It’s that time of year again. It’s time to look back at the year in netball and contemplate the question; who really is the world’s best netballer?

Each year, we gather the thoughts of ten judges, who nominate their top five players in the world and rank them from one to five. Then all of the votes are tallied up. This year, joining myself on the voting panel were Liz Ellis, Jenny Woods, Caroline Barker, Erin Delahunty, Brittany Carter, Sacha Shipway, Jenny Sinclair, Andrew Kennedy and Rona Hunnisett.

As always, it was a tough job for the judges. The overall quality of the players in 2018 was such that even Liz Ellis Diamond winner, Liz Watson, could only finish equal fifth after an outstanding year. Level with her was star English shooter, Jo Harten. Of Harten, Jenny Woods commented that “with her, England wins. Without her, they don’t. It’s that simple.”

It was also Jenny Woods who went slightly outside the square in giving a point each to Caitlin Thwaites and the now retired Sharni Layton, not just for their play, but also “for their courage and honesty in writing about mental health”. In all, 17 players from six different countries received votes, but four players polled comfortably ahead of the rest. These are currently the top four netballers in the world as voted by our judges.

 

Photo: May Bailey

4. COURTNEY BRUCE

Stepping out of the shadows of Laura Geitz and Sharni Layton, 2018 saw Courtney Bruce establish herself as Australia’s number one defender. Bruce’s energetic smothering defence makes her a prolific ball winner. Her ability to pick up rebounds and intercepts regularly, turns defence into attack for the West Coast Fever and also the Diamonds.

Burdened with extra responsibility as Fever’s new captain, this only seemed to spur Bruce on to greater heights. A tremendous season at the back saw her lead Fever to the Super Netball grand final. Then it was on to the Quad Series and Constellation Cup and she was seemingly everywhere in defence. A series of strong performances saw Bruce pick up multiple player of the match awards and confirm her new found status as one of the world’s leading players.

 

Photo: May Bailey

3. SERENA GUTHRIE

This was the year Serena Guthrie really put her name forward as the leading midcourt player in world netball. Guthrie is an excitement machine; the perfect mix of attack and defence. One minute she’s hitting the circle edge and pinpointing the perfect pass to her shooters, then the next she is taking a crucial intercept or getting a hand in to cause a turnover.

2018 saw Guthrie at her peak for both Giants and England. She played a huge part in the Roses’ breakthrough Commonwealth Games win, then went on to play well for Giants in Super Netball. Now, after four years away, Guthrie is returning to Team Bath and is set to light up the English Superleague once again. And she’ll no doubt be trying to do just the same for England as they attempt to win their first ever World Cup.

Sacha Shipway
“She’s been unstoppable all year, with outstanding performances domestically and internationally. It’s difficult to overstate her monumental impact on the Roses squad who won Commonwealth Games gold. There’s no one else who has wowed me quite as much this year.”

 

Photo: Simon Leonard

2. JHANIELE FOWLER

After an outstanding year, Jhaniele Fowler received top picks from three of our judges and finished in second spot, just ahead of Guthrie. Fowler has developed into an incredible scoring machine, both at club level and also for Jamaica. She is utilising her size, height, strength and improved mobility to dominate scoring like nobody has ever done before.

After five seasons in New Zealand, 2018 saw Fowler make the move to Australia with the West Coast Fever. And she was an immediate hit. Averaging more than 55 goals per game, she took the competition by storm, breaking scoring records regularly as she helped lift the Fever from second last to runners-up. Meanwhile, on the international stage, she has turned the Sunshine Girls into genuine title contenders who must always be respected.

Brittany Carter
“The only way teams could combat Fowler’s towering presence was to stop momentum before it hit the circle edge. Super Netball is the best domestic competition in the world, so the fact she dominated it so significantly makes her my pick.”

Rona Hunnisett
“Fowler’s time at Fever has strengthened her hands and broadened her repertoire. Now able to draw defenders away from the post and create space for her shooting partners, she’s still deadly at close range and should be the weapon Jamaica needs to drive them further up the rankings.”

Jenny Sinclair
“After a record breaking performance during her first game with Fever, Fowler continued to improve, adding increased levels of movement, athleticism, volume and accuracy to her game. The closest to unstoppable of any player I’ve seen.”

 

Photo: May Bailey

1. GEVA MENTOR

Capping off another stellar year, Geva Mentor has retained the mantle of the world’s best netballer in our poll, receiving top picks from five judges. Mentor’s sustained excellence over a long period of time means that she can sometimes be taken for granted, but her impact should never be underestimated. It’s not unreasonable to say that if she’s not there on the Gold Coast in April, not only does England not win gold; they don’t even make the final.

At three quarter time in a tense semi-final, Jamaica was on top and so was Jhaniele Fowler. But Mentor worked tirelessly all game, pressuring her formidable opponent constantly, even when it seemed pointless to do so. In the last quarter, all that pressure was finally rewarded, she gradually got on top of Fowler, and England escaped with the victory.

On to the final the following day and the Australian shooters didn’t get a moment’s peace. Mentor’s relentless defence forced the Diamonds into uncharacteristic errors, and made it possible for the Roses team to snatch an incredible win against the odds. Commonwealth gold was a just reward for such a champion after so many years in the England dress.

But Mentor wasn’t finished. She then led her club team, Sunshine Coast Lightning to a second straight Super Netball title in just their second year in existence. It says much about her leadership that after a slow start, Lightning was able to win their last seven games straight to take the title. That included coming back from seven goals down to defeat Fever on their home court in the grand final. As per usual, Mentor was one of Lightning’s best.

2019 will see Mentor in new colours as she joins the Collingwood Magpies. She has already won four titles with three different club teams in the 11 years she has played in Australia. She will also be playing in an incredible fifth World Cup. If she is coming to the end of her international career, a Roses triumph would certainly be a fitting way for her to go out.

Caroline Barker
“My choice is Geva Mentor, for achieving with club and country, and showing the top level consistency to annoy the finest of shooters.”

Erin Delahunty
“Like a fine wine, Mentor just keeps getting better with age. She led all comers across Super Netball in deflections, and tied for most defensive rebounds. She was pivotal in Lightning’s title and helped her country win gold for the first time… at her fifth Commonwealth Games.”

Liz Ellis
“She led the way in the Commonwealth Games, and backed it up with a stellar domestic season despite a slow-ish start. Just her presence is enough to put the fear of god into shooters.”

Andrew Kennedy
“Class, style and no penalties. She is a legend! Everyone celebrates the shooters, but it is Geva that wins matches.”

 

FINAL POLL RESULTS

37 votes – Geva Mentor (England)
27 votes – Jhaniele Fowler (Jamaica)
25 votes – Serena Guthrie (England)
14 votes – Courtney Bruce (Australia)
7 votes – Jo Harten (England) & Liz Watson (Australia)
6 votes – Caitlin Bassett (Australia) & Karla Pretorius (South Africa)
5 votes – Peace Proscovia (Uganda) & Shamera Sterling (Jamaica)
3 votes – Helen Housby (England) & Gretel Tippett (Australia)
2 votes – Kelsey Browne (Australia)
1 vote – Laura Langman (New Zealand), Sharni Layton (Australia), Caitlin Thwaites (Australia) & Steph Wood (Australia)

Photo: Marcela Massey

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