The last time Kim Ravaillion and Gretel Bueta were on court together in green and gold, Lisa Alexander was national coach, Caitlin Bassett was the darling of Australian netball and Laura Langman was Silver Ferns captain.
Much has changed in the intervening years: Alexander has been replaced by Stacey Marinkovich; Bassett is playing in New Zealand and earlier this year struggled for Diamonds minutes; and the retired Langman is not playing at all. But one thing remains true.
Ravaillion and Bueta, reunited at the Queensland Firebirds – where they won back-to-back premierships in 2015 and 2016 – are prodigious talents. They are special individually and frighteningly good in combination.
And if the way they played in the Firebirds’ 61-52 round six win over Sunshine Coast Lightning on Sunday is anything to go by, they could soon be back in the Diamonds team – maybe even the starting seven.
The pair, both 27, have taken somewhat divergent paths since that series in 2018, which came after Ravaillion was part of the Australian team that lost the Commonwealth Games final on the Gold Coast to England by a goal.
After opting out of selection after the 2018 Quad Series, and leaving the Firebirds to join Collingwood, Ravaillion – who won gold at the 2015 World Cup – struggled to find form and missed selection for the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool.
Bueta went to Liverpool, but played fourth fiddle to Bassett, Caitlin Thwaites and Steph Wood, and played just a half in the final, which Australia lost to New Zealand by a goal.
Then, they both missed the 2020 Super Netball season to become mothers. Bueta gave birth to a son in January and Ravaillion has a daughter who turned one in March. Bueta was not dropped from the Diamonds squad during her pregnancy under Netball Australia’s pregnancy and maternity leave policy.
Now back in Queensland where they both first tasted premiership success, the duo appears fitter, faster and stronger than ever. They are surely in the mix for Marinkovich’s squads for to-be-confirmed Quad and Constellation Cup series post-Super Netball, next year’s Commonwealth Games and the 2023 World Cup in Cape Town.
Since 2018, Bueta’s game has matured from electric but unpredictable to still athletic and inventive, but more controlled and strategic. Meanwhile, Ravaillion has not only recaptured the form that saw her debut for Australia aged 19 and before she had even played an elite game, but perhaps even surpassed it.
In her second MVP performance of the season, Ravaillion had 20 goal assists, 26 feeds, 20 with an attempt, one gain and an intercept in the first quarter. Her scintillating performance forced Lightning coach Kylee Byrne to try three different direct opponents on her, to no avail.
Even more impressively, in a game which had a round-high 54 turnovers, Ravaillion did not turn the ball over once; she was just one of three players all match to achieve that feat. She was also tidy on penalties, getting sanctioned for only four contacts and two obstructions.
Post-game, Firebirds coach Megan Anderson said Ravaillion, who has played almost every minute to date this season, is still building. “Defensively, I think it was her best game. If you ask her, she’ll say she’s still got a bit in the tank.”
The 176cm pocket rocket, who has 60 Test caps, is in the top three Australian centres in the league and with Vixen Liz Watson, the wing attack who is out for the year at least through injury, there is space in the Diamonds’ midcourt.
Bueta, meanwhile, put in her second-most accurate performance of the 2021 season against Lightning, shooting 19/22 at 86% accuracy, including 2/4 from super shot range. Volume-wise, it was also her second best too. She sunk just two more goals in the Firebirds’ round three loss to the Giants.
The 192cm shooter also clocked 15 goal assists and 25 feeds, 16 with an attempt. She had 25 centre pass receives, three deflections, the most of any shooter this round, and a rebound. On the downside, she drew a lot of whistle for an attacker, finishing with six contacts. She also had seven turnovers, the second most on court behind her team mate Jemma Mi Mi, who had 10.
Now match-fit and able to play both GA and GS if required, the 36-cap Diamond would be a welcome addition to the national side, given Keira Austin, who shone in Australia’s losing Constellation Cup tournament in New Zealand in March, went down with an ACL injury in round one. Former captain Bassett has not set New Zealand on fire and Wood has struggled at times.
And if her old friend Ravaillion can deliver the ball, the Diamonds suddenly look a little shinier.