They haven’t faced them for two years but by the end of this week the Diamonds will be sick of the sight of England’s Roses as the two sides gear up for two huge matches in the Quad Series.
England’s comeback Quad Series win over New Zealand may have handed arch-rival Australia an edge for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in six months’ time.
The Diamonds have been starved of international netball over the past two years due to the pandemic, playing just four Tests, all against New Zealand’s Silver Ferns last year before heading into this week’s Quad Series in London.
After a series against the Ferns and England’s Roses scheduled for late last year were cancelled due to Covid, the Diamonds headed into the Quad Series needing a serious hitout.
Watch every game of the 2022 Netball Quad Series Live & Free on Kayo Freebies. Join now and start streaming instantly >
England’s win over New Zealand on Monday morning ensured they would get that, with the Roses and Diamonds now ensured of finishing in the top two and playing off in the championship final.
The Diamonds’ 14-goal win over the Ferns on Sunday morning was stunning, but they will be seriously tested by England in back-to-back matches on Wednesday and Thursday (AEST).
The Birmingham Games will be held in July-August, and after losing the 2018 Games final on the Gold Coast to England by a single goal, they are hungry to make amends.
The Roses have a virtually unchanged outfit from that time and are the most experienced squad in the Quad Series, as they are likely to be at the Games.
So playing them twice at the Copper Box Arena in London could be a key advantage for Stacey Marinkovich’s team.
“I want to see some really strong match-ups against England,” said Marinkovich.
“We still want to put our game and our combinations under pressure.
“England are playing very well, they’ve had a lot of international competition, so they’re really solidifying their connections and we’re really looking forward to their chances of stepping out with them.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic. Just the atmosphere that’s created here at the Copper Box and England have been playing some really classy netball, they’ve got obviously depth and experience across the squad and certainly are challenging everyone.”
It’s been two years since the teams last met and while five of England’s players will turn out in the Super Netball season again this year, helping both them and the Diamonds prepare, the next two games are crucial.
“We’re looking forward to stepping out, it’s been a long time,” Marinkovich said.
“We were meant to play late last year and that wasn’t possible because of Covid. So the fact that we’re over here, we can both step out on court and really take that battle on is great for us, but it’s also going to be super exciting for international netball.”
Competition is not just between teams but within the squad as players put their hands up for Commonwealth Games spots.
Young gun Sophie Dwyer has been overlooked for the final round match, meaning she is unlikely to make her Diamonds debut at the tournament in a sign Australia means business.
“It’s obviously extremely competitive,” Marinkovich said.
“We’ve got great depth and we’ve got some real strength also still back in Australia and that’s the beauty of the squad is that they all push each other.
“Sometimes we’re looking at match-ups, we’re looking at our rotations and I’m sure they’ll continue to battle it out.
“But what they do is they push each other for the betterment of the team.”
Aryang makes history for Diamonds in Quad Series win
Rising star Sunday Aryang has made Australian netball history, becoming the first African-born player to represent the Diamonds in what teammate Courtney Bruce has described as “just the beginning of a phenomenal career”.
In a neat symmetry, Aryang — who was born in Ethiopia before arriving in Australia with her family when she was three — made her debut against South Africa, helping the Diamonds continue their unbeaten record against the Proteas in a 60-40 victory early Monday morning (AEDT).
Aryang, who described finding out she would debut against South Africa as “surreal”, entered the game in the second quarter, coming on at goal defence for Swifts player Maddy Turner and joining West Coast Fever clubmate Bruce in the circle.
Bruce, who was named player of the match, had taken plenty of risks hunting ball early in the match but seemed to settle into a better rhythm alongside Aryang, with their familiarity helping the Diamonds, who were in a battle against the Proteas early in the game.
The final score at London’s Copper Box Arena was no indication of the nature of the contest early on, with Australia leading by just two goals at the first break after the Proteas took an 8-7 lead midway through the opening term.
The lead had increased to four goals by halftime but the Diamonds were missing the direction of Liz Watson through the midcourt, with the captain rested after playing the entire 60 minutes against New Zealand in her first match back from a serious foot injury.
Watson’s Melbourne Vixens teammate Kate Moloney started at centre, with game one revelation Paige Hadley shifted to wing attack but the pair were not able to provide the same crisp service to shooters Gretel Bueta and Steph Wood early, with the pair having to work hard out of the circle to help advance the ball.
The Test was critical for the Diamonds though in the lead-up to Commonwealth Games and they wore the Proteas down with their continued efforts, while the injection of Sophie Garbin at goal shooter, alongside Bueta at goal attack gave coach Stacey Marinkovich a look at another strong shooting combination ahead of Wednesday morning’s (AEST) final pool match against England.
But it was Aryang’s debut that was the feel-good moment of the match, with the 21-year-old converting potential into defensive pick-offs in a strong Commonwealth Games audition.
“At the start I was quite nervous, when I was standing there waiting to go on, but once I got out there and got around the girls I was definitely more comfortable and it was fun,” Aryang said.
“I’m super proud to be the first (African-born player) to represent the Australians. It’s always been a goal of mine and it’s just great to be able to achieve something so big not only for myself but for the African community.”
Bruce, practically a veteran at 28 compared to Aryang, was glowing in her praise of her teammate.
“I’m so proud of her. I think I was celebrating more when she came on the court,” Bruce said.
“Sunday and I have a really good relationship and a good partnership out there.
“It’s such an exciting time to debut and I think it’s really special having another West Aussie get her opportunity, there’s not many of us.
“And to be here when Sunday stepped out on the court and ask her to do our thing out there, I’m so proud.
“Watch out. This is just the beginning of a phenomenal career for her.”
BRAZ HAS ONE HAND ON COMM GAMES SPOT
Dual code dynamo Ash Brazill has all but booked her Commonwealth Games ticket after a match-defining showing for the Diamonds in their Quad Series opener in London.
Australia made the perfect start to its campaign with a 53-39 win over world no.2 New Zealand early Sunday morning (AEDT) and was expected to continue its run against South Africa on Monday morning in its second game of the series.
After rupturing her ACL playing in the AFLW with Collingwood, Brazill missed the entire 2020 domestic season and was making her return to the international arena for the first time since 2019 when she ran out at wing defence against New Zealand.
Part of a pacy and probing midcourt that included Paige Hadley at centre and captain Liz Watson at wing attack in her first game back from a year-long absence due to a foot injury, Brazill was outstanding, winning player of the match honours in a signal she will be on the plane back to England this year for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
“It’s really nice to be back in the green and gold,” Brazill said after the match.
“I’m shattered that I did my knee but stoked to be back.”
Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich has plenty of combinations at her disposal, including units in which she can run tall defenders at wing defence.
But using Brazill there gave the Diamonds an element of speed and skill that was missing from their Constellation Cup outfit last year, while her competitive appetite cannot be underestimated.
“I think Braz would be the first to admit it was a full defensive effort,” Marinkovich said of the Diamonds’ efforts to starve the Silver Ferns of ball.
“But the ability that she’s got in her repeated effort, her tenacity to go after ball, certainly plays a good shutdown role.
“But she’s got vision to be able to contest on to others and I think when you combine that with the other skill sets that she’s got around her at the moment, it really highlights what her strengths are.
“But what she does is also does is bring the strengths of others out.”
Brazill is leaving no stone unturned in her bid to win a Games spot.
She has left family, including wife Brooke, their six-week-old Frankie and son Louis at home as she travelled to the UK and is missing part of the AFLW season with the Magpies.
“Brooke’s so supportive and said: ‘I just want you to do the best without any distractions’,” Brazill said when selected in the Diamonds squad late last year.
“It’s going to be tough not being with them, especially having a newborn but we’re lucky that we’ve got that support.”
There are still steps to take but Brazill certainly has one hand on a ticket to Birmingham and it would mean the world to the kid who used to play Olympics with her stuffed toys.
“I don’t want to get my hopes up but I guess it’s anyone’s dream,” Brazill said of going to the Games.
“I didn’t even know Comm Games was a thing when I was a little kid, it was all about the Olympics and I remember putting all my teddies up against the wall and getting on a podium with a gold medal,” she said.
“Not forgetting how much when you were a kid you wanted something like that (is important).
“To me, it would be a dream come true.
“Wearing the green and gold dress is mind-blowing, so making it when it’s a Comm Games or World Cup year would just be next level.”
The return of goalers Gretel Bueta (maternity leave) and Steph Wood (injury) had an immediate impact, with the experienced pair stamping their authority on the match immediately, while livewire midcourter Ash Brazill was outstanding in her return from an ACL injury.
The match at London’s Copperbox Arena early Sunday morning (AEDT) was the Diamonds’ first on the international stage for 10 months and the win over the world no.2 will give them enormous confidence for the remainder of the tournament as they head into clashes against South Africa and England in the coming days.
The Diamonds’ last tournament resulted in a 3-1 series loss to the Silver Ferns and many doubted how well they would start this series given they had played just four Tests in the past two years.
Those fears were brushed aside within minutes of the opening centre pass, with the Diamonds sprinting to a 6-1 lead, opening a seven goal margin at quarter-time and increasing that over the next two quarters to establish an 18-goal buffer at the final break.
Brazill was part of a dynamic midcourt that included Paige Hadley at centre and captain Liz Watson at wing attack in her first game back from a foot injury that kept her out of the entire Super Netball season last year.
Their combination was outstanding, with Brazill winning player of the match honours and Hadley a revelation after failing to hit the court in last year’s Constellation Cup.
“Paige had a great SSN (Super Netball) season last year and she certainly worked really hard from the last Con Cup taking on some key feedback,” Marinkovich said.
“She brings an intensity and an honesty to the group which has really helped not only the people around her, but the way in which she’s built those relationships within the combination.
“And I think you can see the trust that was within the attack end as a result of that.”
With both Wood (19 shots from 22 attempts) and Bueta (32/33) missing last year, the Diamonds were without a pure goal defence last time they played and the impact both made – both as playmakers and goalers, was immediate.
“I think it’s just that the squad’s had a bit more time to understand what their role is out on court,” Marinkovich said of the players gelling.
“Obviously the experience that Steph bring to the court, that Grets brings to the court gives a bit of balance.
“But to get some time to work together and get everyone online on the same page, it certainly does make a difference when you step out to perform.”
Cara Koenen (3/3) slotted in at goal shooter in the final term with Bueta moving to goal defence in a signal of what could happen against South Africa on Monday morning (AEDT), with Marinkovich signaling changes when the Diamonds play again less than 24 hours after their opening match.
“Obviously we’re here to see where we can keep pushing different combinations but I think the biggest challenge is that you come up against a different style with South Africa,” she said.
“We’ve got to be able to make sure that the way in which you want to play can stand up against all styles of netball and South Africa definitely plays it a little bit different to what we faced (against New Zealand).”