8 Jun 2015

ANZ netball champs exposes NZs deficiencies

2:40 pm on 8 June 2015

OPINION: A weak domestic competition is hurting our ANZ Championship netball sides and contributing to the competitive gap that has opened up between the Silver Ferns and Australia.

Jodi Brown. Constellation Cup Test Four, New Zealand Silver Ferns v Australian Diamonds, Auckland, 15 October 2014.

The Silver Ferns have come up short against Australia in recent times. Photo: Photosport

This season's trans-Tasman competition has exposed the deficiencies more than ever.

When the regular season came to an end last week, only one side - the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic - had beaten an Australian team. Embarrassingly, the Northern Mystics haven't had a single win over an Australian opponent, despite topping the New Zealand conference.

Their loss last Monday to the Melbourne Vixens, who finished second to last on the Australian ladder, wasn't a good omen for our play-off chances.

The new conference system ensures that a New Zealand side will host an Australian team in a semi-final, but that might be as far as we get.

Temalisi Fakahokotau of the Mystics competes against Karyn Bailey of the Vixens. 2015 ANZ Championship, Northern Mystics v Melbourne Vixens,  Auckland.

Temalisi Fakahokotau of the Mystics competes against Karyn Bailey of the Vixens earlier this week. Photo: Photosport

Netball's equivalent of rugby's NPC has been stripped back and watered down so much over the years, it's now reduced to five days of competition.

That's five days of netball for the country's next tier of netballers. It is bound to have other flow on effects too.

Currently two of New Zealand's ANZ franchises are coached by Australians. Franchise boards cite a lack of experienced local coaches but how are up and coming coaches meant to get that if there's nowhere to ply their trade?

It's telling when you compare it to Australia's version - the Australian Netball League, an eight week competition, culminating in a finals weekend. We don't come within cooee of that.

The ANL prepares players for the ANZ Championship and international netball.

You only need to look at the national squad to see how important the competition has been in developing Australia's netballers for higher honours. Players like Madi Robinson, Tegan Philip, and Sharni Layton have all come through the ANL.

It also gives players, who don't get picked up at a young age, an opportunity to develop.

Take someone like Karyn Bailey, who's now on the fringes of Diamonds selection.

In 2012 she earned her first ANZ contract with the Melbourne Vixens at the age of 25, which is almost unheard of in New Zealand.

Most players here get picked up a year or two out of school and you wonder what happens to those who don't. Right now they don't have a meaningful competition to entice them to keep pursuing their careers.

Nothing compares to competition - performing week after week, dealing with travel, sustaining intensity over a prolonged period of time - that can't be replicated in a gym.

When you look at some of the performances of our ANZ sides against their Australian counterparts, it seems we are just too brittle, we fold too easily.

The opposite can be said for our rivals. The sense you get when you watch them is that they've been there before, nothing flusters them.

Even when a New Zealand team gets a decent lead at half-time you just know the Australians are going to ramp things up and chances are they'll win, they definitely know how to win.

Irene van Dyk (right) and Bianca Chatfield from Australia in 2012.

Shooting legend Irene van Dyk (right) has been hard to replace. Photo: AAP

Recently former Australian great Liz Ellis said fitness was the main reason that New Zealand franchises tend to struggle.

Yes, that is true to an extent but that's a by-product of having a weak second-tier competition.

It's no wonder that Australia's ANZ debutants look like seasoned professionals, whereas our new entrants can look a little lost.

Once players are fully entrenched in New Zealand franchises, one suspects that they can run just as many yoyos as their counterparts but that's not enough to compete with the Australians because of where they have come from.

Their pathway in the sport has given them the edge, they've got more reserves to call on, more mettle.

Last year Netball New Zealand announced it was looking at ways to address player depth and it signalled a new domestic league will be set up in 2016 to sit under the ANZ Champs.

It can't come too soon and it will be interesting to see how far they go. We'd do well to have something similar to Australia.

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