Rookie netballer Donnell Wallam is only going to get better after her match-winning heroics on debut in Newcastle, coach Stacey Marinkovich has warned.
Wallam was able to put aside weeks of controversy surrounding Netball Australia’s botched $15 million Hancock Prospecting sponsorship deal and make her international debut.
It’s been a stunning rise for the young goal shooter who just nine months ago was not even on a Super Netball list.
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On Wednesday night, Wallam came on in the final quarter of the First Test against England and produced a moment for history – sealing the win with a stunning lay up as the seconds evaporated.
But it was the way Wallam stood tall from the moment she was introduced on court that impressed both Marinkovich and Diamonds captain Paige Hadley.
“It’s so special and I think it goes to show how good this squad is together and how connected we are. I think you saw the reaction of the girls at the end – for Nelly to even have that confidence to go out there and do that, it’s obviously those around her building that up,” Hadley said post-match.
“I think it was epic for a young kid to come on and debut and take that shot – (there’s) nothing like it. I’ve never seen it.
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“As soon as she ran on, I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ (as the crowd erupted). Then I saw her come on. She really demanded it from that first ball.
“You saw the emotion.
“It’s just the belief and the confidence that everyone in this group has for each other – no matter what’s going on, we’ve got each other’s back.
“She got out there, and she saw that post wide open and she went for it.
“I don’t think I’ve ever really seen her do it at training!”
Marinkovich said she first noticed Wallam when the rookie took part in a mixed team training session against the West Coast Fever.
Wallam headed to England in 2021 to gain more experience before opting to return home after one season with the Leeds Rhinos under current Fever coach Dan Ryan.
Her chance at the top level came in February when it was revealed Queensland Firebirds goal shooter Romelda Aiken-George was pregnant – with Wallam subsequently named as her replacement.
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She did enough to not only earn a full-time contract for 2023, but to make the national squad.
“For someone to be able to come on and debut and grab a moment, she certainly set the stadium alight,” Marinkovich praised.
“Nell hasn’t been out there (in an international match) – she loves a challenge and she loves a moment. She’s been building towards this.
“She hasn’t been involved in a high performance environment too long so there’s things on and off the court she’s still evolving, but I think it’s pretty exciting to see what she was able to do and there’s a lot more growth to be had.”
Marinkovich said despite the “outside noise” surrounding Wallam and the dress debacle – which continues to make headlines across the nation – the debutant has been supported by her teammates from day one.
“To be honest, our Diamonds reach is pretty far,” she said.
“She lives with Gabi Simpson, an ex-Diamonds player and a very close friend who still contributes to our group. Gretel (Bueta) has been by her side as well – there’s been current and past players rally around her – ones that truly understand our environment and the culture within it.
“I don’t think she’s been as isolated as what is envisaged … there’s actually been players with her working through and supporting her.”
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Wallam will now head to Sydney with her Diamonds teammates for the second Test against England on Sunday.
But whether or not she starts that match is a “headache” Marinkovich has to contend with.
“I’ve always got a headache,” she laughed.
“I get one just putting the team on the court at the moment – it’s a credit to the girls. The environment is competitive but with the view of making this team better.”