Liz Ellis the winner: Australian athlete of the year

Spiro Zavos Columnist

By Spiro Zavos, Spiro Zavos is a Roar Expert

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    After the 2003 RWC tournament I was on a panel at the Union Club with David Kirk, the captain of the 1987 Cup-winning All Blacks and now CEO of Fairfax Media, and Liz Ellis, then the captain of the Australian netball side. Ellis, a leggy lawyer, had bombed on a World Cup panel with John Eales on Channel 7. She didn’t know as much about rugby as Kirk or myself (I think?). But she dominated the panel discussion by sheer force of personality and a determination to be the leader and winner on the panel.

    I’ve always looked at her performances playing netball for Australia with this image of a ruthless, relentless, skilful and passionate winner, Ellis the winner, in my mind.

    Liz Ellis retires on top

    And this is how she played in the final of the World Netball Championship at Auckland against New Zealand on Saturday. While Australia was having all sorts of trouble scoring goals Ellis and Mo’onoia Gerrard (Mark Gerrard’s sister, or better, Mark Gerrard is her brother) closed down the awesome New Zealand shooting attack of the South African-born Irene van Dyk.

    Keeping NZ to a miserable 38 points was the winning of the game. Like most world championships in most sports it was defence that won the day for the Australians. Leading the defence was Liz Ellis, all arms and elbows, jumping, interfering, taking fearsome body checks, chasing down every ball, never giving up, never getting out of the face of her opponents, and never conceding a centimetre of territory without creating difficulties.

    Liz Ellis in the final of the Netball World Championships - AP Photo/NZPA, Wayne Drought

    All this from a player who two years earlier, on the same court, had smashed her knee to pieces. While Ellis was out of the game NZ began a two-year ascendancy that was finally overcome at Auckland on Saturday night. In the end it was a rebound by Ellis that sealed the outstanding victory from one of Australia’s great teams.

    It was fitting that Ellis, 34, emerged from the final as the player of the tournament. For her ability to literally rise to the occasion against great players who are taller than her, a considerable disadvantage in netball, makes her my nomination for Australian athlete of the year.

    Liz Ellis the winner, one of the great athletes in the history of Australian sport.

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (17)

    • November 19th 2007 @ 7:46am
      Reg said | November 19th 2007 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      Agreed. Perhaps if the Australian Netball Team are to look for a nickname (ala the Walllabies, the Opals, the Hockeyroos), they should consider calling themselves the Lizzies!

    • November 19th 2007 @ 9:55am
      Terry Kidd said | November 19th 2007 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      Great article Spiro and I also agree. Liz Ellis has been a stand out performer in Australian and world netball for a long time. She will be remembered for ever as one of the greatest players of netball ever produced by any country and she deserves every accolade that may come her way. Australian Athlete of the Year would be a fitting addition to her trophy cabinet.

    • November 19th 2007 @ 10:35am
      BPM said | November 19th 2007 @ 10:35am | ! Report

      Some good points raised Spiro, Ellis is a netballing great but my money would be on either Casey Stoner or Mick Fanning winning this title.

    • Columnist

      November 19th 2007 @ 2:59pm
      Spiro Zavos said | November 19th 2007 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

      I’ve always had reservations about the points scoring system of netball, which moves ahead, like football, one point at a time. When a team gets ahead by, say, three or four points with a minute or so to play they shouldn’t really lose the game. This takes some of the intensity out of the contest.
      There should be, I believe, a netball equivalent of the basketball three-point line, say a two-point line. It might be that the scoring system of basketball, with its three, two and one-point options is the way to go. How to go about this is beyond my technical expertise to work out.
      I like watching Australia-NZ netball clashes. In many ways they are female versions of the Bledisloe tests with bodies flying everywhere (albeit better looking bodies), tight contests, passionate players and parochial spectators.
      Liz Ellis probably won’t win the Athlete of the Year award but if there was a People’s Choice she would be a strong candidate. For me she has represented the very best in an Australian athlete: skilful, determined, never-quitting, tough, uncompromising, good humoured (after the contest), humble, colourful – and a winner.

    • November 19th 2007 @ 3:31pm
      Harry said | November 19th 2007 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

      Excellent article Spiro and congratulations to Liz Ellis on the weekend win and a magnificent career. She deserves Australian athlete of the year, no doubt at all.

      I hope Mark Gerard takes inspiration from his sister’s performance. A talented player, I hope we have yet to see the best of him – he was great in 2004, and has fallen away since then. There is still time.

    • November 19th 2007 @ 4:57pm
      onside said | November 19th 2007 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

      I have read reports stating netball is one of the largest, if not the largest ,particpation sports in Australia,
      having a huge number of registered players. The game has several advantages, it is inexpensive to play
      requiring ,a ‘court’,often bitumen,and two poles with metal loops attached,not even a backboard. The game
      is played by very young girls right through to mature age women.Competitions are often centralised
      minimising travelling time ,because it is possible to have ,ten,twenty ,forty, or whatever number of courts
      in one location .Therefore many teams can participate at the same time. Not quite so well known to non
      enthusiasts is netball has one of the highest instances of injury ,of any sport in the country. Netball is
      hell on a players lower legs.The stop start nature of the game causes many fractures ,and bone damage.

      I totally agree, Liz Ellis is Australian Athlete of the year. Just imagine how much wealthier she would be if
      her drive and skill had instead been applied to international basketball.

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