Diamonds to give young talent chance to shine

The 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast may still be a couple of years away, but January’s tour of England shapes as an important one for the long-term future of the Australian Diamonds.

Australia may be the undisputed world number one netball nation after winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and defending its Netball World Cup crown in Sydney this year, but coach Lisa Alexander and her staff are not resting on their laurels.

The three-Test series against England on English soil is an opportunity for some of Australia’s emerging young talent to push their case to be integral parts of the Diamonds’ next four-year cycle.

In the past two years the Diamonds have bid farewell to stalwarts Bianca Chatfield, Julie Corletto, Rebecca Bulley and Kimberlee Green that all contributed to Australia’s recent triumphs.

But the young talent queueing up to replace them in the green and gold is impressive.

Five players in the squad of 12 heading to England are aged 25 and under – the recently-married April Brandley (nee Letton), Gabi Simpson, pictured right, Jo Weston, Gretel Tippett, pictured above, Paige Hadley and Liz Watson along with training partners Stephanie Wood and Kristiana Manu’a.

All will learn plenty training and playing alongside experienced stars in Natalie Medhurst, Renae Ingles, Caitlin Bassett and Sharni Layton.

That will also lead to more competitiveness for future places in Lisa Alexander’s line-up with the likes of Captain Laura Geitz and Kim Ravaillion, who are being rested from the England tour, Ashleigh Brazill, Erin Bell and Madi Robinson, who’s returning from a knee injury in 2016, also vying for spots.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games will be the first in Australia since the event was held in Melbourne in 2006 and the Diamonds will be eager to go one step better than the silver medal they won on that occasion.

In 2018 netball will also celebrate two decades of involvement in the Commonwealth Games, having officially appeared in the program for the first time in the 1998 event held in Malaysia.

The support of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association through the “Gold Coast Gold 2018” program will help Netball Australia continue to uncover stars of the future and achieve the target of back-to-back gold medals on home soil.

“The ACGA is pleased to be able to assist with the renewal of the team through our Gold Coast Gold 2018 funding. The $192,000 we have committed so far to Netball Australia is an important investment in the defence of the Commonwealth Games title,” ACGA CEO Craig Phillips said.

The 2017 Netball World Youth Cup, being played for the first time in Africa, will be another important step towards consolidating Australia’s position as the world’s best.

While Australia may have won silver at the last World Youth Cup in Glasgow in 2013, that team included Simpson, Tippett, Weston, Hadley and Ravaillion along with Courtney Bruce, Kate Shimmin and Madeleine Proud.