Top of the tables: Who are the top international defensive prospects?
WITH the three major netball competitions – Suncorp Super Netball (SSN), ANZ Premiership and Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) – done and dusted for the year, it is time to delve into the top prospects from around the grounds. In our next edition, Draft Central will look into the most threatening defenders from the three major competitions and who will be the top options to take the starting bibs across a range of nations.
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Note: All three competitions played a different number of games, meaning goals scored and match averages are not comparable across varying leagues
* Missing from upcoming international series’ due to pregnancy, injury or leave
Likely starters: Jo Weston, Courtney Bruce
Depth: Sarah Klau, Maddy Turner, Kim Jenner, Sunday Aryang
The Australian defensive end is highly exciting, with little doubt in who will receive the starting positions. Realistically, Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce are locks for goal defence and goal keeper respectively, but things get interesting looking at the rest of the group selected, with some slight depth in Sarah Klau and Maddy Turner but otherwise very inexperienced. Both Kim Jenner and Sunday Aryang bring definite flair while Klau brings consistency and patience, but it is worth noting that Klau only has 13 caps to her name with Turner only boasting one and neither Jenner nor Aryang making their debut just yet. Ultimately, this depth – or a lack thereof on the international stage – heaps back quite a lot of pressure on Weston and Bruce. That being said, Australia has weathered much of the storm of its defensive turnover in the last few years with the newcomers seemingly coming in at the perfect time, with especially Jenner and Aryang able to step up to the plate with plenty of support behind them.
On the stats sheet, Bruce leads the charge in goal keeper with 97 deflections, 49 intercepts and 26 rebounds while Klau is not far behind with 82 deflections, 35 intercepts and 23 rebounds. Turner is the only other Diamonds circle defender to register within the top five for any stats, adding 18 rebounds to the Swifts’ tally behind Klau, while Aryang, Weston and Jenner all proved to be much more niggling defenders than the stats-getters, with long arms over pressure.
Likely starters: Karin Burger, Sulu Fitzpatrick
Depth: Kelly Jury
In a significant contrast to Australia’s list of defenders, the Ferns only have four on their list and two clear starters with Jane Watson missing the intended upcoming tests against Australia and England with a foot injury. That being said, Karin Burger has played very little time in goal defence for the Ferns and has only really come into circle contention this season, making the combination of Burger and Sulu Fitzpatrick one to watch indeed. There is no doubting the consistency and firepower both Burger and Fitzpatrick brought to their respective sides during the 2021 ANZ Premiership season, able to continuously win ball back for their sides while Burger and Watson continuously grew as a combination making the duo something to look forward to once Watson returns. Kelly Jury adds a small element of versatility, adapting her goal keeper arsenal this season to include goal defence and should slot in fairly nicely with the Ferns’ long arm brigade.
It is safe to say that Burger had a champion year in the ANZ Premiership, registering within the top two for intercepts (48), deflections (69) and rebounds (27), with Fitzpatrick leading the rebounds count with 30 and Watson leading the deflections with 78. Both Fitzpatrick and Jury finished off the season with 21 intercepts apiece while both also registered upwards of 50 deflections, proving just how good the Ferns defenders have been this season.
Likely starters: Geva Mentor, Layla Guscoth
Depth: Fran Williams, Vicki Oyesola, Stacey Francis-Bayman
England has a very interesting list, with undeniable experience in Geva Mentor surrounded by some big names with not a heap of international minutes. Mentor’s leadership from the back significant, while Layla Guscoth is the other likely starter with her explosiveness and evasive movement to find turnover ball with ease. The depth is where it gets tricky for the Roses, with Stacey Francis-Bayman the second most capped after Mentor, but the least recent experience of the group with Fran Williams (16 caps) and Vicki Oyesola (six caps) moving up the ranks. The other interesting part of England’s list is that it almost entirely revolves around Mentor in goal keeper, with all four other selections predominantly goal defence/wing defence sorts. While this structure works fine, it really relies on Mentor being in form and uninjured, putting more pressure on the veteran.
Both Mentor and Francis-Bayman played significant roles in the SSN this season, despite not tracking on the top five in any major stats and instead using their netball nous to impact. Mentor finished with 69 deflections and 11 intercepts from her 13 games, while Francis-Bayman played out most of her limited court time in wing defence, earning 33 deflections and 10 intercepts for her troubles. In the VNSL, Guscoth starred with 78 deflections, 45 intercepts and 95 turnovers to her name, while Oyesola registered in the top five for deflections with 64.
Likely starters: Karla Pretorius, Phumza Maweni
Depth: Boitumelo Mahloko, Simone Rabie
South Africa is in some what of a similar position to Australia here, with a wealth of experience in its clear starting defenders in Karla Pretorius and Phumza Maweni, but very little international experience – that is, none at all – backing them up. That being said, Pretorius and Maweni have very rarely needed that backup in the past, commanding the space and combining seamlessly to block attacking forays. The South African duo know each other’s game like the back of their hand and bring a certain element of composure to the SPAR Proteas side, able to consistently get the job done and use their respective strengths to hold strong down back. The squad’s two newcomers in Boitumelo Mahloko and Simone Rabie are ultimately unlikely to get court time in upcoming events with the likes of Pretorius and Maweni leading the charge, but will gain undeniable experience from the two South Africans who spend majority of their years in Australia.
While Pretorius and Maweni did not have the greatest season, there is no denying they put doubt into attackers minds with their constant hunt and ability to star at any given moment. Pretorius racked up 50 deflections and 33 intercepts throughout the SSN season, while Maweni accompanied her well with 45 deflections and 23 intercepts across all 15 games, impacting both on and off the ball. Mahloko and Rabie both play in the Telkom Netball League in South Africa, and as such do not have stats available.
Likely starters: Jodi-Ann Ward, Shamera Sterling
Depth: Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Malysha Kelly, Latanya Wilson, Paula Ann Burton
When it comes to Jamaica, they just seem to be getting better and better each international event. Whilst being somewhat unreliable in the past, there is no denying the improvement of Jodi-Ann Ward this year, especially when paired with the likes of Shamera Sterling. That combination is a scary one to think of given both players’ explosiveness and ability to win games off their own backs, making the Suncorp Super Netball duo the clear favourites to take the starting bibs. Malysha Kelly and Kadie-Ann Dehaney would likely be next in line, with Kelly in particular adding a heap of experience and leadership with the past captain still more than capable of starring out on court and a good chop out for Ward if the Sunshine Girls need her in wing defence. Dehaney has decidedly less experience but the capacity to be an impact player, while Latanya Wilson and Paula Ann Burton round out the squad, with two of the newest editions to the international game looking to showcase their wares.
Ward was one of the breakout stars in the SSN this season, racking up 83 deflections, 34 intercepts and 17 rebounds in the process, and registering within the top five for two. Sterling led Ward in the deflections department with 86 to her name while also topping the SSN intercepts tally overall with 49 to go with her 25 rebounds. Wilson had limited minutes throughout her first season in SSN, with 17 deflections and nine intercepts to her name while Dehaney had another impressive season as an impact player for the Vixens, registering 42 deflections, 16 intercepts and 11 rebounds.
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