Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Kiwi sides brace for arms race

Southern Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, left, and Magic's Kelly Jury. Photo / NZME.
Southern Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, left, and Magic's Kelly Jury. Photo / NZME.

Kiwi franchises are gearing up for an arms race for the top international netballing talent following the transtasman league split.

Netball NZ and its Australian counterparts this week confirmed the ANZ Championship will be axed at the end of the season.

Netball bosses in each country have voiced their determination to make their respective leagues the best competitions in the world, which means having the best athletes.

Given Australia's depth, and private investors willing to splash the cash, there were fears top Silver Ferns would be lured across the Tasman. However, Netball NZ's caveat that athletes must play in New Zealand to be eligible for the Silver Ferns means that's unlikely to happen.

The bigger risk is that the Australian franchises will stage a raid on some of the international stars playing for Kiwi teams. Jamaica's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid (Steel), Malawi shooter Mwai Kumwenda (Tactix), and English internationals Jo Harten (Magic) and Serena Guthrie (Mystics) are considered major targets.

Southern Steel chief executive Lana Winders is concerned that Fowler-Reid, one of the ANZ Championship's most prolific shooters, will be targeted but "it really is no different to last year, I always tend to worry about these things".

Fowler-Reid has signed a letter of intent with the Steel for the 2017 season, but the competition has been radically altered since Fowler-Reid signed the letter last year, so there are no guarantees.

Winders said the Kiwi franchises are unable to formalise player contracts until Netball NZ has signed a new collective agreement with the NZ Netball Players Association. But she is confident the urgency is understood. "I don't think I need to put pressure on Netball NZ, they know it already."

Mystics coach Debbie Fuller will meet with franchise management next week to work out a recruitment strategy for 2017. Fuller believes Guthrie and a couple of the team's experienced stars will be targets for the Australian sides, but is backing Netball NZ to come up with attractive terms to retain the players.

"I think that the players will be looking at the structures of the competition, the opportunities for them to advance their game, and also the return on that."

Fuller said if Australia introduces a two-point shot in their competition, as rumoured, Maria Tutaia will likely be top of the recruitment list.

Tutaia would have strong grounds for exemption from Netball NZ, just as Laura Langman did this season to take up a contract with the NSW Swifts. Like Langman, Tutaia has played more than 100 tests and could seek exemption because boyfriend Israel Folau is based in Sydney.


Today: 4pm Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic v Northern Mystics, Hamilton; 7pm West Coast Fever v Melbourne Vixens, Perth.

Sunday: 2pm Queensland Firebirds v Adelaide Thunderbirds, Brisbane; 4pm Mainland Tactix v NSW Swifts, Christchurch.

Monday: 7:30pm Central Pulse v Southern Steel, Wellington.

- NZ Herald

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