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Donnell Wallam seals dream debut with winning goal against England Roses, 55-54

On Wednesday night, the 28-year-old athlete had her first say since being embroiled in a $15 million dollar sponsorship drama – letting her netball do the talking.

It's been an intense couple of weeks in the spotlight, seeing Wallam cop a wave of criticism for her so-called "ungrateful" and "woke" decision to opt out of wearing a Hancock Prospecting logo on her national playing dress.

But four days after Gina Rinehart announced she was withdrawing her investment in netball, and four years after Wallam was first discovered in the West Australian pathways, the rookie shooter from Harvey showed the class behind her meteoric rise to the top.

In a game-changing moment that has been labelled by key figures within the game as "one of the most important goals scored" in the history of the sport, Wallam slotted the winning goal on the same night she became the first Indigenous player to represent the Diamonds in 22 years.

Despite being named in the game-day squad for the first match of the Australia vs England Test series, there were no guarantees Wallam would make it onto the court in Newcastle, as she'd been assigned a spot on the bench.

How she managed to stay composed during the pre-match, with all the pressures of a usual international debut, while also knowing the haters' voices would probably grow louder if she didn't perform, has dumbfounded netball fans.

We watched as the cameras followed her every move – warming up, singing the national anthem, sharing a couple of joyous hugs with her teammates – right up until the first centre pass.

Once the game got underway, the world's number one team found themselves locked in a tight tussle with the Roses, who had a bit to prove after failing to place at the recent Commonwealth Games.

Throughout the 60 minutes, the margin never got beyond five goals, and any time one team looked like it had the upper hand, the other would force a couple of turnovers to find themselves right back in it.

As a fresh-faced member of the team, the closeness of the contest made it harder for Wallam to push her case, considering these high-stakes Tests are usually won off the back of experience.

But in the final quarter, with just 10-and-a-half minutes left on the clock, Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich sensed a change was needed up front, as 20-year-old Roses newcomer Funmi Fadoju began to get the better of Sophie Garbin.

Garbin was the hero in the Constellation Cup series that wrapped up on Sunday night, seeing the Diamonds steal back the trophy from the Silver Ferns based on goal difference.

Against New Zealand, her strong holding prowess was the difference under the post, but against England, Garbin struggled to keep the incoming feed out of the defenders' clutches – despite being eight centimetres taller than Fadoju.

In just 21 minutes on court, Fadoju topped the defensive stats with her impressive aerial skills, tallying six gains (three intercepts, eight deflections and one rebound) and causing a headache for the Diamonds attackers.

Her vertical leap and elusive timing will no doubt be living rent-free in the minds of players like Maddy Proud (seven turnovers) and Paige Hadley (three turnovers), who are going to have to be more careful where they place the ball in the remaining two Tests.

When Marinkovich decided to mix things up, Australia had a small buffer on the scoreboard, 45-43, but it was becoming clear that England was gathering momentum.

Wallam's injection into the game brought an instant lift from the crowd, who welcomed the shooter on court with a heart-warming cheer.

Straight away she was into the action, converting her first international goal 15 seconds after taking on the GS bib.

But as the minutes wore on, Fadoju continued to outwit the Aussies, slowly wearing them down and picking up loose ball before sending it down the court to Eleanor Cardwell to shoot.

Heading into the final minute, Cardwell banged home three straight goals, levelling the score 54-54 with just 35 seconds to go.

What happened next, was a frantic piece of play between both teams, as Australia looked to convert their final centre pass only to lose the ball over the back line.

Fadoju threw it in, finding Imogen Allison up the left-hand side of the court, but a desperate wayward pass saw possession wind up back with the Diamonds.

In a last-ditch effort in defence, wing defence Kate Moloney threw out her hand and cut off Allison's pass, batting it into the middle of the court, where Jo Weston cleaned it up and swiftly followed Moloney's instructions to get it back into the goal third.

Under pressure, Proud took the pass on circle edge and with exactly 10 seconds on the clock, turned and found Wallam in the corner of the circle, past the lunging hand of Fadoju, who just missed out on one last deflection.

Collecting the ball and stepping around the body of two defenders, Wallam reverted back to her basketball days, as she took a huge stride before leaping to put in the lay-up.

Eyes up, watching it fall through the hoop as she crashed into the post, Wallam spun around and let out a roar as the crowd erupted.

It was a gallant effort from a debutant.

A notice of arrival from what may very well be our next Diamonds legend, and a brave statement from an Indigenous woman who has been unfairly picked apart amid a barrage of hate.

Speaking with Fox Netball after the match, Wallam was unable to hold back tears, reiterating how much the moment meant as she followed in the footsteps of Marcia-Ella Duncan and Sharon Finnan-White to become the third Indigenous Diamond.

"I was kind of relieved to finally get my chance on court after all the outside noise … These have been some of the toughest few weeks of my life, so to finally play in this dress was really special," she said.

If these are the types of instinct plays we can expect from Wallam at the death, she may even be able to cement her position as the number one Diamonds goal shooter.

With Garbin, Cara Koenen and Wallam all looking to occupy that spot in Gretel Bueta's absence, there's a tough battle going on between the shooters ahead of the 2023 Netball World Cup.

This article is courtesy of ABC and journalist Brittany Carter

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