Australia’s preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games officially begin next week when selectors name the Diamonds squad for the upcoming International Test series.
The Diamonds have seven Tests against arch rivals New Zealand and the up-and-coming Malawi Queens in September and October with both series important part of Australia’s campaign to reclaim the gold medal off the Silver Ferns in Glasgow next July.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander said Sunday’s ANZ Championship Grand Final being played in Adelaide will be the final chance for players to push their case for selection in the squad, which is set to be announced next Thursday.
The showdown between the Adelaide Thunderbirds and Queensland Firebirds for the 2013 ANZ Championship title will feature nine current Diamonds squad members, including one of the key match-ups of the Grand Final between Natalie von Bertouch and rising star Kim Ravaillion.
From the Thunderbirds there will be captain Natalie von Bertouch, Erin Bell, Renae Hallinan, Rebecca Bulley and Sharni Layton.
The Firebirds’ Diamonds is captain Laura Geitz, Natalie Medhurst, Chelsea Pitman and young gun Kim Ravaillion.
“We haven’t confirmed the Australian Diamonds squad yet because we want to give our athletes every opportunity to perform and impress on the biggest domestic stage,” Alexander said.
“It is one of the toughest selections given the talent on offer this year and the significant events coming up so as a part of our squad deliberations we want to see how some athletes perform under the pressure of a Grand Final.”
Once selected, the Diamonds squad will gather at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in a fortnight for their selection camp.
Alexander and her selectors Jill McIntosh and Anne Sergeant have travelled to all corners of mainland Australia this season to scout potential squad members and said there’s plenty of competition for spots – especially in the shooters.
“The fact that Australia had the top three teams at the end of the (ANZ Championship) season has ensured there is hot competition for places in the new Diamonds squad,” Alexander said.
“This is the ideal situation for the National Selectors and will make our decisions extremely difficult. It is pleasing to see the lift in performances in both the GS and GA positions.
“The shooters have been working hard at putting more variety into their games and complete their defensive role for the team. These two aspects have been noted and are most pleasing.”
Australia’s International season begins with two matches in New Zealand, at Invercargill (September 15) and Auckland (September 19) before returning home for Tests in Adelaide (October 4), Melbourne (October 7) and Canberra (October 13).
The two Tests against Malawi will be played in Wollongong (October 16) and the Gold Coast (October 19).
“The importance of this Constellation Cup series (against New Zealand) cannot be overstated,” Alexander said.
“It is a critical piece of our preparation for Glasgow and will ensure our combinations and tactics are as drilled as possible and that we have the resilience as a group to take on all challenges.
“We also can’t wait to play the Malawi Queens. It is going to be a netball feast for the fans seeing the two styles going head-to-head. There is a beauty to their game that will satisfy all-comers and their flair and intensity will be difficult to contain.”