29 Apr 2020

ANZ netball imports: In limbo and locked out

10:45 pm on 29 April 2020

When Trinidad and Tobago international Daystar Swift signed a contract with the Northern Stars for this year's ANZ Netball Premiership, she finally got the professional break she'd been longing for.

Daystar Swift (right) played one round of ANZ Premiership netball.

Daystar Swift (right) played one round of ANZ Premiership netball. Photo: Photosport

Netballers don't get paid where she comes from and the 28-year-old had to turn down earlier opportunities in the UK's Superleague.

"This is the first professional contract that I took up. I got offers to play in England on two occasions but because of my job I was not able to get the release in time so I got it this time around thankfully so this is my first opportunity," Swift said.

Finally able to get time off her job as a high school PE teacher, she made huge sacrifices to be here.

She has her partner and two-year-old daughter back home. It's been made even harder with the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world.

After only one round of the ANZ Premiership, the competition joined the list of suspended leagues.

When it was announced New Zealand would be going into lockdown last month, it was too late for her to even consider returning home.

"It was on the table, [Northern Stars] management put it on the table for me, however it was too late because our borders back home were already closed."

The borders in Trinidad and Tobago were closed before the borders in New Zealand were, so attempts by her partner and daughter to get here have been unsuccessful.

Online chats with family and friends are a big part of her day now.

"I'm on Skype almost the entire day, outside the training," she laughs.

Trinidad and Tobago are under similar restrictions to New Zealand and her big family - she has six siblings, try to keep her spirits up.

Swift flats with Silver Fern Maia Wilson, which she said had been a blessing.

"It's been great, especially when it comes to training, sometimes it's very demotivating training alone so just having someone else there to give that encouragement is definitely a plus for me."

Her sporting family are proud of her and her sister, who is in a similar position.

"My sister plays professional football in Iceland. She's waiting for the borders to be open so that she can leave Trinidad and Tobago to go, she should have been there. This year was going to be her second year."

When she arrived in New Zealand in early January, she could never have foreseen what was going to transpire but she's staying positive and can't wait to play again.

"That's the reason we're here and we're only here for a short time so it's really to make the best of the opportunity given."

Initially the plan was for her partner and daughter to join her in the middle of the season, which would have been around late May.

For now she has to sit tight, hope things change and that she can be reunited with her daughter, well before her third birthday in August.

Swifts' international team-mate Kalifa McCollin, is also in New Zealand for her first season of the ANZ Premiership.

Steel shooter Kalifa McCollin.

Steel shooter Kalifa McCollin. Photo: Photosport

The Steel shooter is based in Invercargill and flats with a team-mate's sister in law.

She's in regular contact with her parents back home in Trinidad and Tobago.

"My mum probably calls me twice or three times a day just to make sure I'm okay every single time... it's tough on them as well just to have me away at this time," said McCollin.

The 24-year-old played three seasons in the UK league and was looking to expand her horizons.

"This is not what I expected my first season in New Zealand to be like but I'm just trying to stay positive hopefully things calm down and we're able to train together. That would make me extremely happy if I'm just able to pass a ball to my team-mates and eventually get out there and compete because we've prepared for months."

She said she talked to Daystar a couple of times a week and also tries to stay connected with Sam Wallace - star shooter for the NSW Swifts in Australia's superleague, which is also in limbo.

McCollin said she was trying to stick to a schedule.

"I get up at around 6:30 most days, I start with a run, I do a lot of body weight training and I have access to a goal post, so I put up shots probably every other day."

She said zoom chats which her Steel team-mates were highlights and they recently had a quiz night.

"We had to dress up, put on fancy outfits. My team-mates are quite competitive, I think I'm really competitive, it was fun."

Aussie pair trying to get back in

Abigail Latu-Meafou was born in Auckland but her family moved to Australia when she was five.

Abigail Latu-Meafou playing for the Magic.

Abigail Latu-Meafou playing for the Magic. Photo: Photosport

She's not classed as an import player because she's a New Zealand citizen but she's in a predicament of her own.

The Waikato Bay-of-Plenty Magic shooter said everything happened quickly after lockdown was announced.

"We found out on Monday (23 March) and the borders closed on Wednesday for both Australia and New Zealand so pretty much it was a decision made by the coaches for our health and well-being ...what would be best for us during the lockdown period and they just thought it would better if we were with our families," Latu-Meafou said.

So she and Magic team-mate - Australian import shooter Georgia Marshall - both went back home.

Latu-Meafou said she was glad to be with her family in Brisbane, but was itching to get back to New Zealand - which has proved difficult.

She booked a flight and arrived at Brisbane airport last Monday but was turned around, told she couldn't leave Australia.

As a citizen she knew she could get back into New Zealand, however she discovered that Australian border rules, which have been changing, basically overruled her New Zealand citizenship.

She wanted to get back to New Zealand in anticipation that the restrictions in New Zealand might ease and she might have the opportunity to get into training.

She also knew she had to build-in two weeks of quarantine to the equation.

"The mentality was, the sooner we can get home, the sooner we can get our two weeks quarantine over with and hopefully by that point New Zealand would have moved into a stage where we could go into some form of team training."

Right now she and Georgia Marshall are just having to wait to find out when the might be able to leave Australia.

"It's a little bit of a touch and go type situation but Georgia and myself have both been putting in some letters and forms into the Australian government to see if we can be exempt and travel back on business grounds so it's just a matter of whether they deem our travel essential."

She said under the current rules around sport, it may not be until Level 1 that they get to play but moves were underway to get the ANZ league going before that.

"We have been notified that that's most likely the case. I do know that Netball New Zealand and rugby are going to I guess make a case maybe in the next coming weeks of what they might propose you know like closed games [under Level 2], but I guess it's all up to the government really."

She said she was remaining hopeful.

"It is part of our job to play netball and to get out there. It's a sport that we love to play so it would be amazing if we could get out there and play as soon as possible, when it's safe.

"All sports are going through this phase, we don't know the future of our sport, it's a very weird time in the world right now."

Marshall is with her parents in Sydney.

The other option would have been a very lonely one.

She had been flatting with Magic team-mates - Holly Fowler and Silver Fern Whitney Souness, who both headed home before Alert Level 4, so she would have been alone if she'd stayed.

When she went back to Australia, she was in self-isolation at home for two weeks, not able to leave the house.

For Marshall, looking to advance her career, with her first season in the New Zealand league, it's been frustrating.

"It's been not the best of times especially with just having the one game and then being told 'okay you've got to go home now' but yeah just trying to stay motivated like everyone else is to be honest," Marshall said.

Magic player Georgia Marshall

Magic player Georgia Marshall Photo: Photosport

The Magic have been having regular zoom meetings.

"I'm able to do everything that we're assigned to. Most of the sessions are cardio or weight sessions, or speed sessions and the weighted sessions, they've been adapted to body weight sessions so a lot of us girls don't have a lot of equipment."

She was quite close to a few of her old team-mates in the Australian competition.

"They're all in isolation still, no trainings together and they look like they're not coming back to team based training a lot further down the track so I'll be quite lucky if I get back to New Zealand within the next couple of weeks hopefully but we'll start up a lot sooner than they will."

She's waiting to hear if New Zealand might go down to Alert level 2 and also had to add two weeks of quarantine into her planning.

"If I do come over I need to be doing what I can because the other girls will be training together so if anything I should hopefully only miss out on two weeks of team-based training if we plan it right but it's just one of those things you can't do much about."

Marshall is hoping she'll be on a flight "side by side" with her team-mate.