Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is a NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Aussie thuggery claims reignite debate

Laura Geitz. Photo / Getty Images
Laura Geitz. Photo / Getty Images

A major philosophical divide between how New Zealand and Australia view netball should be played has emerged in the wake of allegations of Aussie thuggery.

The well-worn debate over whether physicality in the transtasman league has gone too far kicked off again this week after Queensland Firebirds defender Laura Geitz rather unsubtly threw an elbow into the back of Donna Wilkins in Monday night's clash against the Pulse.

The incident saw Geitz - who can expect a frosty reception at Trusts Stadium tomorrow when her side take on the Mystics - roundly criticised for the cheap shot, with both Wilkins and her coach Robyn Broughton expressing their disappointment with the Australian international's overly physical approach.

Never ones to miss an opportunity to splash their netballing "stunner" across their pages, local media in Brisbane have also weighed in on the stoush, with the Courier-Mail running a glamour shot of Geitz accompanied by the headline "Is this the face of a thug?"

Defending her role in the incident, Geitz claims the hit was not intentional, and shrugged off criticism of her side's aggressive approach with the explanation - "that's the way the game is going now".

Whether you view the Geitz hit as a blatant act of thuggery or a harmless bump probably depends on what side of the Tasman you reside.

But what is interesting is the debate that has resulted from one swift jab to the back.

The Queensland defender, who has been the most penalised player in the league for the past three seasons, may be correct in her observation that netball is becoming increasingly more physical, but that does not necessarily mean the game should go that way.

In the early years of the league, complaints from Kiwi teams over the level of physicality by their Australian rivals was met with a resounding "you need to toughen up, ladies".

There was a certain degree of truth to that - with the exception of top-level Silver Ferns, the bulk of the New Zealand players were poorly conditioned and didn't have the core strength or body balance to withstand even the most innocuous of hits.

But over the past five years the players have improved their strength and conditioning to the point where little separates the New Zealand and Australian athletes. Now several Kiwi coaches believe it's time the Australian teams also adjust the way they play the game.

One New Zealand coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, believes the Australian teams deliberately flout the rules with their "smash and grab" approach.

"They are coached negative tactics," she said.

"They're taught to go out there and contest and disrupt everything, even when they know they have no chance of getting to the ball without taking out the player."

Steel captain Jodi Brown, while acknowledging shooters are no angels themselves and have "our own little tricks", said this is one of her greatest frustrations with the Australian style of defence.

"When you get it in the first quarter it's no big deal, it's just a little bump or a knock.

"But when you get to the fourth quarter and the scores are tied and you feel as though you've taken 300 of those knocks, it has that whole wearing down effect."

Waimarama Taumaunu is more diplomatic about the tactics adopted by the Australians.

The Silver Ferns coach points out the domestic games in Australia don't have the same level of physicality as the transtasman matches, because Australia attacks tend to play more a fast-moving game and have less of the holding play.

"I feel like this is very much a clash of styles than it is anything else," said Taumaunu.

"The Australians don't like us because we hit them unexpectedly when we're going for ball, and we don't like them because it feels like they're hitting us all the time."

The national coach said it is important both sides learn to adjust.

ANZ Championship

Round 3

Today: 4.20pm Southern Steel v Adelaide Thunderbirds, Dunedin.

Tomorrow: 2.10pm West Coast Fever v WBOP Magic, Perth; 7.20pm Northern Mystics v Queensland Firebirds, Auckland.

Monday: 7.40pm Central Pulse v NSW Swifts, Wellington; 9.40pm Melbourne Vixens v Canterbury Tactix, Melbourne.

- NZ Herald

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