20 Feb 2016

What's the net gain of 3-point shots?

9:07 am on 20 February 2016

Sports Call: Three-point shots could be introduced to netball sooner rather than later, but at grassroot levels the sport might not be ready for the radical change.

Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid takes a shot at goal while defended by Pulse's Katrina Grant in the ANZ championship netball match, Steel v Pulse, ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill, New Zealand, Monday, April 14, 2014.

The Steel's Jhaniele Fowler-Reid takes a shot at goal as the Pulse's Katrina Grant defends Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The trans-Tasman netball league (TTNL) has announced that some new rules will be trialled in next month's ANZ Championship pre-season tournament, being played simultaneously in Auckland and Sydney.

As well as three-point shots, there will be rolling subs, no injury time-outs and no alternate centre pass, meaning the pass will be taken by the team that did not score the previous goal.

The three-point scoring zone will still be within the goal circle and that is the crucial difference to the Fast5 World Series competition.

Fast5, last held in Auckland in 2014, is a five-a-side version of netball, which is still in its infancy.

Unlike Fast5, where the shooters can shoot from outside of the goal circle, the ANZ tournament is trialling three-pointers from 1.5 metres inside the perimeter of the shooting circle.

Everything else inside of that semi-circle will be worth the usual one point.

The fact that goal attack and goal shoot will still be confined to shooting from inside the circle could be the key to getting the rule change through in the not-too-distant future.

If the shooters are allowed to shoot from outside it will transform the game. The wing positions will become redundant and the sport will start to resemble basketball. That would be unpalatable to many in the game.

Netball also needs to remain distinct from Fast5.

Netball Australia chief executive Kate Palmer told Australian media last week that significant rule changes were being considered as part of the revamp for the 2017 ANZ season.

Palmer mentioned only the two-point shot, which may be more acceptable to traditionalists.

Netball administrators have talked about the need to make the game more exciting, speed it up, engage new followers.

Netball at the top level is played at a pretty high-octane pace as it is and if people don't have the attention span to sit through 60 minutes of it now, you wonder if these changes will make much difference.

An argument for change that is valid, though, is the need to negate the increasing dominance of super-tall goal shooters.

In the last few years, the likes of six-foot-plus shooters Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, Romelda Aiken, and Caitlin Bassett put up huge numbers of goals.

The midcourter biffs in the ball, over the head of a defender, who doesn't stand much chance.

It gets repetitive, and it makes the role of goal attack more like one of an extra feeder.

That's where higher value shots could be beneficial, but other than that, it would be change for the sake of it.

A new scoring zone would encourage feeders to look more for the goal attack, who is typically good at the long range shot.

It would mean less congestion under the goal post - a highly penalised area of the court - and in turn there would be less whistle.

From a purely New Zealand point of view, the rule change could have advantages.

The Silver Ferns have the best long-range shooter the world sport has seen in Maria Tutaia.

If the two- or three-point shot had been in force over the past decade, the Ferns would have had far more success over arch-rivals Australia.

New Zealand's Maria Tutaia takes a shot in the Fast5 Netball World Series against Australia at Vector Arena, Auckland, Friday 8th November 2013. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung / photosport.co.nz

Silver Fern Maria Tutaia is one of the world's best-ever long-range shooters Photo: Photosport

While less traumatic than if shots were allowed outside the circle, it would still be a fairly radical move for the sport.

Administrators need to consider the ripple effect it could have throughout the court because it would impact on everyone.

The midcourters' drive to the circle edge could be stunted at times because that would get in the way of shooters trying to make themselves available just inside the circle for the three-point shot.

Defenders would have to re-think how they defend - not necessarily a bad thing, of course.

What we may see less of is shooters trying to get closer to the goal-post to increase their chances of a successful shot.

Burrowing your way closer to the goal post is a skill in itself, and the use of mid-courters in this pursuit is crafty.

Also, some of the clever footwork used by shooters to get rid of their defenders on the base-line is a joy to see.

In 2014, two-point goals were trialled at Under-19 and Under-23 tournaments in New Zealand.

One coach observed that instead of speeding up the game and making things more attractive, there was a rebooting effect when the ball would be passed backwards again to the two-point zone.

Another was more positive, and said it added more mobility to the circle and had a levelling effect between tall shooters and shorter ones.

Donna Wilkins, who represented New Zealand in both netball and basketball in the 90s, is a fan of the idea.

Wilkins made an interesting point when she said there was less movement in the circle now than when she started out.

So in an odd way, introducing the change might actually take the game back closer to where it was 20 or 30 years ago, when mobile shooting circles were standard.

Who knows? It is always difficult to predict how a major rule change would impact a sport because inevitably players adapt to it in ways you can't forsee.

Normally, changes to traditional seven-a-side netball can only be submitted to the International Netball Federation (INF) every eight years.

In August last year the INF approved some relatively minor tweaks to the game after the two-point shot was considered a step too far.

So has the ANZ competition missed the boat?

Apparently not - the ANZ Championship has the ability to introduce rules not sanctioned by the INF.

A spokesperson said as long as the rules do not "impact the integrity of the game but are specific to environment the competition is played (in)".

So New Zealand and Australia could go rogue and write their own rules for the ANZ Championship.

Considering both countries have dominated the sport for so long it would not be a surprise if they decided to trailblaze on the rule front as well.

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