The new centurions: Former Fern and Diamond make fresh history at age 100

IN a relatively quiet netball week on the court, off the court a couple of former international talents hit an unsuspecting milestone – the big 100 – but in a very different way to how international talent usually become a centurion. No, for former New Zealand Silver Ferns captain Oonah Shannahan (nee Murray) and former Australian Diamond Wyn Hayward (nee McKenzie) it is a fresh milestone, reaching 100-years-old within a week of one another.

Looking at the netball journey of each newfound centurion shows how remarkably similar their journeys were, despite growing up in different countries and with different customs. Both were midcourters, typically playing in centre and wing attack for their respective nations, and played less than five matches apiece at the international level, with opportunities few and far between. The two played an abridged version of the netball we know now, which then was called women’s basketball, and also played against one another in the 1948 test series between Australia and New Zealand – only the second time the nations had met due to the outbreak of the second World War – after debuting the sport on the international stage in 1938.

The 1948 three match test series became the first of its kind, with the Australians – not to be dubbed Diamonds until 2008, 60 years down the track – sweeping the competition and winning three from three in front of an excited crowd on New Zealand soil in Dunedin in front of an unprecedented 2000-strong crowd.

Intriguingly, different nations played with different rules back then before the rules for international netball were standardised between 1957-1960. Some rules were minimal, such as strict uniforms, whilst a more significant difference saw New Zealand still play the game with nine players compared to Australia’s seven-player game which we see today. Some of those initial rules are almost unrecognisable from the way in which the game is played now; no hands over pressure to defend attempts at goal, a centre bounce instead of centre pass, with even the playing style between the two teams evident.

Even now, Australia tends to play with strong one handed passes, where New Zealand focuses on two handed passes, while it is clear that even back in 1948, Australia had already adopted the one-on-one defence we typically see today from the Diamonds in comparison to New Zealand’s zone style. Factor in the shooting style of both teams, which was from much lower than typically seen in netball nowadays – think Lenize Potgieter style compared to Cara Koenen or Ameliaranne Ekenasio – with long range shooting the focus using one hand, and deadeye accuracy and strength behind the attempts.

While it is important to remember the history of the sport and those who played those first international matches, it is also fascinating to see just how far it has come since then. Almost 83 years ago, neither Hayward or Shannahan could have known just how impressive the history between the two nations would become, leading the charge in international and domestic netball and continuing on that remarkable legacy.


Picture credit: Netball NZ

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