With another four-year national cycle upon us, Heath Brown says it’s time to get that revolving door spinning as the Diamonds weigh up making changes for the upcoming Constellation Cup.
The rotating door that has become synonymous with Diamonds selections in recent years has kept all of our heads spinning.
Axings, forced retirements and last-minute bolters into the squad have become the modus operandi, with selection announcements leaving us almost as gobsmacked as when Rikki-Lee was kicked out of Australian Idol all those years ago.
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The four-year cycle that was just completed had back-to-back major global tournament losses for the Diamonds, with us armchair critics arguing over the cause. Some blamed selectors for sending the wrong crew for the job, while others said the axing of experienced players left us exposed.
With preparations for the next internationals already underway, and redemption up for grabs in a few years at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup, selectors have a tough choice to pick the squad to kickstart our campaign in the upcoming Constellation Cup. Stick to the lineup they picked just months ago and back them in to overcome their big stage chokes? Or rotate the squad and hope they find that elusive lineup that has the big game presence to do what a Diamonds side has not done for multiple years: bring home a gold medal? Like all of us highly opinionated coaches, I have my thoughts on what the selectors will be thinking about.
While many have been calling for stability, NOW is the time our trigger-happy selectors would be justified in throwing the bibs up in the air. It’s prime experimenting season for any coach at the start of a new four year cycle. Doing it now means we can pump the brakes in three years time, lock in our combos and show up for gold medals with a team built over years, rather than slapped together. I expect we will see experimentation start now.
DEFENSIVE APPLICATIONS OPEN
You don’t have to be a supercoach to know our defensive end is no longer a fortress of world netball. In fact, it’s safe to say we now don’t have a ‘world’s best’ defender in our ranks, with Mentor, Sterling, Maweni and Pretorious now the names topping back-end lists.
It’s an end of the court we have dominated with the likes of Ellis, Layton, Harby, Geitz and Corletto. So who should selectors back in to dethrone the international invaders? I would firstly copy what Noeline did at the Ferns and chase down a Geitz or Layton to return for the four-year cycle so the youngsters can reprise their rightful roles as apprentices learning around the best. This won’t happen for Con Cup, but it needs to happen next year, so let’s hope Queen Laura has a visit from Lisa Alexander following the birth of her second child.
In the meantime, I would be picking Sarah Klau and Emily Mannix and resting Courtney Bruce, who can slay lesser teams, but has become a liability in clutch games. She needs to rebuild her mental game to protect her from individual performances like the gold medal match in Liverpool.
Out front, I’d throw a rotation between Jo Weston, Maddy Turner and Kristiana Manu’a, who can swing between both both positions. Manu’a has the x-factor and mongrel we need to spark a fire in a tired-looking backline. She plays talls as well as she does smalls – and it was our inability to cover smalls in our last final that exposed our lightweight coverage of the GD position.
RECLAIMING WD PRIDE
It’s the bib that hasn’t quite had anyone’s name on it since the seamless handoffs from McKinnis to Squire to Gilsenan to Hallinan.
Australia haunted opposition wing attacks for many a year with this crew, but in this last cycle we struggled to pick the successor from a long list of could-be stars in Ash Brazill, Gabi Simpson or Jamie-Lee Price. For me, I would blood Amy Parmenter and welcome her clean lines to the ball, speed to burn and aerial ability. Price unfortunately has to go for now – her one-gear game is serviceable in national league, but hasn’t cut it internationally so far.
Next year I see a real opportunity for one or both of the Madi/Maddys to come back. Maddy Proud was the standout midcourter until she got injured mid-season, and Madi Browne should return from early international retirement to bring some much-needed experience to the midcourt. Liz Watson and Paige Hadley will own the C/WA combo after Kelsey Browne’s injury departure, and I suspect Kate Moloney will make up the other spot for Conn Cup
Overhandling of the ball is symptomatic of a lack of confidence to go to the post. Some call it “the yips”. While Maria Folau was sending bombs aplenty at one end, no one wanted to tee it up from range for the Diamonds when it mattered, instead preferring for under-post safety shots. For this reason I would bring in KieraAustin for Steph Wood, keep the x-factor of Gretel Tippett and her blessings of height, pace and hops, and rest one of the Caitlins for each game of Con Cup while introducing one of Sophie Garbin or Cara Koenen so we can start building for life after the Caitlin Thwaites and Caitlin Bassett.
THE FINAL SAY
My squad of 13 for the Constellation Cup would be Caitlin Bassett, Sophie Garbin, Gretel Tippett, Kiera Austin, Paige Hadley, Liz Watson, Kate Moloney, Amy Parmenter, Jo Weston, Maddy Turner, Kristiana Manu’a, Sarah Klau and Emily Mannix – and rotate in Thwaites for C-Bass after the first game. Beyond this series, I would go back to the future and inject an experienced spine in one of the Madi/Maddys and Geitz.
Heath Brown is the former Australian Men’s team captain, and has coached at the elite level in both the women’s and men’s games.