Netball: The good, the sad and the smugly

By Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen runs her rule over the international netball season (or most of it*).

Casey Williams (left) battled injury during her year, and England's Pamela Cookey captained a team kept under-strength by England Netball's hardline attitude. Photo / Getty Images
Casey Williams (left) battled injury during her year, and England's Pamela Cookey captained a team kept under-strength by England Netball's hardline attitude. Photo / Getty Images

The good ...

Constellation Cup win

The Silver Ferns finally got their hands on the Constellation Cup, opening their season with two nail-biting wins over Australia. It had been eight years since the Silver Ferns had beaten Australia in a series. Then, Kayla Cullen was in intermediate, Laura Langman was tearing it up in the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and Irene van Dyk ... well she was pretty much doing what she's doing now.

They did it without their courageous captain

The loss of Casey Williams on the eve of the Constellation Cup was a huge blow for the team and for Williams. But there was a silver lining. Without their defensive warrior, new on-court leaders emerged. Katrina Grant was their defensive rock, Maria Tutaia had a blinder of a series and was sorely missed in the last test, while Langman assumed the captaincy and led from the front.

South Africa getting more exposure

While the Proteas have copped some heavy losses over the Quad Series, their involvement has been a positive for international netball. With limited exposure against top-tier nations, South Africa have found the going tough, but they need these opportunities if they are going to improve on their world ranking of sixth.

The sad ...

England netball shunning their stars

So long as New Zealand and Australia maintain their duopoly in world netball, the international game will struggle for credibility, which makes England Netball's refusal to select their top stars for the Quad Series maddening. Despite returning home to the UK for a selection camp, Geva Mentor was left out of the England team as she could not commit to the home series against Jamaica, while Sonia Mkoloma and Jade Clarke made themselves unavailable when they were told of EN's all-or-nothing policy.

England had been making steady gains on the top two nations in recent seasons and had a chance to add some spice to the series by sending their strongest line-up. Instead they have copped double-figure batterings in every game.

Bailey Mes

You had to feel sorry for Bailey Mes. Her rapid elevation in to the Silver Ferns line-up after 15 minutes of transtasman league netball led to a lot of scepticism, and as a result, her test debut was more closely scrutinised than most. That put a lot of pressure on a player who had barely experienced the intensity of the ANZ Championship. Mes has struggled in her few appearances and with an influx of midcourters expected back next year, we may see no more of her on the international scene.

Williams' struggles

Casey Williams was sidelined for the 2011 end-of-year tests as she recovered from ankle surgery, so it was sad to see her international return put on hold after a knee injury on the eve of the Constellation Cup. Then the super-competitive defender struggled for form and confidence early on in her return to the court. Frustration that her connections and timing weren't coming back as quickly as she'd hoped led to Williams' confidence hitting rock bottom after a quiet outing against England in Newcastle. As the Quad Series wore on, Williams found her spark again, but her injury problems have led to fears that the athletic defender may follow the same path as one of New Zealand's other great defenders, Bernice Mene, in retiring from the game early because of a knee condition.

The smugly ...

Take a moment

Australian coach Lisa Alexander is known for her new-age, alternative style. The yoga guru has been described by her players as "unorthodox" and "emotional", while Natalie von Bertouch once jokingly called her a hippie. Like a proud mum, Alexander will often gush about the character and talent in her team. But her emotion got the better of her after Australia's record win over the Silver Ferns in Sydney two weeks ago. Alexander was late attending the media conference as she said she needed to take a couple of minutes to sit and reflect on the "incredibly special" performance of her team and let it all wash over her. Pass the sick bag.

* This piece was written before last night's final test of the season in Hamilton.

- NZ Herald

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