Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Aussies not locked in for playoffs

Delays have caused tension between transtasman national bodies.
Fears that other players may follow Silver Fern Laura Langman across the Tasman do not look justified. Picture / Daily Telegraph
Fears that other players may follow Silver Fern Laura Langman across the Tasman do not look justified. Picture / Daily Telegraph

Netball Australia could shut themselves out of a New Zealand-led Champions League-style playoff series after a messy transtasman league split.

The two national netball bodies yesterday confirmed the ANZ Championship would be axed at the end of this season, unveiling plans for standalone domestic competitions from 2017, each supported by "landmark broadcast deals".

Netball NZ also announced it is working on plans for an "international component", believed to be a Champions League series featuring the best club sides from around the world. However, there are no guarantees Australia will be part of it.

Across the course of negotiations in the past six months, the relationship between the two parties has become strained, raising questions over whether Netball Australia (NA) will allow its teams to be involved in the New Zealand-led initiative.

Netball NZ chief executive Hilary Poole said she has been encouraged by the support of the Australian players and franchises, some of whom have approached her directly.

"We would obviously like to see Australian teams as part of this new series," she said. "We will talk to Netball Australia and work on that in the coming weeks now that both competitions are settled.

"The interesting thing will be the demands of the athletes of the teams. What we've heard directly and indirectly from the teams is that they are very enthusiastic and very receptive to this idea."

While there has been no major falling out between NNZ and NA, tension has grown over the past six months as netball bosses here became increasingly frustrated at the length of time it took for the Australians to decide their course of action.

"Netball NZ has been very clear on our position and that was we must maintain a minimum of five New Zealand teams, and on commercial terms, that the value generated in the New Zealand market stay in the New Zealand market," said Poole.

"We were clear on this position in June last year, and because of the Netball World Cup, which [NA] did such a fantastic job of, it took them a really long time to get into the detail on that side of the ditch, and that's probably the thing that made this process really difficult."

Poole is adamant the move to a six-team "elite national competition" is in the best interests of New Zealand netball rather than the death knell some doomsayers predicted when news of the split surfaced.

Concerns were raised that top Kiwi players may follow in the footsteps of Silver Ferns star Laura Langman, who took up a contract with the New South Wales Swifts this year, and chase playing opportunities across the Tasman, leaving New Zealand with a substandard competition that would fail to attract commercial interest.

The selection criteria for the Silver Ferns, which states players must be based here to be eligible unless granted an exemption, means this is not a real threat. But Poole said her organisation must work closely with the players' association to develop a competition the athletes want.

"There's a number of factors our players are looking for - the playing environment, the coach, the high performance culture - and we are all committed to having the best possible league with strong competition. That requires us to have the best athletes."

Doubts have also been raised over whether the Australian franchises will have as much money to throw at international players. The Channel Nine deal announced yesterday has been hailed as a huge breakthrough for the sport, after years of trying crack the broadcast market. But it is understood the revenue is not at the level NA were getting from Sky, who have propped up the transtasman league for the past nine years.

Netball devolution

New Zealand competition

• Six teams (the five existing franchises, and a second Auckland team).

• Triple round robin format.

• Matches will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays and "Super Sundays", which will feature ll six teams in action at the same venue.

• Two-game finals series.

• An "international component" will follow the completion of the domestic league, likely to be a Champions League-style play-offs series featuring the top club sides from around the world.

Australian competition

• Eight teams (the five existing ANZ teams and three new franchises).

• The three new franchises will be backed by private investors.

• The three preferred bidders are AFL club Collingwood, the Melbourne Storm (based on the Sunshine Coast) and Netball NSW (in a strategic alliance with AFL side the Greater Western Sydney Giants).

• Two games a round will be broadcast live on the Nine Network as part of a five-year broadcast deal.

- NZ Herald

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