Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: New style of Fast5 faces biggest test

England's Serena Guthrie, Malawi's Caroline Mtukule, New Zealand's Casey Kopua, Aussie Susan Pratley, Jamaica's Malysha Kelly and South Africa's Maryka Holtzhausen at the captains' call. Photo / Michael Bradley
England's Serena Guthrie, Malawi's Caroline Mtukule, New Zealand's Casey Kopua, Aussie Susan Pratley, Jamaica's Malysha Kelly and South Africa's Maryka Holtzhausen at the captains' call. Photo / Michael Bradley

The viability of netball's Fast5 concept faces a major test in Auckland this weekend, with organisers hopeful of bigger crowds after a lukewarm reception last year.

The shortened version is now in its fifth year and netball bosses had hoped that by now it would be gaining fans and viewer and spectator numbers would be up.

Introduced in 2009, the Fast5 format and its previous incarnation FastNet have been slow to take hold. Early criticism centred on the rules - it was thought they didn't offer enough points of difference from the traditional form of the game and teams could win the tournament without really embracing any of the new rules.

The rules were radically overhauled last year, cutting down the number of players in a team to five and adding in extra scoring zones to allow for a faster, more unstructured style of game and the possibility of more upset results with the introduction of three and two-point shots.

After holding it in England for the first three years, they also decided to bring the tournament to New Zealand where netball has a bigger market.

But the response from local fans was fairly muted, and the boost in visitor numbers local authorities had hoped for didn't extend much beyond the teams and their support staff. Organisers are hopeful that now the public know a bit more about the tournament and the new style of game, there will be bigger crowds this year.

By late yesterday approximately 60 per cent of tickets had sold for today's opening session, 70 per cent for tomorrow and 80 per cent for Sunday's final session.

Netball NZ chief executive Hilary Poole said there appeared to be a lot more buzz around the event than last year and she is hopeful of a solid walk-up crowd.

If Fast5 doesn't take hold, international netball bosses will have a tough decision to make over whether to persevere with the shortened version of the game, which has sucked up a significant amount of time and resources. But the players and coaches remain enthusiastic.

Handed more creative licence, the players enjoy the opportunity to throw the ball around and experiment, while coaches seem to like the extra strategic element that comes in.

"As a coach, the really fun thing for me is you've got to have immediate impact whether it's roll someone on or the information you give and it's so quick. So I think it's a great challenge because you've got to out-think the opposition and out-think the other coach about what they're doing," said England coach Anna Mayes.

The English team are the only side other than New Zealand to have won a world series title and were narrowly beaten by the Fast5 Ferns in last year's final. They are again considered one of the big threats at the tournament with Jamaica, who look to have the best preparation of all the teams.

Jamaican coach Oberon Pitterson said her team didn't take advantage of all the new rules last year, particularly with the different shooting options, so they had spent a lot of time developing different strategies ahead of this weekend's tournament.

"We thought last year we fell short, and we knew where we fell short so we thought it was important that we do a better job preparing for this tournament."

Fast5 World Series

Today - Sunday
Vector Arena, Auckland

Competing countries:

Fast5 Ferns: The New Zealand team have won three of the four editions of the World Series tournament and are the favourites heading into this weekend. Led by Ferns stars Casey Kopua, Laura Langman and Maria Tutaia, the home side will be tough to beat.

Australian Flyers: World champions in the traditional form of the game, the Australian team have struggled under the World Series format, finishing the tournament last year without a win. They've added a bit more experience to their ranks this year and with their key strength - their speed in the midcourt.

Jamaican Sunshine Girls: Known for their flair and unpredictability, Jamaica thrive under the less structured style of the shortened form of the game. With two big shooting weapons - 1.96m Queensland Firebirds star Romelda Aiken, and the Southern Steel's Jhaniele Fowler (1.98m) - Jamaica have the ability to notch some big scores fast.

England Fives: The only other nation to have won a world title in the shortened form of the game, England are again expected to be a big threat at the tournament.Coach Anna Mayes has brought a young team to Auckland for the series, and they will be looking to prove themselves as they chase positions in the test side.

Malawi Queens: Malawi have undergone huge development in the past month, having played test series' against Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. The Queens were unlucky to miss out on a semifinal berth last year and with their unorthodox style and ability to hold possession they are considered a strong threat in this form of the game.

SPAR Proteas (South Africa): Third at last year's tournament, the Proteas have proven to be very competitive in the shortened form of the game, with their outside shooting proving especially lethal. Fresh off a confidence-boosting win over England, South Africa will be looking to finish off a good year on a strong note.

The rules

The game consists of four quarters of six minutes each.

There are five players on each team - GS, GA, C, GD, GK.

Each team nominates a powerplay quarter in which their score is doubled.

Substitutions may be made at intervals or during play and there is no limit to the number that can be made.

The team that concedes the last goal gets the next centre pass.

There are three different scoring areas: i. 3 point goals: known as the supershot, is deemed to have been made from outside the goal circle. ii. 2 point goals: the shot is deemed to have been made from the outer circle.

iii. 1 point goal: the shot is deemed to have been made from the inner circle.

- NZ Herald

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