If ever a city was to embrace the rapid-fire sporting spectacle that is the Fast5 Netball World Series, it was always going to be Melbourne.
With the third and final year having come to a close in Australia’s sporting capital on the weekend, the event has left an indelible mark on netball around the world.
From the moment the Aussie team stepped onto court in the first game at HisenseArena in 2016 and held off Malawi by a single goal, netball fans across Australia were hooked on the speed, flair and buzz that comes with what commentator Sue Gaudion calls “fast food netball”.
And we didn’t have to wait long for the food to arrive, with Malawi favourite Mwai Kumwenda scoring the tournament’s first six-pointer when she drained a long bomb against Australia in a third-quarter power play.
The results on day one couldn’t have been more exciting, with Jamaica trumping South Africa 35-32. England’s Jo Harten scored two six-pointers and a four-pointer in the final quarter against New Zealand to haul her team from 13 points down at three-quarter time and tie the scores inside the last minute. Only a Te Paea Selby-Rickit goal in the dying seconds saved the Fast5 Ferns, giving them a 36-35 victory.
But they couldn’t withstand the Aussies later in the day, as Erin Bell and Caitlin Thwaites went on a power play rampage in the final quarter to turn a 20-27 deficit into a 32-29 win.
The Kiwis would have their revenge, however, when they took on the undefeated Australians in the gold medal game. With the scores tied at 5-5 at quarter-time, the Ferns used their power play to devastating effect in the second quarter, scoring 18 points to six to put themselves in the box seat. Another two three-pointers to Maria Folau in the third quarter helped to extend the margin to 17 points, and the Australian pairing of Caitlin Thwaites and Susan Pettitt couldn’t make inroads with their final-quarter power play, failing to score a single point as New Zealand romped to a 41-16 win.
The 2017 tournament might have been the precursor to the emergence of a new order in world netball, with neither Australia or New Zealand featuring in the final of a major international competition for the first time in history.
The writing was on the wall on day one, when a third-quarter Helen Housby shooting spree carried England past New Zealand, before another upset 45 minutes later when Jamaica scraped past Australia in a 26-23 thriller.
The Jamaicans’ strategy of using Jhaniele Fowler to keep the scoreboard ticking over with one-pointers, punctuated by the occasional long-range attempt, paid dividends again when they toppled New Zealand on day two, before taking down England in one of the best performances ever seen in Fast5 netball. Trailing 12-26 at half-time, the Sunshine Girls poured in four six-pointers, a four-pointer and a two-pointer in a mind-blowing third-quarter power play, scoring 30 points for the quarter to turn a 14-point deficit into a 10-point lead and running out 47-38 victors.
It was a different story when the two teams faced off in the gold medal game, though the action was no less enthralling.
England rode Jo Harten’s hot hand to a 13-4 quarter-time advantage, but with Fowler on fire in the second term – scoring three two-pointers – the margin was just two at the long break. Jamaica’s power play in the third quarter allowed them to tie the scores at 24-24, but England, who saved their bonuses until the final term, needed only five two-pointers to seal the result.
This year’s competition didn’t disappoint. With most of the nations opting to play younger, more energetic players.
The tournament started off in electric fashion with Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica displaying solid performances in the early matches.
The real drama unfolded in match five of Saturday’s action, when Malawi shooter Joyce Mvula bagged a two-point goal right on the final buzzer to flatten the reigning champions England. It is was a moment that sparked the competition, and the crowd, to life and set a precedence for the rest of the weekend.
England continued to struggle throughout the competition, losing all three of their games on the Saturday to deny them any hope of regaining their Fast5 Netball World series title. In fact, if it wasn’t for a surprise win against Australia on Sunday – they would have failed to win any of their regular competition matches.
The home nation, Australia, were looking in good shape until that loss – which ended their hopes of a Grand Final appearance, despite smashing South Africa later in the day by 30 points. There were some moments of brilliance from the Australia team, especially from goaler Kaylia Stanton who bagged multiple crowd-pleasing long bombs. In the end, the home nation had to settle for a third-place finish after beating the weekend’s surprise package, Malawi, 38-15 in the second play-off match.
The Grand Final was a cracker from start to finish. New Zealand looked to be in prime position throughout, but Jamaica had their powerplay quarter in the 4th up their sleeve. . Shooter Romelda Aiken potted a two-point goal right at the death to get Jamaica back to within one, but it was too late and the title went to a deserving New Zealand. The netball heavyweight nation has dominated this style of netball and in the end were the deserving winners.