As a new era for New Zealand netball gets under way this weekend with the start of the ANZ Premiership, the key question is has the sport gone back to the future with the return to a domestic league, or just gone backwards?

The new league kicks off in Hamilton on Sunday with a super round - one of several format changes this year - in which all six teams meet at the same venue in back-to-back matches.

Desperate to match, if not exceed the hype across the Tasman around Australia's new competition, netball bosses here will be pinning their hopes on the teams delivering a strong spectacle.

When news of the impending split in the transtasman league first surfaced last year, the overwhelming feeling among the New Zealand players seemed to be disappointment that they would no longer get to challenge themselves against the top Australians week-in, week-out.


That disappointment has dissipated as a groundswell of enthusiasm built around re-embracing a New Zealand style of game.

But there remains some nagging concerns that without regular competition against the Australians, standards will drop.

Netball New Zealand head of events Kate Agnew said the new league has been carefully designed to ensure the competition prepares players for the pressure and intensity of international competition.

The season length is the same as the old transtasman league but there are more games squeezed in and fewer players in each team, placing added demands on the athletes.

Ensuring the players will cope with those added demands has exercised a lot of netball brains around the country in the lead-up to the season. Central Pulse skipper Katrina Grant said her side identified early that good planning and player management would be key.

"This year, we've had more trainings during the week and the girls are a lot fitter. I guess that gives us confidence when we go into the Sunday-Wednesday games, or double-headers, we know we can handle the load. With a team of 10, it's going to be really demanding, so preparation is key," said Grant.

"Staying healthy and ensuring we recover well will be one of the most important parts of this. Just being fit and strong and making sure everyone comes through the season well will be important."

The Southern Steel, who come into the competition as favourites having maintained a settled line-up from last year, have also ramped up their training intensity in the preseason.

While the data remains a closely guarded secret, it is understood in their heaviest training week of the preseason, the players completed double the units they did the previous year.

The net result can only be positive for the Silver Ferns programme.

One of the key issues Ferns management identified in recent years was that the transtasman league was conditioning players for only one game a week. That created challenges, particularly for new players, when they came into the international environment and were playing up to three tests a week.

Grant, who also skippers the national side, believes the structure of the ANZ Premiership better emulates the international season.

"At Silver Ferns level, you go into camp and you train twice a day and then you play a test match.

"This is replicating the international season a lot more - especially down at the Pulse, that's what we've been trying to do. We did fitness testing yesterday and it is the fittest Pulse team we've ever had. It will definitely help us going into the international season."

There are drawbacks to having smaller squads, however, as Australia have discovered with their new domestic competition.

Talk has surfaced this week whether the reduction of squad sizes from 12 to 10 has contributed to an unusually high attrition rate in the early rounds of the league. Three players, including star midcourter Kim Green, have suffered season-ending knee injuries in the first five rounds.

In a column for the Sydney Morning Herald this week, former Diamonds captain Liz Ellis said the shrinking rosters had undoubtedly been a contributing factor.

"With so many new combinations to lock in this year, playing trial matches was a major part of preparation," she wrote.

"The simple maths kicks in here - two fewer players means that everyone's load increases."

Anna Harrison, who will again anchor the Mystics defensive end this season, has also raised concerns around player welfare and said workloads will need to be carefully managed. She said one area New Zealand have an advantage is the alignment of the ANZ Premiership and Beko League teams.

"One of the things [coach Helene Wilson] has done really well is making sure we train on the same night as the Beko League, so there's a little bit of a crossover and when there are injuries or players we have to manage, we can bring [the Beko players] in," said Harrison.

"There has been a seamless movement of them in and out of the team and that can only add value both ways."

ANZ Premiership

• March 26-June 28.

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

• Triple round robin format.

• Matches will be played on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays.

• Two game finals series involving the top three teams.

• Six import players from England, Jamaica, South Africa and Fiji.