It’s been a long four years for the Australian Diamonds, waiting and biding their time for another shot at Commonwealth Games gold.
Every SSN season, every test, every look at the green and gold combinations has been with one goal in mind: avenging silver in Gold Coast.
Australia showed that it was ahead of the world’s best at the Quad Series. The English Roses pushed the Diamonds to their limit, but the quality all across the court prevailed.
It turned out the host nation was the least of their worries. Jamaica emerged as the team to beat, going undefeated in the group stages, and defeating Australia to claw to the top of Group A with a monstrous final quarter.
Disposing of New Zealand with a thoroughly convincing 16 goal domination, the stage was set.
Every Australian netball fan has grown to fear the holding dominance of Jhaniele Fowler, the best shooter in the world. This season, the Thunderbirds’ defensive end of Shamera Sterling and Latanya Wilson have started to build a reputation of their own in the opposite circle.
When Fowler turned it on late in the first quarter of the gold medal match to bring the margin back to just two goals, those nightmares were nearly turned into reality.
Gretel Bueta’s 100 per cent shooting made sure the Diamonds made the most of every opportunity going down the other end however, despite having the Sunshine Girls’ duo on her tail every step of the way.
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Jo Weston and Courtney Bruce had the early job in the defensive circle, before coach Stacey Marinkovich looked to shift up the defensive end, bringing Sarah Klau in. One could have forgiven the coach for being unwilling to make the change so early – a late defensive change in the group stage match didn’t prove fruitful.
It nearly looked to go wrong again – the Sunshine Girls had a game-high scoring quarter in the second, feeding Fowler and Shanice Beckford for a massive 17 goals.
But keeping faith in the combination of Klau and Bruce, with the ever hard-working Ash Brazill out in front, the Diamonds held firm, with a 10-16 third term.
There weren’t many gains to be had in this match with the quality of passing across the court, but the three still combined for 11 deflections.
It was instead the attacking end that saw a shift – Bueta moved to goal attack, while Cara Koenen took on the goal shooter bib.
Bueta was allowed to use her natural athleticism to move up the court as she pleased, taking 13 centre pass receives and keeping Jodi-Ann Ward busy with both her and Liz Watson to worry about.
Despite heading into the final quarter with a six goal lead, there was no comfort in the Diamonds after Jamiaca’s comeback in the group stages.
An early gain from Nicole Dixon-Rochester had hearts in mouths, as the Sunshine Girls made an early statement. Unable to score, Sterling was in no desire to let the Diamonds back under the post.Embed from Getty Images
Back to four goals, the Diamonds desperately needed a hero. Watson and Kate Moloney couldn’t find their goalers in the circle, and the Sunshine Girls won the ball back. Three goals.
Koenen found her space under the post, keeping the gold alive. The goalers looked to draw Sterling out of the circle and isolate Wilson, which proved to work wonders.
Moloney and Bruce combined defensively, taking another gain, and suddenly the Diamonds found their speed again. Gold was theirs.
There were too many fairytale stories to count. Paige Hadley was tragically limited to the bench in her Commonwealth Games debut. Kiera Austin and Watson had both only just returned to international netball after an ACL tear and season-ending foot injury respectively.
Ash Brazill, after years of Diamonds heartbreak, finally had a gold medal wrapped around her neck.
For the silver medallists, they made history of their own. It was the first ever Commonwealth Games gold medal match for the Sunshine Girls, and their own emotion was clear as day.Embed from Getty Images
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