Australia have won ten of the 13 netball world championships, three of the five gold Medals awarded at the Commonwealth Games and dominate the game of netball. In the upcoming netball World Championships they come in as the raging and rightful favourites, selecting a very strong side that has depth in all areas.
However when delving a bit deeper there is a couple of selections that raise some eyebrows and will place the coaching staff under the spotlight should the team not win the tournament.
The omission of Sydney Swifts goal attack Susan Pettitt is a shock - if you don't believe me, ask former Diamonds captain and the most capped player in Australian netball history Liz Ellis. A doyen of the sport, Ellis questioned the choice of Erin Bell ahead of Pettitt here.
Leaving Pettitt out for Bell seems a baffling decision based on performance and statistics. Pettitt led all goal attacks in goals scored and shooting percentage in the recently-completed ANZ Championship season, shooting 87.8% to Bell's 78.0%. Bell's shooting accuracy ranked her as the second-worst regular goal attack amongst the Australian teams in the league, ranking ahead of only the inconsistent and erratic Gretel Tippett. Some are reporting that Bell's flexibility in being able to play wing attack counts in her favour; in a sport where specialists are dominant and this is the elite level, that seems a hard pill to swallow.
When you factor in the goal-circle chemistry Pettitt has with NSW Swifts team mate and Diamonds goal shooter Caitlin Thwaites, the reasons for leaving her out seem more and more confounding. The non-selection of Pettitt does not bode well for Thwaites, as fellow goal shooter Caitlin Bassett looks likely to pair with club team mate Nat Medhurst in the attacking circle.
Head to the other end of the court and we find a selection just as intriguing. Rebecca Bulley has represented her country on numerous occasions in the past decade but this season found herself a spectator on the Queensland Firebirds bench. Bulley did not start one game and played in just 11 of 17 games as the backup goal defence to Claire McMeniman. The selection of a reserve ahead of her club mate who plays ahead of her, in the same position, in a championship-winning season is baffling. Having not played enough to prove herself during the season, the coaching staff seem to be gambling on Bulley's experience and not performance.
The other three players in the squad likely to populate the defensive circle are captain Laura Geitz, Julie Corletto and Sharni Layton. Geitz and Corletto are two of the more experienced defenders in the world and the two most capped Diamonds players while Layton led the ANZ Championship in intercepts, deflections and defensive rebounds. These three provide skill, stability and versatility while Bulley will be relying on experience and playing from memory.
In reality there are only two teams that can match the Diamonds. Traditional rivals New Zealand look reasonably strong all over the court but lack the depth of the Diamonds. Proof of the gap between the two can be seen in the disparity in quality between the New Zealand and Australian conferences in the ANZ Championship. England have elite top-end talent in Jo Harten, Serena Guthrie and Geva Mentor but quickly fall away after that. Malawi, Jamaica and South Africa figure to offer nuisance value and play with flair, and will fight for a semi-final spot. But they are highly unlikely to compete at the pointy end of the tournament and the race for finals sports seems a race in three.
The hectic format of the tournament will see teams potentially play eight games in 10 days so depth across all lines is critical and figures to be a strength for the Diamonds. Australia rightly start this tournament as hot favourites with the home court advantage and their dominance of the sport on the world stage.
They would expect to win but one would think there is cause for concern if Bell and Bulley are relied upon to play critical roles. As a country we will hold our breath, cross our fingers and hope that these selections don't come back to haunt us.