Several ANZ Premiership teams have been forced to call on coaching volunteers as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact New Zealand's premier domestic netball season. Cheree Kinnear reports.
The country's leading netball teams have had to call on volunteers in their preparation for the ANZ Premiership season following drastic staffing cuts due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with most franchises left with only 10 players and a head coach.
The Herald understands some assistant coaches and management have returned to their teams without payment, as the season resumes on June 19. Additionally, matches could yet be played without paying spectators even under alert level 1.
The Northern Stars have been left with just head coach Kiri Wills and general manager Di Lasenby to lead the team, with assistant coach and former Silver Fern Temepara Bailey unable to retain her position.
Wills told the Herald, however, that Bailey, along with the team's resource coach and analyst, had returned this week on a volunteer basis.
"It's like cutting your heart out when you have to tell those people that they're no longer part of it, but they want to be a part of it so they're coming back," Wills said. "We've all come through a system where we've volunteered pretty much up until this point in our careers, so you kind of dig in to do what's best for the game and we've always done it because we've got massive passion for it so it's great to see that that hasn't changed.
"I am going to be flexible because they are seeking other work if they haven't got it already, so that will impact on availability, but they're used to juggling."
With the ANZ Premiership set to be solely hosted at the Auckland Netball Centre and the country likely to drop to alert level 1 next week, franchises are eager over the prospect of playing in front of fans.
However, Netball New Zealand appears to be considering a season with minimal fan presence.
The Herald understands tickets won't be sold to the public, instead, organisers could look to invite groups from schools and the community with the Premiership grand final hosted at a larger stadium where fans can attend.
Southern Steel coach Reinga Bloxham backed a fan-less competition.
"I feel they need to stick to the plan we already have in place," Bloxham said. "It makes sure we guarantee that if there is some sort of outbreak again, we're still secure and don't need to worry about what level the country is in.
"With an eye on the bigger picture, I think the plan going forward is one to be able to complete the competition."
Wills, however, disagrees.
She said Netball New Zealand should follow the likes of New Zealand Rugby which looks set to host fans across the country as early as round one of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
"If Super Rugby gets their crowds in, then I'd be questioning why we couldn't do it. The reality is that this government has been really conservative, they're letting us do more and more and they wouldn't allow us to do that if they didn't think we'd hit Covid on the head."
Netball New Zealand are set to discuss all potential options in the coming days.