Fast5 continues to capture the netball public’s imagination. What makes the tournament so special?
It’s a great opportunity for Australia to see not only our up and coming talent perform on the international stage, but it’s actually a tournament where we get introduced to their character, and I think that’s huge. The Fast5 is just a phenomenal tournament that allows the players to come in and play some serious netball but enjoy themselves at the same time. When that happens, that’s when character shines and that’s what Fast5 is all about.
Are teams now approaching Fast5 differently from a tactical and strategic perspective? What do you think we’ll see from the six countries this year?
I think it’ll be a mix this year. In the first-year people went long because it was the first year, and last year they tightened up a bit and decided to play the short game. I think you’ll find a balance this year in terms of teams working out the best way to go about their own business.
Fast5 is an interesting skill, and I don’t know if Australia have nailed it just yet. It’s a ‘fast food’ tournament, in that it’s entertainment and fans are coming to see talented netballers have a lot of fun. I think it’s a tournament where players have to learn that balance. For me, England knocked it out of the ballpark in 2017. In winning the tournament, from the minute they arrived until they minute they held the trophy at the end it was business when it was business, but it was character and fun around that, and I reckon they smashed it. We’re a proud country, but I’d love to see our Aussie side come in and embrace the fun factor as well and learn to be able to switch on and off. I think that’s the challenge of Fast5 and so far, it’s the teams that have been able to embrace that challenge that have won.
The best thing about the game is the rolling substitutions. I love the fact that players can just roll and off the court and readily as they do. And it keeps the intensity right up. For me, I would love to see that rule brought across into Suncorp Super Netball.
England are the defending champions, but who do you see as the team to beat?
I think Jamaica is the team to beat this year. In terms of experience they’ll come in with the most experienced line. New Zealand, England, Australia and South Africa have all gone for their emerging talent, with splatters of their national squad players. Malawi will always shine but without Kumwenda as their go-to up front, that will be tougher for them. Jamaica come in and they’re pretty solid across the court, and I think they’re the ones to beat.
Australia’s focus for the Fast5 World Series has always centred on giving our emerging talent an opportunity to shine. How important is the tournament for Australia’s young players to put themselves on the map?
It’s a huge opportunity. The international calendar is so massive that it’s got to the point where through the selection process, they have to take that into consideration. With such a jam-packed international program, and particularly driving into a World Cup year, Fast5 becomes an absolutely brilliant opportunity for those peripheral players to get their opportunity. But I don’t think any of those players take it lightly – it’s still an opportunity to represent Australia, which comes with a huge honour.
A number of Australian players will be wearing the green and gold for the first time. Who are you most looking forward to seeing?
For me, I think Fast5 suits Verity Charles to a tee. She’s a player who just plays with freedom and a little bit of flair, which is really suited to Fast5 because there’s more space on the court, and she’s a great little character. I’m a big fan of Matilda Garrett and Kim Jenner as well. With Sam Poolman at the back I think we’ve got a great little defensive unit. The challenge for Australia is how our shooting circle goes. There’s so much pressure that goes on the front end of the court in Fast5 with that expectation of dropping the big bombs. For Kiera Austin it’s her first time on the international stage, and Kayla Stanton returns for her second year. I don’t know if Sophie Garbin is a long bomber but she’s certainly accurate. I think it’ll be intriguing to see how that front-end mixes.