Helen Housby (England), Gina Crampton (New Zealand), Liz Watson (Australia), Bongi Msomi (South Africa)
It has been 1,092 days since the last quad series between England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – four of the best teams in the world.
Conversations about the competition with four teams were inevitably overshadowed by speculation about the preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
With all four countries battling for medals in Birmingham this summer, England will join eight other nations in defending the Commonwealth gold medal it won on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018.
The Roses have never won a quad series, though, although this one is less about winning and more about finding their best starting 7s, building some momentum and checking the opponents ahead of the main event in August.
So what’s up for the long-awaited netball series at the Copper Box Arena in London?
It’s been a long two years
Australia won the Quad Series back in January 2019 and became runner-up in 2019, but they haven’t played much in international netball competition since then.
The other three teams face the prospect of a new Diamonds outfit that has a new coach in Stacey Marinkovich – who replaced Lisa Alexander in 2020 – as well as a new captain in Liz Watson and some fresh faces.
The Diamonds, who have won four of the last five quad series, will miss the experience of shooter Caitlin Bassett due to injury, while Kiera Austin is also out, Gretel Bueta is returning from having a baby, and Watson himself is back from an ankle injury.
Familiar faces like Courtney Bruce – arguably the best goalkeeper in the world – and goal defender Jo Weston are likely to be key players for the Diamonds, but where many players don’t have a permanent position it will be difficult to know what to expect from the champions.
The New Zealand Silver Ferns team, which will play Australia in their opening game on Saturday, is very different from what won the 2019 World Cup.
And the roses will console themselves with having it Recently beaten the Silver Fernsbut it was the Ferns’ patience and discipline that prevented England from taking a clean step on the series.
The promising shooter Tiana Metuarau made a dream debut in the opening game of this series and this time she could cause further problems alongside experienced players Gina Crampton and Phoenix Karaka.
South Africa’s SPAR Proteas join this series as underdogs, with a new head coach in Dorette Badenhorst – who replaced Norma Plummer in 2019 – and the notable absence of Karla Pretorius, the tournament’s 2019 World Cup player.
But with the experienced minds Phumza Maweni and Izette Griezel as well as captain Bongi Msomi, the Proteas will be a tough nut to crack.
Not to mention that it was South Africa that upset the Roses in the last Quad series, there could be unfinished deals here if England seeks revenge.
Hard out, so who’s in?
Biggest news from the Roses camp since the roster was put together is that Jo Harten, one half of England’s prolific Gold-winning duo from the Commonwealth, will miss the show after testing positive for coronavirus.
The other half of that partnership, Helen Housby, played in 25 of England’s 28 quarters of the Gold Coast Games and scored the famous winning goal to take the gold medal against Australia.
A mix of youth and experience can be seen throughout the squad, but without harshness it falls to the less experienced shooters Ellie Cardwell, George Fisher and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis to take the opportunity to impress head coach Jess Thirlby and secure a coveted spot in the Birmingham squad.
Midfielders Laura Malcolm, Imogen Allison and Beth Cobden, who all impressed last season in the Superleague, but are facing tough competition in the experience of Jade Clarke, Natalie Metcalf and captain Serena Guthrie, are also battling for positions.
“The roster is better positioned now than it was before the last Commonwealths, we now have more depth in the roster,” Housby told ` Sport.
“We don’t want to be known just for winning that one gold medal. We have always been known as ‘the bronze medalists’, but we want to be consistently competitive.”
Thirlby’s first real test
The Roses have had the benefit of solid time in prep camps and Thirlby’s squad has started to gain some momentum after making history by beating the Silver Ferns for the first time in New Zealand and Victory over Jamaica sealed on home soil.
Since Thirlby picked up Tracey Neville’s baton after the 2019 World Cup, she has been struggling with a disturbed calendar and a lack of constancy among the players available to her.
“We kept an eye out for this series to be the one that everyone would be able to access, ironically the last before the Commonwealths. [But] I’ve never had the whole team, “she admitted.
After winning gold at the 2018 Games, netball was catapulted onto the national stage, with increasing numbers of participants, media coverage and with it the expectation of more table silver. Before that, England had never managed to break out of shape and knock Australia or New Zealand off their lofty bars.
This will be Thirlby’s first encounter as head coach against netball powerhouse Australia – and her first chance to make history by winning a streak that the Roses have always missed.
“I don’t shy away from the team and the nation’s expectation that we will win trophies,” she added.
“I really believe we have a generation of players who can keep winning. We have a real place at the table and we are respected by other nations around the world.”
A win in this series would rekindle that expectation, and with the chance for the Commonwealth titles in a row, Thirlby has a chance that no English coach has had to cement the Roses place on the table.
January, all times GMT (all games at Copper Box Arena, London)
England – South Africa (14:00)
New Zealand – Australia (16:15)
Australia – South Africa (14:00)
England – New Zealand (16:15)
South Africa – New Zealand (17:30)
England v Australia (7.30pm)
Third against fourth (5.30 p.m.)