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Mum’s the word – can Liz Watson lead the Diamonds to Commonwealth Games glory?

In 2016, Liz Watson made her debut for the Australian netball team, and it wasn’t long before she was regarded as the best wing attack in the world.

Now, she’s forging a new era for the Diamonds under the watch of Stacey Marinkovich, as the captain and coach combine for their first major tournament together at the Commonwealth Games.

Watson has had a successful start to her captaincy, guiding the team to a Quad Series victory in January with an unbeaten run against New Zealand, England and South Africa.

So far, they’ve kept that streak going in Birmingham, winning all four of their opening matches against Barbados (95-18), Scotland (83-30), South Africa (74-49) and Wales (79-33).

Liz Watson has spent almost more time than anyone else on court during the first four Diamonds games.(Getty: Mark Kolbe)

But their biggest challenge is yet to come, as the team prepares to face a dangerous, fourth-ranked Jamaican team in its final group match on Thursday night.

The Sunshine Girls currently have the best shooter in the world, Jhaniele Fowler, and the best goalkeeper in the world, Shamera Sterling, occupying their bookends of the court; while half of the team currently plays in Australia’s Super Netball league.

No matter the result, the Diamonds will progress to Saturday’s semi-finals and the medal matches on Sunday, but a win against a surging Jamaican team would certainly firm up their chances at gold.

Beyond this, they’ll face England or New Zealand in the knock-out stages.

Both have handed one-goal heartbreaks to Australia at either the Commonwealth Games or World Cup during the previous four-year cycle.

England's netballers celebrate their gold medal game win over Australia
England is the current Commonwealth Games champion after beating Australia 52-51 in 2018. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy )

It’s a tough field in Birmingham, as all four of these countries have been yet to drop a match, and judging by their performances so far, any one of them could well and truly be the last ones standing at the end.

However, Watson’s mother Manuela is sticking right behind the Diamonds and believes her daughter could be the captain to help Australia reclaim gold and restore the reputation as the world number one team.

“It’s obviously a team sport, but I have faith in Lizzy, I do,” she told the ABC.

“She’s probably won every single individual award that you can imagine except for a gold medal at a major tournament, so if they could win it that would be the cherry on top of her career so far.”

“There’s great depth in the team and the girls can play a variety of positions … They’re also a group of girls that will give 110 per cent until the very last second, because they’ve got such a strong mindset.”

A close-knit support crew

Manuela is part of the Australian support team on the ground in the UK and has been cheering from the stands alongside her husband and Watson’s father Neil, as well as Liz’s partner Hamish.

The three supporters are a far cry from the extended family that travelled to the Gold Coast last time Watson played in a Commonwealth Games, but they’ve been sure to keep the rest of the relatives updated via a lively WhatsApp chat.

Speaking of WhatsApp, the other order of business Manuela has been focused on since touching down in England has been facilitating the communication between the support crew and organising catch-ups to keep them connected.

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Vice-captain Steph Wood and captain Liz Watson are some of the most capped Diamonds players in the current team.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

It was Marinkovich that requested this favour, after Manuela took on the same role at the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool – meaning while Liz is leading the Diamonds on the court, her mother will be leading their family and friends behind the scenes.

Tomorrow, for example, after the important game against Jamaica, the Australian supporters are heading to the local 10-pin bowling alley.

“It’s been really lovely this time around on tour, because we’ve got a good mix of little kids, then the next generation of players’ partners and siblings, as well as us oldies as parents,” she said.

“So it’s a nice dynamic and we’ve tried to ensure some of the meet-ups are kid friendly, so that everyone feels included.

“The players love seeing the little ones and although they haven’t been able to mingle with us because of the tight bubbles the Australian team is in, even just seeing the kids at the end of a game brings them back to earth.”

A born leader

From the outside Watson doesn’t appear to be the most obvious choice for captain, as she’s always been a rather quiet achiever that is less focused on giving inspiring pep talks than she is on leading by example.

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In 2018 — the same year Watson won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games — she was recognised as Australia’s best netball player with the Liz Ellis Diamond.(Supplied: Aussie Diamonds)

Manuela believes her daughter may have picked up the traits in her schooling years, learning how to listen to others and stay true to herself in her roles as a primary and secondary school captain.

“I’ve seen her grow up and go through school, where all the kids loved her as captain because she had time for everyone and accepted them for who they were,” Manuela said.

“It didn’t matter whether they were one of the vulnerable kids or the most popular kid, Liz was able to connect with them, so I don’t know whether she’s just carried that on in life but it feels like she’s been drawing from all of those experiences.

“We’re really proud of the way she has time for everybody and is a genuine person, and I think that’s why people like her and want to listen to her speak.”

Looking forward to a holiday

After the Commonwealth Games wraps up, Liz will be heading off on holiday with her partner and a bunch of the Diamonds players to Spain, before she meets up with her parents in Rome.

Some of Manuela’s side of the family is still based in Italy, after her parents migrated in the 1950’s to Melbourne, and they have plans to catch up.

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Liz Watson poses for a photo with her family after her debut game for the Aussie Diamonds in London, 2016.(Supplied: Manuela Watson)

“We’re really looking forward to having Lizzy to ourselves for a bit and spending some quality time with her, because we’ve had such limited time together this year with all the restrictions around the Super Netball season and now during Diamonds camp,” Manuela said.

“I managed to sneak in a hug after the Vixens lost the grand final in Perth, but that was the first I’d had in ages, and at the moment the closest we can get to the players is when we make our way down to the front row of the stadium after the matches to say hello.

“If the Diamonds win gold, I’ve told Lizzy I’m very happy to look after her medal while she goes on holiday … I’ll keep it safe and it would be good to take it on a little tour of Rome.”

Watson will lead the team out for its final group match on Thursday night at the National Entertainment Centre against Jamaica at 6pm AEST.

Commonwealth Games fixtures

Friday, July 29 — Australia 95 d Barbados 18

Saturday, July 30 — Australia 83 d Scotland 30

Monday, August 1 — Australia 74 d South Africa 49

Tuesday, August 2 — Australia 79 d Wales 33

Thursday, August 4 — Australia vs Jamaica

Saturday, August 6 — Semifinals

Sunday, August 7 — Bronze medal match

Monday, August 8 — Gold medal match

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