Commonwealth Games netball is a simple tournament: 12 teams scrap on court for 11 days and at the end, Australia always plays New Zealand in the gold medal final. It’s happened every time since the sport was introduced to the Games in 1998. It’s also happened at every world championships except for one since the 1980s. Teams like England and Jamaica are improving, mostly because of the opportunities afforded international stars like Romelda Aiken, Jhaniele FowlerReid and Eboni Beckford-Chambers in the ANZ Championship, but they still appear a level below the trans-Tasman arch-rivals.
Or are we about to see a semi-seismic shift? Arguably the biggest news in world netball this century occurred in June when Irene van Dyk, the genius goal-shooter who has been the mainstay of the NZ Silver Ferns since she shifted from her native South Africa in 2000, announced her retirement from international competition, effective immediately. At 42, she’s due a break, but the sudden timing rocked everybody, especially the Ferns, and made the Australia Diamonds a strong favourite to win its first gold medal since 2002.
It has been suggested that van Dyk, the leading scorer in Comm Games history, was prompted into retirement in part by the 60-33 pasting she and the Haeir (Central) Pulse received from Aussie captain Laura Geitz and the Queensland Firebirds in the late rounds of this year’s ANZ Championship. If so, the outstanding Geitz, arguably the world’s best defensive stopper, may have played the most important game of this Comm Games campaign two months before the Opening Ceremony. Intense pressure will now fall on Ferns shooters such as Delhi 2010 star Maria Tutaia and newcomer Ellen Halpenny to make up for van Dyk’s crater-sized absence.
Australia will play Barbados, England, South Africa, Trinidad And Tobago and Wales in its preliminary pool matches, before a likely semi-final with Jamaica and another final with the Silver Ferns. The world-champion Diamonds have had their hearts broken by NZ in the past two finals after winning gold in 1998 and 2002. As always, the Diamonds have talent to burn in their 12-player team, with Geitz, Bianca Chatfield of the 2014 ANZ Championship-winning Melbourne Vixens, 2011 world champs hero Caitlin Bassett and Julie Corletto among the standouts. Prepare, with polite caution, for one hell of a party if this goes according to plan.
LauraGeitz,arguably theworld'sbest defensivestopper.