Diamonds wary of narrowing trans-Tasman gap as Kiwis rise


Summary

IT USED to be that the Australian and New Zealand netballers would play each other so occasionally that, by the time the big clashes arrived, there was such tension and mystery that the intimidation factor played a big part in the result.
Nanjing Night Net

Often it worked to Australia’s advantage. Sometimes not. Liz Ellis confesses to having had mental visions of Silver Ferns players seeming to be ”10-feet tall”.

”We’d play against New Zealand, and someone like Irene van Dyk, she’d loom large in your mind because she was so good and you wouldn’t have played her in a long time,” says Ellis, whose career from 1993 to 2007 yielded a record 122 appearances for the Diamonds.

”By the third time you’d played her, you’d work her out. But then you wouldn’t see her again for 12 months.”

That has changed. Since the establishment of the ANZ Championship in 2008, the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Before it, the Australians had a national competition and New Zealand played in theirs. But the joining of the heavyweights in a trans-Tasman super competition, while increasing the sport’s overall strength, appeal and professionalism, may have started to alter the balance of power.

Following five straight losses, including a series defeat to England early this year, the Diamonds beat the Silver Ferns in a 47-45 thriller in Auckland on Thursday to even the ledger at 1-1 in the Constellation Cup, a series introduced in 2010 to mirror rugby’s Bledisloe Cup. The Silver Ferns are the holders after winning last year for the first time. The recent pattern has raised questions about whether Australian netball’s aura is diminishing.

”We didn’t have an ANZ Championship,” former Australia coach Jill McIntosh recalls of the dominant period in the 1990s under her leadership. ”There was a national championship, which evolved to the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, a good competition between eight teams which played each other regularly. Our youngsters, in that environment, were always playing against top players, week in, week out. Then the ANZ Championship started. It’s a fine competition. But, because we only have five [Australian] teams competing, it has limited the amount of space available for those up-and-coming players.”

There are five teams, too, from New Zealand. All franchises are allowed one import, meaning fewer Australian teams and one less place on each team list.

McIntosh says the set-up ”has benefits, but it has also worked a little bit against us”. ”It has given our players the chance to play against top international players,” she says. ”But it has also meant fewer positions for some of our younger players to get experience.”

Australian netball’s grassroots structure, talent identification and development remain sound, McIntosh says. But the international club-based championship has brought New Zealand closer to Australia in more ways than one.

”I think, overall, the New Zealand teams playing in a mixed competition with Australian teams has been more beneficial to New Zealand. But I don’t think that’s bad for the game. From an Australian point of view, we’d like to be winning more. But, still, the games are very close and great to watch.”

Only one New Zealand team has won the ANZ Championship, the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic last year, and often the New Zealand sides finish amid the bottom.

”From a club point of view, Australia still dominates,” Ellis says.

”Internationally, it’s certainly shifted towards New Zealand. I guess that having their players playing against the top Australian players week in, week out, it means both teams lose a bit of that fear factor and it evens things up a bit. It goes both ways.”

Ellis points to other factors behind the Diamonds’ recent struggles.

Vast experience has been missing, including Cath Cox being unavailable for this tour, Mo’onia Gerard having left the sport to give rugby sevens a go and Natalie von Bertouch having retired.

”There’s 250 Tests between them,” she says. ”Meanwhile, the Kiwis have had a very settled line-up. Their only changes have been in wing attack and wing defence positions. But there’s no doubt that the balance of power has shifted and it’s now up to Australia to play catch-up.”

Australian netball faced a similar predicament when Norma Plummer was appointed coach in 2004.

Under McIntosh, the Diamonds had won the 1995 and 1999 World Championships and the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medals, the pinnacles of the sport. At the 2003 World Championships they were pipped by the Silver Ferns, sparking a reshuffle.

”There were a lot of changes around that time,” Plummer says. ”Some players retired, some had got pregnant, there were some bad injuries. You have that happen occasionally.”

The Silver Ferns won Commonwealth Games gold in Melbourne in 2006, but the Australian team soon settled and regained the world championship in 2007. The Silver Ferns claimed the 2010 Commonwealth Games title in a double-overtime epic, but the next year Australia won yet another world championship.

Plummer says a key to her success through the transition time was that, as a former Australian under-21s coach, she knew which players to bring up and wasn’t afraid to do so. ”It allowed us to build things up quicker,” she says. ”You’ve got to make sure you’re always blooding youngsters.”

Neither Plummer nor McIntosh believe there is any reason for concern. They are confident that depth, resources and programming augur well for the Diamonds’ future. But they know Australia needs to be on its toes.

”Australia and New Zealand are still one and two, clearly,” McIntosh says. ”But England are making big strides forward and Jamaica are realising the benefits of some of their players playing in the ANZ Championship. It’s having a positive effect. The top four are very competitive now.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.


IT USED to be that the Australian and New Zealand netballers would play each other so occasionally that, by the time the big clashes arrived, there was such tension and mystery that the intimidation factor played a big part in the result.
Nanjing Night Net

Often it worked to Australia’s advantage. Sometimes not. Liz Ellis confesses to having had mental visions of Silver Ferns players seeming to be ”10-feet tall”.

”We’d play against New Zealand, and someone like Irene van Dyk, she’d loom large in your mind because she was so good and you wouldn’t have played her in a long time,” says Ellis, whose career from 1993 to 2007 yielded a record 122 appearances for the Diamonds.

”By the third time you’d played her, you’d work her out. But then you wouldn’t see her again for 12 months.”

That has changed. Since the establishment of the ANZ Championship in 2008, the veil of secrecy has been lifted. Before it, the Australians had a national competition and New Zealand played in theirs. But the joining of the heavyweights in a trans-Tasman super competition, while increasing the sport’s overall strength, appeal and professionalism, may have started to alter the balance of power.

Following five straight losses, including a series defeat to England early this year, the Diamonds beat the Silver Ferns in a 47-45 thriller in Auckland on Thursday to even the ledger at 1-1 in the Constellation Cup, a series introduced in 2010 to mirror rugby’s Bledisloe Cup. The Silver Ferns are the holders after winning last year for the first time. The recent pattern has raised questions about whether Australian netball’s aura is diminishing.

”We didn’t have an ANZ Championship,” former Australia coach Jill McIntosh recalls of the dominant period in the 1990s under her leadership. ”There was a national championship, which evolved to the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, a good competition between eight teams which played each other regularly. Our youngsters, in that environment, were always playing against top players, week in, week out. Then the ANZ Championship started. It’s a fine competition. But, because we only have five [Australian] teams competing, it has limited the amount of space available for those up-and-coming players.”

There are five teams, too, from New Zealand. All franchises are allowed one import, meaning fewer Australian teams and one less place on each team list.

McIntosh says the set-up ”has benefits, but it has also worked a little bit against us”. ”It has given our players the chance to play against top international players,” she says. ”But it has also meant fewer positions for some of our younger players to get experience.”

Australian netball’s grassroots structure, talent identification and development remain sound, McIntosh says. But the international club-based championship has brought New Zealand closer to Australia in more ways than one.

”I think, overall, the New Zealand teams playing in a mixed competition with Australian teams has been more beneficial to New Zealand. But I don’t think that’s bad for the game. From an Australian point of view, we’d like to be winning more. But, still, the games are very close and great to watch.”

Only one New Zealand team has won the ANZ Championship, the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic last year, and often the New Zealand sides finish amid the bottom.

”From a club point of view, Australia still dominates,” Ellis says.

”Internationally, it’s certainly shifted towards New Zealand. I guess that having their players playing against the top Australian players week in, week out, it means both teams lose a bit of that fear factor and it evens things up a bit. It goes both ways.”

Ellis points to other factors behind the Diamonds’ recent struggles.

Vast experience has been missing, including Cath Cox being unavailable for this tour, Mo’onia Gerard having left the sport to give rugby sevens a go and Natalie von Bertouch having retired.

”There’s 250 Tests between them,” she says. ”Meanwhile, the Kiwis have had a very settled line-up. Their only changes have been in wing attack and wing defence positions. But there’s no doubt that the balance of power has shifted and it’s now up to Australia to play catch-up.”

Australian netball faced a similar predicament when Norma Plummer was appointed coach in 2004.

Under McIntosh, the Diamonds had won the 1995 and 1999 World Championships and the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medals, the pinnacles of the sport. At the 2003 World Championships they were pipped by the Silver Ferns, sparking a reshuffle.

”There were a lot of changes around that time,” Plummer says. ”Some players retired, some had got pregnant, there were some bad injuries. You have that happen occasionally.”

The Silver Ferns won Commonwealth Games gold in Melbourne in 2006, but the Australian team soon settled and regained the world championship in 2007. The Silver Ferns claimed the 2010 Commonwealth Games title in a double-overtime epic, but the next year Australia won yet another world championship.

Plummer says a key to her success through the transition time was that, as a former Australian under-21s coach, she knew which players to bring up and wasn’t afraid to do so. ”It allowed us to build things up quicker,” she says. ”You’ve got to make sure you’re always blooding youngsters.”

Neither Plummer nor McIntosh believe there is any reason for concern. They are confident that depth, resources and programming augur well for the Diamonds’ future. But they know Australia needs to be on its toes.

”Australia and New Zealand are still one and two, clearly,” McIntosh says. ”But England are making big strides forward and Jamaica are realising the benefits of some of their players playing in the ANZ Championship. It’s having a positive effect. The top four are very competitive now.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.