Ahead of this week’s Quad Series in London, the onus on a new-look Diamonds team, who had played just a handful of Tests together, was to at least show some fight; something to fuel optimism for the future. With victory over hosts England in the final, they succeeded in that aim – and then some.
A clearly reinvigorated side, led by a rampaging Gretel Bueta – who missed just eight goals all tournament and was named player of the match and series – played with a tangible sense of freedom, fluidity and fearlessness across four matches, and won the nation’s first piece of silverware since October 2019.
It is not a bad return for a team whose credentials were under the microscope after winning just one game in last March’s Constellation Cup series in New Zealand.
In the final against the Roses – the team who beat them in the 2018 Commonwealth Games final and drew with them in the third game of the series just 24 hours earlier – Stacey Marinkovich’s side won in emphatic style 58-46. They outscored the Roses by 13 goals in the last quarter at the Copper Box Arena, after being down at each break.
It was a borderline embarrassing result for a Roses outfit that went into the series as clear favourites, having beaten New Zealand and Jamaica in recent series. Jess Thirlby’s team also had strong wins against the Silver Ferns and the Proteas earlier in the tournament, as did the Diamonds, who have never dropped their world No 1 ranking.
The Roses simply could not shut down Bueta or match the Diamonds’ fearlessness in defence as the game wore on and looked second-rate as the Australians pulled away in the final stanza.
More than just demonstrating fight, Australia’s win showed the potential for a sparkling future. It vindicated Marinkovich’s recent insistence that a quality training environment could overcome the fact she has had just eight Tests to prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham later this year.
A pinnacle event in the sport, the Games in July and August come after a full Super Netball season ends in mid-June, meaning the Diamonds will have limited time to prepare.
Before the Quad Series, Marinkovich said the Diamonds knew what they had to do to get results, regardless of the dearth of Test minutes because they had been drilling it in training. “I have great confidence that the program, and the way the girls are going about their time together, is really focusing on the way which we want to play.”
That self-assurance now appears well placed. After the final, Marinkovich’s focus was again on confidence, as she talked about pulling back the lead from the Roses, who had looked in control in patches.
“They needed to feel that they had the trust of the players around them, that they could let the ball go and [that] they had the back-up. They had to be courageous,” Marinkovich said.
For 28-year-old Bueta, who shot 41/42 at 98% accuracy in the final, it was a triumphant return to international netball after the birth of her son in January last year.
The 192cm Gold Coast native played back at goal shooter throughout the series, a position she has rarely played at any level. Her athleticism, smarts, split and unflappability made her impossible to mark.
Coming to the game relatively late after playing high-level basketball as a junior, Bueta has always been a polarising figure in the game because of her unorthodox approach, but the 2022 Quad Series will go down as the tournament she truly arrived.
While Marinkovich tried several shooting combinations through the tournament, she stuck with Bueta and 30-year-old Steph Wood, who came into the final as Australia’s third-most accurate shooter, having missed just six shots for an accuracy of 90% across a total of seven quarters. Wood finished with 17/18, despite looking shaky at times.
Holding son Bobby in a post-match interview, the significance of the win was not lost on Bueta.
“It was a really vital series for us in gaining momentum and working out connections leading up to Comm Games,” she said. “We know every quarter against England is a must-win, [they are an] exceptional side. I’m not too sure how we did that but I’m just really proud of the girls.”
Liz Watson, who missed the last Super Netball season after foot surgery and was the sole captain for the first official time, led-all comers, finishing with 37 feeds and 19 centre pass receives; the most of anyone on-court. She also took one intercept.
Watson was ably assisted by a near-perfect Paige Hadley in centre and Ash Brazill in wing defence, who did not recapture the blinding form she showed earlier in the tournament.
Sarah Klau was key in keeper, finishing with one intercept, three gains and six deflections. Courtney Bruce and Jo Weston, both heavily penalised and involved in some big clashes, ground away at goal defence.