’s had every major international shooter benched this season, including Thwaites, C-Bass and Proscovia? Sarah Klau. She’s in red hot form after two killer seasons and I think she’s done enough to trump Emily Mannix, who has fallen short in a couple of big contests. We need the body-working, ball-getting, rebound queen that is Klau.
3. Who is our chameleon centre?
In previous World Champs, our centres have always been ‘best supporting actress’-type characters. Kim Ravaillion, Nat von Bertouch and Carissa Dalwood, to name a few. That style of player won’t cut it this time round. We need chameleons who can take Lisa Alexander’s lead on the role they need to play around different opposition and different teammate combinations game by game. A defensive centre backing up in offence one game. An attacking centre busting the lines in the next. Then the ability to truly wear one of the wing bibs in case of injury. Paige Hadley is the only one who fits the chameleon bill and she’s in the best form of any midcourter. Kate Moloney is similar defensively (both girls started their careers at WD) but she’s trumped by Paige’s attacking game and current season form.
4. Who is our specialist WD?
This has been the foundation of Australia’s success for many years – the work done out front to nullify attackers and keep them away from their shooters with a good old fashioned tag. Think McKinnis, Squire, Gilsenan and Ingles. I would love to say Ash Brazill, because who doesn’t like a ‘speckie’?! But one speckie doesn’t win over six suffocating drive blocks or full 15-minute tags, quarter in, quarter out. Gabi Simpson gets the nod from me, based on very recent form coming out of a slump, and her experience. Jamie-Lee Price is in the Brazill category for me. I love her speckies or half-quarter efforts, but I think she would be a magnet for the international whistle, as international umpires struggle with her style of play. She would spend more time out of play than keeping her player quiet.
5. Do we need to blood for the future?
A lot of people are asking, “What about Kiera Austin, or taking Kim Jenner?”. But the reality is you only need to blood a young player if you think big retirements are coming. Gretel Tippett and Steph Wood will be around for a while yet, so there will be enough time before the next World Cup to blood Kiera. And the Giants need to be playing her more, if she’s to be a realistic contender. Jenner has been the talk in defence, but that end of our court has already had its rebuild during the last four-year cycle, and is steady enough for now.
The only thing I would have considered is the shooter bib. Caitlin Bassett has owned it for 10 years and Thwaites has played bridesmaid for much of that. If they both retire – who is next? I would have blooded Sophie Garbin in the last few years, but given she has sat on the Swifts bench there’s no chance of doing that now.
Who makes the team?
So to bring it all together, my pick for the 12 would be Caitlin Bassett, Caitlin Thwaites, Gretel Tippett, Steph Wood, Paige Hadley, Liz Watson, Kelsey Browne, Gabi Simpson, Courtney Bruce, April Brandley, Sarah Klau and Jo Weston.
Thursday’s announcement will likely be different, as Lisa Alexander and her crew will probably have different scenarios they are planning for, but that’s my go! What’s yours?
Heath Brown is the former captain of the Australian Sonix men’s netball team, as well as a coach in the Victorian and NSW state leagues and the NSW Men’s state program.