Get all your news in one place
100’s of premium titles. One news app. Zero ads. Just $10 per month.

Cracks appear in Diamonds before Commonwealth Games squad decision

Gretel Bueta’s excellent early-season form for the Queensland Firebirds has dropped off in recent weeks.
Gretel Bueta’s excellent early-season form for the Queensland Firebirds has dropped off in recent weeks. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

With just over two months remaining until the first whistle blows at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the time for selectors to name the final team is inching closer. Decisions in the defence end are clear cut with only five players named in the wider squad to be reduced to four before the Games begin. The issue in the mid-court is an over-supply of talent, with the Swifts’ Maddy Proud and the Magpies’ Kelsey Browne demanding selectors take notice despite sitting outside of the named squad.

But it is at the shooting end where cracks are beginning to appear. Across the seven shooters in the 18-player squad, the only constant in the first 11 rounds of Super Netball has been inconsistency.

Sunshine Coast Lightning captain Steph Wood has been named as vice-captain for her country, which suggests she will be the first lock at the shooting end. With 30 international caps under her belt, she has crucial experience for the team, but has played most of her best netball this season in wing attack. With Diamonds’ captain Liz Watson widely acknowledged as the world’s best wing attack, it is unlikely Wood will be required in this position in key matches. While she put in a good performance at goal attack on the weekend, overall she has the lowest percentage of all seven shooters in the squad, at just 71% accuracy and will need to increase her workload in the goal circle.

Gretel Bueta is the other obvious choice in the circle and her form to begin the season was outstanding. However, as the fortunes of her Queensland Firebirds have unravelled, so too have Bueta’s performances. Her accuracy remains high – sitting at 87% for the season – but her high number of turnovers has been a concern. She gives away 5.36 turnovers per game and in the weekend’s loss to the Lightning she led her team in the turnover stat with seven across the match.

However, Diamonds’ coach Stacey Marinkovich has shown a preference for Bueta in goal shooter, where her height, athleticism and accuracy are able to shine without providing as many opportunities for turnovers. With 40 international caps under her belt, Bueta is almost certain to make a resurgence in the Diamonds environment.

The final two shooting spots are essentially a battle between five players who have a total of 14 international caps between them. Half of those caps belong to Wood’s Lightning teammate Cara Koenen, who is also the most accurate Australian shooter in the league at 89% for the season. But her team has been largely underwhelming this season and she has had limited opportunities to shine. With Bueta preferred at goal shooter, Koenen – who is slightly shorter and brings less flair and athleticism – may have to prove to selectors that she offers something different in that position.

The other option at goal shooter – 28-year-old rookie Donnell Wallam – certainly brings something different to the squad. At 193cm she is the tallest of the seven shooters and the only one who exclusively plays a holding game. Her height and strength make her an imposing force in the goal circle. However, like Bueta her form has faded along with her Firebirds team. Of particular concern for Marinkovich would be her struggles against international goal keepers Geva Mentor (England) and Shamera Sterling (Jamaica) in recent weeks.

Kiera Austin shoots during the Vixens’ game agains the Fever last week.
Kiera Austin shoots during the Vixens’ game agains the Fever last week. Photograph: James Worsfold/Getty Images

The Collingwood Magpies’ Sophie Garbin is also vying for a goal shooter role, however she has had limited court time this season, particularly in her preferred position, as Jamaica’s Shimona Nelson has been dominant for the Magpies in the circle. Garbin has mostly played goal attack and even in that position has not been able to find consistent court time, averaging just 39 minutes per game. Her ticket to Birmingham is looking increasingly flimsy as the season progresses.

The Melbourne Vixens’ Kiera Austin was another who looked unlikely to be on the plane earlier in the season but has slowly worked her way into form after her return from an anterior cruciate ligament rupture. After the first two rounds, Austin has consistently put out 60 minutes on court and while her accuracy needs some improvement at 76%, her court craft and ability to adapt to different styles of shooting partner will make her a tempting option for selectors.

The final option is the uncapped Giants Netball goal attack Sophie Dwyer. Known for her long shooting ability, the 20-year-old has improved her ability to perform under pressure since an underwhelming performance in the 2021 Super Netball grand final. At this stage she still appears to be an outside chance, but her fitness and accuracy (80%) mean she cannot be counted out.

With only three rounds remaining in the Super Netball season and a number of these seven shooters likely to miss finals, the selectors will be keeping a close eye on the goal circles around the country in an effort to ensure Commonwealth Games gold makes its way home to the trophy cabinet after four long years.