Contributors: Ian Harkin, Katrina Nissen
Photographers: Marcela Massey, Ben Lumley, May Bailey, Simon Leonard, Clinton Bradbury, Nicole Mudgway
Well, it’s nearly here. Not long now until the first centre pass of the Commonwealth Games netball tournament. Along with our own thoughts, we decided to get some expert opinions on what was likely to happen in Birmingham. So it’s a big thank you to the following people who helped us try to sort it all out :
- Merryn Anderson (NZ Locker Room)
- Brittany Carter (ABC Australia)
- Erin Delahunty (Freelance writer)
- Karen Greig (Manchester Thunder coach)
- Sacha Shipway (The Netball Show)
If our judges are correct, then this year’s Commonwealth Games final will once again feature Australia and England, and Jamaica will once again play New Zealand for the bronze. That is the strong consensus of opinion among all of our experts.
We asked former England player, Karen Greig, for her thoughts. She believes the home country can defeat Australia to take Gold once again. “England have plenty of firepower upfront and I’m intrigued to see how Thirlby works the shooting combinations with Housby, Cardwell and Harten having exceptional seasons for their domestic sides, they will cause problems for every defensive unit. Australia is going to be intriguing. I don’t think some of their players are going into the CWG in the best form, so I am interested to see how they fare against the top sides.”
But Greig also thinks this could be the most exciting Commonwealth Games yet, with any of the top 4 ranked teams a genuine chance to make the final. “I think the surprise package (not a surprise) could be Jamaica. If they can get their centre court connected they are very dangerous at the ends. And never under estimate a Silver Ferns side. Even though there has been plenty of questions around their squad, we know Noeline knows exactly what she is doing and will have her players primed.”
Sacha Shipway from our friends at The Netball Show, also believes it will be an Australia v England final, but is going for the Australians to reverse the result from the Gold Coast. “I think their performance at the Quad Series at the beginning of this year demonstrates that although they may not have the most caps collectively, they have the talent to grind it out to the finals and take gold. I think the Diamonds have the talent, fitness and game smarts to take the title this year.
Shipway believes the loss of Serena Guthrie in the mid court will be the difference between England winning Gold and Silver. “England may be defending Commonwealth Champions but as much as I hope they have what it takes to secure the title again, I think they will fall short in the mid court. Nonetheless, their growth is not something to be ignored, nor is the fact they will be bolstered by a home crowd and an entire nation backing them all the way.”
Brittany Carter and Erin Delahunty both think Australia can overcome England in the final, while Merryn Anderson believes that the advantage of a home crowd could see England as the team to beat.
Among our group of Netball Scoop writers, there is also a strong leaning to a final between Australia and England. Nicole Mudgway, Georgia Doyle, Ariane Virgona, Zara Collings, and Emily Bruce all think that will be the end result. Just two of our writers differ. Kyle Fortune believes Jamaica will fulfil their potential and meet Australia in the final, while Katrina Nissen thinks Noeline Taurua will work her magic and get New Zealand into a decider against Australia.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN BIRMINGHAM
Gretel Bueta is the first player on our list. Anyone who saw the performance of the athletic shooter in this year’s Quad Series, most particularly in the final, would have instantly marked her down as a pivotal player in this tournament. The decision of coach Stacey Marinkovich to play her at goal shooter instead of goal attack, looked like a masterstroke. She plays the position like nobody else, and at times, she simply looks impossible to stop. Steph Wood played a huge role in the Quad Series too, forming a terrific partnership with Bueta in the final. She has had an up and down season in Super Netball, battling injury and some poor form, but if she produces her best, immediately Australia becomes much harder to stop. Liz Watson will have a point to prove in Birmingham. Some have criticised her form towards the end of the Super Netball season, but at her best, she is the number one feeder in world netball, and with the responsibility of leading this quality team, she is sure to play a leading role in whatever success the team has. Ash Brazill played a big part in the Diamonds’ Quad Series success in January. The dual sport superstar has been waiting a long time for this opportunity, and put AFLW on hold this year just so she could focus on representing Australia at the Commonwealth Games. We feel the wing defence could be a real X factor for Australia. Courtney Bruce has just played a big part in West Coast Fever’s first ever title as captain and goal keeper. She had 50% more deflections than any other defender in Super Netball this year. In Australian colours, she may be seen more at goal defence, and she also performs this role well.
Karen Greig – “In her last outing for Australia, I think Gretel Bueta was unplayable. Her unorthodox yet super athletic style of play is difficult to defend. I think she will be a starter for the Diamonds and if the centre court connect well with her whether at GA or GS, they will be hard to stop.”
Brittany Carter – “Gretel Bueta’s game has really come of age since making her return to the Firebirds after having baby Bobby. Watching her Player of the Series performance in the Quad Series was an absolute spectacle and it’s likely she’ll have that same sort of dominance at her first Commonwealth Games. We all know the flair Gretel can bring to the circle, but I was particularly impressed with her mature and steady work in GS.”
Merryn Anderson – “Courtney Bruce will be on a high from captaining West Coast Fever to their first ever title after 25 years. With 44 Diamonds caps to her name, she’s a known menace under the hoop and a big threat to even the most composed shooters.”
Latonia Blackman has played every position on the court for Barbados over her career of more than 20 years, but in recent times, she has completely settled into the goal attack role. The legendary Bajan Gems test caps record-holder has attended five World Cups, and is entering her sixth Commonwealth Games tournament. She will now share the record with one of England’s finest.
Geva Mentor is lining up for her sixth Commonwealth Games. It is a remarkable achievement for the champion goal keeper. Towards the end of the Super Netball season, she showed signs that she is ready to hit peak form in Birmingham. It must be remembered that if not for Geva Mentor, England wouldn’t be defending champions. It’s as simple as that. Layla Guscoth is likely to be Mentor’s partner in the circle. She will be incredibly motivated, after missing out on the 2018 Games to concentrate on her career as a doctor, then getting injured and taking little part in the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool. Nat Metcalf has the responsibility of leading the team. She has just come out of a brilliant undefeated season with Manchester Thunder and is surely full of confidence. Her play at wing attack will be crucial to the success of the team. Eleanor Cardwell was another member of that winning Thunder side and her form was such that she scooped up most of the end of season awards. She is a threat in either shooting position. It says something about the depth of this English side that we’re highlighting two shooters who aren’t even guaranteed a start. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis is possibly fourth in line in England’s shooting quartet, but no less than two of our guest experts are tipping her as a player to watch here. A versatile playmaker, she can slot into the wing attack position if required.
Sacha Shipway – “Geva Mentor will be playing in a equal-record sixth Commonwealth Games. She was critical in helping Magpies to the finals this year and that grit is likely to be carried through to a home Games. I think her colossal experience and partnership with Guscoth and Usoro-Brown will demonstrate once again why she is one of the greats.”
Karen Greig – “I think there is a lot of pressure on Nat Metcalf in this Commonwealth Games. There has been a lot of chat around her being the only/main actual wing attack in this team . She is so clever on the ball and her quick vision can slice defenders apart. Her connection having played with Cardwell and Malcolm this season at Thunder I think will prove invaluable.”
Brittany Carter – “It’s been a big year already for Eleanor Cardwell, who won the Superleague title with Thunder in June and signed her first Super Netball contract a month later. Her strong-bodied play will be difficult to defend no matter if she’s in GA or GS and the unpredictable nature of her game will keep defenders guessing. Watch out.”
Merryn Anderson – “The English Roses are well known for their silky shots from distance, Jo Harten and Helen Housby especially, but young gun Sophie Drakeford-Lewis has the chance to step up for the Roses this year. Shooting at 91 percent accuracy domestically, the 23-year-old is strong at both goal attack and wing attack and could be a surprise star for her team.”
Sacha Shipway – “Sophie Drakeford-Lewis is a player you want to keep your eyes on. She has proven in previous tests that she can keep a cool head, inject some speed, and shoot from range. I think she’ll be used as an impact player due to her ability to put her head down and light the jets. Pair that with her fearlessness to put up a shot anywhere in the circle and she has a very bright future in the game.”
Jhaniele Fowler is always a key player for Jamaica. That goes without saying by this stage. She has had another stellar year in Super Netball in 2022, but now she has the added confidence that goes with a premiership win. And to top it all off, she’s just been announced as Jamaica’s flag bearer in Birmingham as well! She will convert almost all of the scoring opportunities given to her. It is just up to her teammates to provide them. Shanice Beckford is likely to fill the goal attack position. In the recent past, it’s a position that has troubled Jamaican teams to some extent. Beckford will need to provide Fowler with enough ball, but at the same time be willing to put up shots herself. There will be no shortage of possession gains coming from the other end of the court. Shamera Sterling is considered by many to be the world’s best defender currently. She is certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But she won’t do it all on her own. Jamaica has assembled a brilliant quartet of defenders who all play Super Netball. One of them is Latanya Wilson who has just completed an amazing season in partnership with Sterling at the Thunderbirds. Individually, they’re both excellent, but as a combination, it’s something else.
Sacha Shipway – “There aren’t enough superlatives for this defensive dynamo. Shamera Sterling puts shooters on edge with her ability to deflect the shot and intercept feeds into the circle. We saw her do it time and time again with the Thunderbirds and she likes to rise to big occasions. Watch out for her putting doubt in the minds of shooters early on to take some crucial, momentum-shifting interceptions.”
Brittany Carter – “Since making her way to Super Netball, Shamera Sterling has been terrorising shooters week in, week out with her long limbs and incredible agility. The number one goal keeper in the competition this year with a whopping 52 intercepts, you can expect her to carry on that exceptional form at the Games.”
Karen Greig – “We have really seen Latanya Wilson come to life in SSN this season, appearing at times out of nowhere to win ball, this stealth like ability I think will upset opposition, and the connection she has been building with Sterling will be critical to Jamaica’s performance and results.”
Erin Delahunty – “With her combination with compatriot Shamera Sterling solidified through minutes in the world’s best netball league, Super Netball, 21-year-old Latanya Wilson is ready to dominate on the big stage.”
Mwai Kumwenda will once again be a major factor for Malawi. It will be interesting to see just how the captain and number one goal shooter is utilised. With another strong goal shooter Joyce Mvula also in the team, Kumwenda may spend some time at goal attack. While it isn’t her best position, she is more than capable of playing there. At the other end of the court, Towera Vinkhumbo will lead the defence and look to provide the team with enough ball to do some damage in the competition. Vinkhumbo is fresh from two tremendous seasons for Strathclyde Sirens where she picked up possession gains for fun.
Grace Nweke enters her first major tournament with the eyes of netball fans well and truly on her. Just 20 years old, she has been touted as a future star since she burst on the scene in 2019 while still in high school. With height on her side, she is a dominant presence under the ring and looks set to be a fixture in New Zealand teams for years to come. At the other end of the court is Kelly Jury. She is coming off an extraordinary season for ANZ Premiership champions Pulse, where she was undoubtedly the player of the year. Again, her height is a weapon anywhere in the defensive third. Jury will inevitably pick up possession at the back, so it is up to the midcourt to take advantage. Whitney Souness is the surprise packet here. Centre has been somewhat of a troublesome position in recent years, and coach Noeline Taurua surprised some by choosing a regular wing attack in Souness for the role. She brought real energy and enthusiasm to the position during the Cadbury Series. Gina Crampton as captain needs to lead by example, and if she can form a dynamic partnership with Souness, this could be yet another winning move from Taurua.
Erin Delahunty – “While she’s already a bone fide superstar in New Zealand, 193cm Grace Nweke hasn’t really shown her wares on the world stage yet. If she’s fit, it’s hard to see who stops her at what will no doubt be the first of many pinnacle events.”
Merryn Anderson – “Kelly Jury was a standout for the Pulse in the ANZ Premiership this year, with the 1.92m goal keep topping the ladders for intercepts and deflections. Her improvement over the past year has been phenomenal and after being hounded by injury, she’s got something to prove in the black dress.”
Erin Delahunty – “Everyone in world netball has an opinion about Noeline Taurua’s midcourt, but if Whitney Souness can deliver on her potential in Birmingham, it will quieten many of them. The 26-year-old’s speed and creativity will be key to the Ferns’ success.”
Caroline O’Hanlon is tireless. One of the greatest assets of Northern Ireland’s centre and captain is that she just runs all game, puts in 100% effort continuously and doesn’t quit. Fresh from a terrific season for Superleague champions Manchester Thunder, her confidence should be sky high right now, and she will be looking to bring that winning form to the Commonwealth Games. A tremendous athlete, she is also a successful Gaelic Footballer. That’s when she’s not being a doctor.
Iona Christian is definitely a player to watch in this Scottish line up. Previously part of the English netball pathway, she even won a bronze medal for England at the 2017 World Youth Cup in Botswana. Now with Scotland, the midcourter will slot into the crucial feeding role. Scotland has sometimes been guilty of falling down in attack, and under the expert guidance of Tamsin Greenway, Christian can hopefully be the key to improving that situation. She had a strong season for Wasps in this year’s Superleague.
Ine-Mari Venter now has an even bigger job ahead of her than at first thought. With Lenize Potgieter having to withdraw from the Games, Venter will now have to shoulder much more of the South African shooting load than would have been expected. But that shouldn’t faze her. The situation was much the same during this year’s Quad Series, and she grew into the role of number one shooter beautifully, culminating in a terrific performance in the final game against the Silver Ferns. Khanyisa Chawane is another player to watch. Her versatility allows her to be able to play all three midcourt positions, but she’ll likely be in the centre position mostly in Birmingham, and her combination with captain Bongi Msomi will be crucial to South Africa’s eventual results. Msomi is involved in everything for her team, and if they are to perform well in this tournament, you can be sure she will play a huge part in that. She’s now been announced as flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony. Well deserved.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Shaquanda Greene-Noel was a total revelation in the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague season with her team Celtic Dragons. She finished ahead of a star-studded field of defenders to end up with the most possession gains in the competition. She has the ability to lift her team with her defence, and as captain, she will be trying to do just that for this Trinidad & Tobago team. In her current form, she will be a threat to any shooting combination.
Proscovia Peace and Mary Cholhok represent a delightful dilemma for Uganda at this tournament. It is a wonderful problem to have two such dominant shooters, but now they have to be utilised well. Coach Fred Mugerwa has said that experienced captain Peace will initially get preference at goal shooter, after her tremendous season in the Superleague. He has raised the possibility of turning Cholhok into the world’s tallest goal attack in what will be her first Commonwealth Games appearance. If it worked, that height would certainly make it a very dangerous combination. Stella Oyella is the other more conventional option in the circle.
Betsy Creak may have flown under the radar up till now, but we suspect that won’t be for long. In a strong Team Bath shooting lineup, she has perhaps been underutilised. The form she displayed in the recent two-test series against South Africa suggests she is ready for a big Commonwealth Games tournament. She has height, is able to play both shooting positions, and is a confident shooter. She is likely to play mostly at goal attack in Birmingham, and her combination with Georgia Rowe will be key to Wales’s prospects.
Netball Scoop will keep you updated throughout the Commonwealth Games, both on our website and also our social channels.
Here are our earlier previews, looking at each group:
Group A Preview
Group B Preview
We have a Google Calendar which you can use to see when the games are on in your time zone:
And we have a Draw & Results page which will be updated as we go through the tournament:
Draw & Results
For all your podcast information during the Games, follow our friends at The Netball Show:
The Netball Show