24 Aug 2018

Desperate times force a change in Netball's eligibility rules

5:37 am on 24 August 2018

Desperate times have forced a change of heart from Netball New Zealand over eligibility rules for the Silver Ferns.

The 128 test veteran Maria Folau is moving to Australia to be with with her husband, the Australian rugby player Israel Folau.

Netball New Zealand has granted Folau a 12-month exemption, making her eligible to play for the Silver Ferns and compete at next year's world champs in Liverpool.

Folau, 31, has been a stalwart of the Silver Ferns for the past 13 years.

Maria Folau.

Silver Ferns shooter Maria Folau. Photo: Photosport

She's been a key part of many of the side's successes from winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Delhi in 2010 to crashing out of this year's Games on the Gold Coast when the side failed to make the podium.

Folau has been selected to play next month's Quad Series and will be eligible for selection for next year's World Cup in Liverpool.

Netball NZ chief executive Jenny Wylie says Folau is now free to do what she wants on the club scene.

"Maria has been granted a 12 month exemption so under our eligibility rules she can participate in netball anywhere in the world," she said.

Netball NZ CEO Jennie Wyllie.

Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie. Photo: Photosport

It's a change of heart from Netball New Zealand who had previously insisted that players had to be competing in the local premiership to be eligible for the national side.

Laura Langman played for the Australian side the Sunshine Coast last year but wasn't allowed to play for the Silver Ferns.

That policy and exemptions remain in place, but the circumstances have now changed said Wylie.

"A couple of years ago when we were in start up phase of the ANZ premiership the situation was very different. The board is really clear that it is an exemption granted for the situation we now find ourselves in.

"In phase two of our review (in the wake of the Commonwealth Games) we will be looking at that policy and ensuring it remains fits for purpose," said Wyllie.

Folau has said she would have retired internationally if she hadn't received the dispensation.

Maria Tutaia and Israel Folau.

Maria Folau and husband Wallabies player Israel Folau. Photo: Instagram

But former Silver Ferns assistant coach Robyn Broughton says Netball New Zealand need to have a hard and fast rule over player exemptions.

"They are going to have to tidy up all these loose ends with the players. It's not the same as it used to be where you just had to do as you were told.

"I always felt for Laura (Langman) because she had given many years of her netball career to New Zealand netball and we needed her and I think we need Maria....the rest of the world is catching up so we need to move with the times and create and environment they can work within," said Broughton.

Folau is yet to confirm if she will play domestically in Australia next year but a signing with the Sydney based Swifts or the Giants would seem the logical options.

Former Silver Ferns assistant coach Robyn Broughton

Former Silver Ferns assistant coach Robyn Broughton. Photo: Photosport

The Mystics weren't completely caught off guard by Folau's decision, but as she didn't confirm she was leaving until now, it gives Mystics coach Helene Wilson just over a week to find a replacement.

"We are talking to players both overseas and in New Zealand. But I am looking for someone who is able to anchor our shooting circle because a winning team needs a really good quality shooter at goal attack or goal shoot."