Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball facing shock split

Separate trantasman competitions likely in 2017 but national bodies consider Champions League-style series.
Northern Mystics Maria Tutaia on the attack against Queensland Firebirds player Laura Geitz. Photo / Nick Reed
Northern Mystics Maria Tutaia on the attack against Queensland Firebirds player Laura Geitz. Photo / Nick Reed

Netball's transtasman league is headed for a shock split with it looking increasingly likely this year's ANZ Championship will be the last of its kind.

The Herald has learned New Zealand and Australian teams will almost certainly compete in separate competitions next year, with netball bosses in the process of finalising a new format.

The favoured option would see the top sides meet in a separate Champions League-style series at the end of the season. Other options include a pre-season competition, or a mid-season transtasman "super round".

A restructure of the league has been brewing for some time, with Netball Australia pushing for a New Zealand team to be dropped from the competition due to concerns over the competitiveness of the Kiwi sides.

In eight years of the competition only one New Zealand team - the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in 2012 - has won the title.

But Netball NZ staunchly protected their patch, arguing cutting back the number of teams would only further reduce New Zealand's talent pool. NNZ was, however, supportive of moves to increase the number of Australian teams.

Netball Australia forged ahead with those plans over the past six months, announcing late last year it was seeking to introduce as many as three extra Aussie teams in the league in 2017.

As the Herald reported at the time, the introduction of the new teams and the inevitable restructure had sparked talk of a split.

NNZ chief executive Hilary Poole confirmed this is one of the options being explored, but with the Australians still in the process of confirming the number of new teams and where they would be based, any decisions what shape the 2017 competition might take are still a way off.

"[Moving to separate competitions] is one of a number of options. All options are being considered, it's all on the table," said Poole.

While Poole insists no decisions have been made, NNZ are well advanced in their planning should a split occur. The big concern with a shift to a domestic competition is that with only five New Zealand franchises, the product will quickly become repetitive and prove a turnoff for broadcasters and sponsors.

"If we went down that path, we would contemplate a sixth team in New Zealand," said Poole.

"We think a six-team competition in terms of the formats would work much better for us here. It's too early to tell where that team might be based and what the composition of that team might be.

But within that we're committed to having a transtasman component - whether that be before, during or after [the regular season], that's still to be determined."

The format for the 2017 season cannot be finalised until the outcome of broadcast negotiations across the Tasman are known.

Netball Australia chief executive Kate Palmer was not available for comment yesterday, but she told the Herald in December plans to increase the number of Australian franchises hinged on securing a paid broadcast deal.

In New Zealand, it is understood the sport's broadcaster Sky Television favour the prospect of a split, with domestic clashes traditionally drawing stronger viewership numbers than transtasman matches.

"[Sky] have a strong interest in the amount of New Zealand content and they have been hugely supportive of us through this process," said Poole.

"[Netball Australia and NNZ] are each getting feedback from our respective markets over the importance of the on-going transtasman component."

Poole said she expects details of the format of the 2017 competition won't be publicly announced until mid-May.

- NZ Herald

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