New Zealand netball is on a mission to rediscover its identity in the new domestic competition after nine years of trying to beat the Australians at their game.

The split in the transtasman league and move back to standalone competitions this season has driven a period of self-reflection in New Zealand netball circles. That introspection has brought with it a feeling unfamiliar in the sport in this country for a long time - optimism.

Counting down to the ANZ Premiership next weekend, there is a groundswell of energy and enthusiasm about re-embracing the New Zealand style of play.

Silver Ferns star Maria Tutaia, who will again lead the Northern Mystics this year, is also leading the cheer chorus for the "Kiwi way".


She said it was refreshing to see teams return to a more open style of game at last weekend's pre-season tournament in Otaki, where, due to her workload being managed, she was a spectator rather than a player.

"It's so nice that we're able to get our mojo back. I'm so proud of the style of netball we play in New Zealand and I feel like we lost it a bit, so being able to re-inject that style back into our play is something I'm really looking forward to," said Tutaia.

There was no major turning point, no catastrophic single event, but at some stage over the past nine seasons of the transtasman league, New Zealand netball lost its identity.

With the benefit of hindsight, the feeling among many netball luminaries is that, in an effort to try to compete with the Australians, franchises focused too much energy on the wrong areas. Rather than building on their own strengths, teams tried to match the pace and physicality of the Aussie game.

What developed was a fairly crude hybrid of the two game styles, which only served to enhance the Australian dominance of the competition.

Helene Wilson, who takes over coaching at the Mystics this year, said much of the pre-season had been focused on developing the ball skills and natural flair traditionally associated with the Kiwi style.

The key point of difference between the New Zealand and Australian games, according to Wilson, is the way players move the ball through the court.

"We try to transfer the ball a lot faster through the hands and ensure it's always in flight. You get the ball moving at speed and the ball does the work rather than the players. Traditionally, New Zealand can get the ball down the court in two or three passes when we're really getting the ball moving and the timing is on. When you play Australia, they tend to use short, sharp direct passes, so you have to do a lot more work as a person to get free and there's a lot more running of lines to get free," she said.

The struggles of the New Zealand teams in the transtasman league were often put down to a lack of fitness - an assessment Wilson believes is in itself lazy.

"People go on about fitness a lot, but I don't know that it is 100 per cent fitness - it is more in the way how we have been brought up to play the game. I look at the strengths of New Zealand - our strengths aren't girls that run all day.

"We have a higher strength and power base in the player population here, so we prop a lot, we work off people we play against and that's about efficiency and smart moving," said Wilson.

While there is a sense of relief New Zealand netball is going back to a style more natural and familiar to them, at some point the Silver Ferns will have to contend with the Australian style. The concern is that without regular exposure to the Australian game, and in particular the tight one-on-one marking style, the Ferns will forget how to compete against it.

Silver Ferns assistant coach Yvette McCausland-Durie, also coaching the Central Pulse this season, believes the move back to standalone domestic competitions will help rather than hinder New Zealand's competitiveness at test level.

"From an international perspective, what we need to develop is a diversity of skills and hopefully that will give players the confidence to know how to work around [the Aussie defence] and they don't feel they have to beat Australia at their own game - there's other ways to play it," she said.

Although ardent purists from each side of the Tasman may disagree, McCausland-Durie emphasises there is no right or wrong way to play the game. But if there is one thing New Zealand players need to adopt from the Aussies, it's their uncompromising approach to high performance standards.

"What underpins a lot of our ability to be successful in an international environment is our conditioning base and with that comes the ability to sustain pressure and deal with pressure," she said.

Former Silver Ferns skipper Casey Kopua, who returns to the Magic this season following the birth of her first child, reckons there will be no shortage of pressure week-in, week-out in the new league.

"I think the netball will still be very, very competitive," she said. "It does feel like you have ownership of it and it's something special to be a part of. It's like we've found ourselves again."