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Current as of 20/10/14 07:40PM NZST

Vicki Wilson: Breakthrough on cards but not for kiwi fans

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Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds shoots during the ANZ Championship Semi Final match between the Firebirds and the Magic. Photo / Getty Images
Romelda Aiken of the Firebirds shoots during the ANZ Championship Semi Final match between the Firebirds and the Magic. Photo / Getty Images

When you talk about depth you can't afford to have one team with all the star players just sitting there.

Four seasons, four different winners - none of them Kiwi teams.

It's certainly not something we've been losing sleep about across the Tasman, but the record of the New Zealand franchises in the ANZ Championship must make for grim reading for Kiwi fans.

What was clear from the outset was the Kiwi sides were not as well-prepared for the leap to semi-professional netball.

I think initially they were caught off guard by the huge step up in physical preparation that was required in the new era of the game. Certainly the national players were in good shape, but the rest of the players were not - their fitness and conditioning was well below what would be expected in a high performance environment.

In terms of pure skill level there was also a big gulf between the New Zealand and Australian sides over the first couple of seasons, and you can put that down to training quality and volume.

During the season most Australian teams have a minimum of three court sessions, but in the pre-season there could be up to five court sessions a week. The fly-in, fly-out mentality that some teams operate their training schedule around in New Zealand would never be acceptable for the Australian teams.

Over those initial years the Kiwi players received a massive wake-up call as to what it takes to be a professional athlete. And full credit to them because they addressed that straight away, and when you look at the teams now the fitness levels across the board are pretty even.

I think initially also, Australia had far greater player depth and when you look at the way the players were dispersed, we had five really strong teams which helped breed a competitive environment.

We didn't see all the top players go to the one side in the way all the Silver Ferns flocked to the Magic. And that is still happening to some extent with the Mystics and the Magic snaffling the bulk of the New Zealand squad.

It's a shame to see a glut of defenders sitting in one franchise. When you talk about player depth you can't afford to have one team with all the star players just sitting there.

As far as winning on Australian soil, I don't think it has anything to do with the travel factor - it is all about adaptability. You have to have a different approach to the game depending on the umpires and their interpretation.

I know the Australian coaches have spent a lot of time analysing the different umpires and what calls they are likely to make and preparing their players accordingly. I must point out they haven't always got it right - we have seen some one-sided penalty counts when Australian teams have travelled to New Zealand.

But it does appear the Kiwi sides have struggled with this a lot more.

Kiwi players tend to be penalised a lot on attack in Australia, particularly in the goal circle - whether that be the shooter burrowing their way in or the goal attack causing contact by trying to get in better position under the goal - and that's got to be a coach-killer.

When the games are so tight, teams can't afford to be penalised when they are in possession and I think this is one area that is yet to be properly addressed by the New Zealand teams.

I am sure they are aware of the whistle, but is very difficult to change your attacking style particularly when you have executed the same play for years that it becomes almost innate.

While the New Zealand teams have made steps towards achieving competitive balance over the past couple of years, it is still difficult to see a Kiwi team breaking that title drought in 2012.

I think Firebirds' shooter Romelda Aiken has got this competition by the throat. At the moment the Queensland side look like a 15-goal better team and that is because no team has been able to come up with a way to contain the 1.96m Jamaican shooter.

So there may be a breakthrough of sorts, with the first team claiming back-to-back titles, but it's not the one Kiwi fans will be hoping for.

- NZ Herald

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