Lyn Gunson: NZ teams wilt under glare of pro league

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Many New Zealand sport fans will be disappointed to see only one of their sides reaching the finals of the inaugural transtasman competition.

It is clear from the first season there is a difference between the countries in terms of the talent available and approach to the game.

This not only includes players but also officials, administration support, financial know-how and commercial knowledge and access.

In a professional environment, contribution to performance is a collective effort encompassing players, coaches, managers, support staff, administrators and franchise boards. Supporters, competitive structures and access to the right resources also play significant roles.

Australia have adjusted more adequately to the demands of the new championship largely due to their geographical size, playing strength and previous exposure to internal tough competition. From the outset their greater depth of player talent and mental toughness was evident.

Australia also had an early advantage in terms of their organisation and structure as the five teams were relatively easily predetermined. These factors alone suggest that Australian teams could have occupied all the places in the final series.

New Zealand has fewer elite players, concentrated in a smaller number of teams. Coaching staff have relied on either overseas players or more mature players to fill the gaps. This will need careful consideration if the playing strength is to grow within NZ.

The inconsistencies in team performance into the second round in the competition is also worth considering. The final round has inevitably become more tactical. The results show the difference in the quality and experience of players in some teams and the analytical ability of coaches and players in others. In comparison to New Zealand, the Australian international players are evenly spread among four teams.

An important and often overlooked aspect to address is the support personnel surrounding the professional game. Coaches, administrators and franchise boards all have a part to play in developing a truly professional approach to what is effectively netball's first step towards a professional game.

A professional environment signals a change in attitude from all sectors of netball.

The two rounds have meant a level of analysis that netballers and staff are not used to, and the need for highly professional and knowledgeable staff and support should now be evident.

There is a sense that the New Zealand teams have not been quite as focused as some of their Australian counterparts. This is reflected in the practice schedules of the teams, with the New Zealand sides putting in a lot fewer hours than the Aussies. Some teams have many working players, others have players that live outside the region and there is significant travel involved. The semi- professional nature of the competition means players are in limbo with life and aspirational elements of their lives.

It is clear the effect of the 2007 World Championships has also taken a toll on players. There are a number of New Zealand ranked players finding it difficult to perform in the competition with the energy, drive and consistent performance needed.

Significantly, the shooting power of Australian netball is based in the Swifts, where Catherine Cox is leading that team with outstanding performances leading into the final rounds. The truly elite and experienced performers are stepping up. Those with positional balance in their team, excellent tactical analysis or a specific answer to a great performer in the opposition are taking up the finals' positions.

Netball is one of the few sports where the development of the game remains largely in the hands of officials. The lack of professionalism from the game administrators in not ensuring forums for game evolution and game development must be addressed in the professional environment.

Teams after this first year will have learned a great deal about what to do and not to do with a competition such as this.

While there have been some close games and great individual performances, attaining the excitement needed for spectators is a real challenge to all involved and may not be dependent on results alone. Let's hope the administration, players, team staff and franchise boards can respond to what will be required to sustain this entry into a professional era for the game for 2009.

- NZ Herald

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