At 4:59pm on Thursday, June 2, Super Netball announced that they had sold the 2022 grand final to Perth with just two rounds of…
Day 3 dawned and every person in Sydney headed for Olympic Park to see Australia play New Zealand for approximately the 774th time in the past two years.
Weirdly enough, some other games had also been scheduled for the day, which seemed an odd thing to do. Almost like all these other countries were here to play a World Cup or something.
The crowd humoured them by watching them play and even threw a few cheers their way, just to make it seem like they were invested in the results. Just in case it matters, Wales got in a big win over Zambia to secure their spot in the top eight, Trinidad and Tobago held out Barbados to win 55 -39, Malawai recorded another big win – this time over Singapore – and The Team Who Shall Not Be Named beat Samoa or something I guess.
But amidst all this was the main event of the day – an almost totally meaningless game between two nations who know each other so well that they’re always finishing each other’s… sandwiches. Competing, in front of a world record crowd of 16,233, for the very important honour of being in Pool E instead of Pool F for the next round and having a completely equal chance of qualifying for semi-finals.
To begin with, it looked as if the Diamonds had found the ‘off’ switch on Silver Ferns goal attack Maria Tutaia, as she looked shaky on the shot and her long bombs weren’t falling. But just to keep things interesting, the Australians decided not take advantage of all those turnovers and instead all run into the same space, look confused and throw the ball away. It was an odd choice to say the least, but the crowd was confident there was a method to their madness, even as they went to the break down by three.
Coach Lisa Alexander angered the gods by benching Sharni Layton at quarter time and replacing her with Julie Corletto. To punish her for her insubordination, the gods restored Tutaia’s powers and New Zealand started to pull further ahead. Kim Green started to get frustrated with Kayla Cullen’s constant attention and was all like “Why are you so obsessed with me Kayla?”
Both teams were as loose and scrappy as an unbound scrapbook in the wind, with lots of offside, dropped balls and wild passes. There would have been even more turnovers, but both umpires were operating in an alternate universe, where there was no such thing as the “stepping” or “held ball” rules. With both teams playing equally badly, the three-goal gap remained at the half time break.
After spending the entire second quarter convincing Alexander that she was “allergic to the bench” and drawing a fake rash all over herself, Layton was allowed back on court with Corletto shifting out to wing defence. But it was too late to appease the gods and things just seemed to be falling into place for New Zealand, with the only likely explanation being that they all replaced their hands with metallic robot hands in the break and snuck a giant magnet into the ball.
Either that or black magic, but it was definitely one of those things.
Bailey ‘Springbok on Speed’ Mes was running rings around Geitz – and I mean that in the most literal sense – she just ran circles around her for the whole game to try to make her dizzy and distract her from stopping Tutaia from shooting. An unorthodox tactic, sure, but it seemed to work.
With the Ferns’ lead stretching out to seven, goal attack Natalie Medhurst pretended to be injured and called a time out so the physio could poke at her shoulder and act like she was treating her for something. Her pretending was so good that Alexander took her off the court and brought Erin Bell on in her place.
The Australians just continued to get more and more hesitant and stifled in attack. At one stage, they completely gave up on playing netball and switched to a game of ‘Stuck in the Mud’. Frustrated, Layton was forced to run around and crawl through the legs of each one of her teammates in order to convince them to start running again.
Tutaia took advantage of all this horseplay and the umpires’ alternate universe, by taking a seven second shot, cackling maniacally the whole time. New Zealand took a six-goal lead into the final break, which seemed like a rather silly thing to do, considering it’s Australia’s particular specialty to chase down six goal leads in the final quarter of World Cup matches against New Zealand. Advantage Australia.
Paige Hadley was introduced to the game at wing attack for the final quarter and it looked like the move might pay off, as she played with such boundless energy it was as if she was a 22-year-old elite netballer who had trained specifically for this moment. Australia drew within three goals and forced New Zealand to pretend to have an injury with eight minutes left on the clock.
During the injury time, the Diamonds’ defenders spoke about taking great intercepts and putting intense pressure on every pass, while the attackers spoke about taking the ball won by the defenders and throwing the most ridiculous passes possible. To their credit, they enacted this strategy to perfection on the return from the short break, but the viability of said strategy is still up for debate, with New Zealand stretching out their lead and taking the game 52-47.
So now it’s time for a rest day for the Diamonds, where they will all sit on the naughty step and think about what they’ve done. Apparently some other games will happen during this time, but surely that must be a mistake. The Diamonds must move on and hope against hope that employing Shane Warne’s ‘lose to win’ strategy will pay off in the end.