The Australian Diamonds punctuated a near-perfect calendar year in Brisbane last night with a 57-53 win in the third Test of a series against England.
Stacey Marinkovich’s side, which also won Commonwealth gold and the Constellation Cup in 2022, couldn’t have wished for a better lead-in to the World Cup in South Africa next year.
Here are the big talking points out of the final Test against the Roses.
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‘Thank God for Funmi’: Fadoju stars
From a 21-minute cameo in the first Test to a more substantial supporting role in the second, 20-year-old English defender Funmi Fadoju graduated to top billing in her side’s 57-53 loss in Brisbane last night, starring across 60 minutes.
Fadoju started the dead rubber at goal defence but moved back to keeper halfway through the first to replace veteran Geva Mentor, who was being well beaten by Diamonds shooter Donnell Wallam.
She remained at keeper, continually delivering opportunities for the Roses to reel in the margin.
Against Wallam and then Garbin in the second half, Fadoju recorded a staggering 17 deflections, four of which resulted in a gain and two rebounds, despite giving away 14cms to Wallam and 8cm to Garbin.
She had 10 gains – more than any other player in the three-Test series – four of which were intercepts.
Former English Rose and current Scotland head coach Tamsin Greenway put it simply post-game. “As a Rose, thank God for Funmi … else that could have been a blowout. The future is bright,” Greenway said.
Fellow pundit, Denise Evans, a freelance netball writer, said the Test was a “line in the sand” moment for Fadoju, who plays for the London Pulse in the elite UK league.
“With that performance, Funmi has made sure she is the first name on coach Jess Thirlby’s World Cup Roses squad list,” she said.
Asked about her prospects of being selected for the World Cup in Cape Town next year, Fadoju, who said she “loved every minute” of her first tour of Australia, was coy.
“I feel like it’s step-by-step. I’ve got to work and improve and see what else I can get better at, so we’ll see,” she said.
Her coach said she’d made a “great account of herself”.
“It’s shown us a lot about what she’s capable of. International minutes for her are already a bonus. It’s a shame really that she’s ‘out there’ now. Watch this space!” Thirlby said.
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Wallam ‘worthy’ of World Cup spot
In just her second game in green and gold, Donnell Wallam showed she is “worthy of a spot” in Stacey Marinkovich’s World Cup team, according to former Diamond Sharon Finnan-White.
Finnan-White, the second Indigenous Diamond and a mentor to Wallam, said the Kaniyan Noongar woman “did her job” in her 37 minutes on-court in Brisbane.
“She has shown she is worthy of a spot in the World Cup team. Her accuracy is phenomenal and the Diamonds need her strength and smarts,” Finnan-White said.
“The highlight for me is her composure under pressure and how she demands the ball as well as (her) 100 per cent accuracy in the first and second quarters. A coach can’t ask for more than that. She did her job.”
Wallam, who delivered the Diamonds victory in the first Test in Newcastle with a last-gasp lay-up after weeks of pressure over the Hancock Prospecting sponsorship deal and missed the second through illness, was close to best-on in a blistering first quarter.
She shot 15/15 in the opener; the best shooting of any shooter from either team across the series and finished with 25/26 at 96% accuracy.
“What a strong start! Donnell was a target under the post. She kept repositioning well to find space for the feed and pulled the ball in strong. And wow … 100% shooting,” Finnan-White said.
At the start of the second, Fadoju got the better of Wallam, Finnan-White said. “She seemed to be pushed off her mark and was leading too early for the lob, making it easier for Fadoju to get up for the high ball.
“Double defence also made it more difficult for Donnell to find space to hold. But she shot at 100% again, amazing! In the third, she was unstoppable one-on-one.”
Marinkovich’s moves prove masterful
Given she’d never won an elite trophy as a player or coach or played internationally, Stacey Marinkovich was a contentious choice for Diamonds coach.
When she got the job in 2020, many thought there were others better suited, but having won a Quad Series, Commonwealth Games gold, Constellation Cup and Test series against England in a calendar year, she’s more than proved her credentials.
Her ability to build a program and squad away from the court has delivered results on it, but her tactical nous is playing a key role too.
Former English Rose and current Scotland head coach Tamsin Greenway – who described the last night’s Test as one of “the most intriguing games” she’s seen between the sides – described Marinkovich’s coaching moves as impeccable.
“She was brave and decisive in a rollercoaster game, which is not easy to do. The timing and the impact of them were excellent,” Greenway said, referring to a raft of changes after half-time.
In the third, Marinkovich replaced Maddy Turner with Jo Weston at goal defence, Sophie Dwyer took the goal attack bib from Kiera Austin and Sophie Garbin went to shooter, replacing Donnell Wallam.
In the last, she moved Weston to wing defence, replacing Amy Parmenter, she shifted Courtney Bruce from keeper to goal defence, replacing her with Sarah Klau. She also gave Jamie-Lee Price the last at centre, sending Kate Moloney to the bench.
Marinkovich praised her charges post-game for their adaptability. “Obviously I did quite a few changes; that’s challenging on them,” she said.
Fit, firing Hadley leads with distinction
As she stood arm-in-arm with her Diamonds sisters before last night’s Test, series captain Paige Hadley’s face hinted at a sense of disbelief and deep pride that she was standing where she was.
Hadley, who missed much of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, including the gold medal match because of a calf injury, was named captain in the absence of Liz Watson in the series and she led her nation to three-straight victories, playing 60 minutes in all three.
The midcourter was also named best-on in the 57-53 win after recording 16 goal assists, 26 feeds, 18 with an attempt, and 19 centre pass receives.
She cycled through three direct opponents in Laura Malcolm, Jade Clarke and Imogen Allison, as the Roses’ brains trust searched for a way to stop her.
Her performance surely makes her a lock for next year’s World Cup, if she wasn’t already, alongside Watson in the middle.
The other midcourt slots will be contested by Jamie-Lee Price, Kate Moloney, Amy Parmenter, Ash Brazill and several circle defenders who can float to wing defence.
It’s just one selection dilemma of many for Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich, who has enviable depth to draw from.
“I have a bit of a headache already. That’s what we wanted to see. We wanted to see our depth. We want a healthy competition within the group. We pride (ourselves on our) training environment. So they’ve done their job and now I’ve gotta do mine,” Marinkovich said last night.
But Hadley doesn’t appear to be thinking too far ahead.
“I’m so happy to be out there. Comm Games was so hard personally, so to be back out playing with these girls is honestly a dream. I’m very grateful that I can be a part of it,” she said.
Hadley confirmed she’s back to full fitness. “The calf’s feeling really great. I think the body was feeling it in the first game especially, but the support staff did a great job and it’s good to be back out there injury-free,” she said.