2 Jun 2020

Chance yet for crowds when ANZ Premiership resumes

7:27 pm on 2 June 2020

Northern Stars coach Kiri Wills is crossing her fingers that crowds might be allowed when the ANZ netball premiership resumes later this month.

That would have seemed impossible a couple of months ago when New Zealand was in lockdown and Covid-19 hung heavily over the country.

Stars netball captain Grace Kara.

Stars captain Grace Kara. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

But New Zealand has had several days of no new cases and the Prime Minister told RNZ this morning that the government next Monday will consider moving to Level 1.

It was due to be considered later in the month.

Jacinda Ardern said the country would be given a period of time to transition, but it was possible that we could be at alert Level 1 by 10 June.

The ANZ premiership re-starts on the 19th June at the Auckland Netball Centre.

Level 1 would involve very few restrictions, mainly border controls.

Wills said playing in front of a crowd would be the ultimate.

"Yeah pretty awesome. I think when we first all went in to this like any other industry we weren't sure whether we would even get anything off the ground at all. It's really hopeful and we're just pleased that we can play so to have that added that would be a bonus if that happens and I think everyone will look forward to it," Wills said.

When Netball New Zealand revealed details of how the ANZ Premiership would work it was planned for a Level 2 environment, where no crowds would be possible.

The national body also thought a single venue would give the league the best chance of complying with health and safety requirements.

The Auckland Netball Centre is advertised as having the capacity to hold 2000 but it doesn't specify how many it can seat.

The Southern Steel, Mainland Tactix and Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse will have to fly to Auckland each weekend for the 10 week competition.

Despite it being an Auckland venue, the South Auckland based Stars don't see them as home games, as long as the stadium is empty.

"We're not counting it [as a home game] ...in terms of a home crowd there's going to be no advantage in that respect, which is a bit of a shame, we love our Papakura crowd."

All of the six franchises have had to strip back team management, leaving just the head coach.

She said her support staff had all volunteered to come back, starting tomorrow, including assistant coach Temepara Bailey.

But Wills said whether or not they can actually attend ANZ matches was a numbers game with the venue limit 100.

"Once we get TV in there, officials and teams I think there's a little bit of concern around that at the moment but we're hopeful ...and by the time the competition starts things might change."

Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua has offered to step in as an acting assistant on game day if any of the head coaches do find themselves on their own.

It could be a moot point if the country moves to Level 1 before the ANZ Premiership resumes.

Wills said since they'd been back training, they had been able to have practice games pretty early on with all squads carrying 14 players.

"We've all added four training partners to our squads so that we were able to do that right from the start and it's really important for us given that we've got such a short turn around.

"We did a little bit of light contesting in the earlier sessions and then we went into full contested about a week ago and tomorrow night we're going to run four 12 minute quarters on top of a little bit of training so they're excited about that, they just can't wait."

Northern Stars head coach Kiri Wills

Northern Stars head coach Kiri Wills. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2018 www.photosport.nz

Wills said she had been pleasantly surprised by the results from fitness testing.

"I knew that our girls were working really hard during lockdown but it's really hard to know when you're not with them.

"Fitness wise really really good, I think there's been a few little drop offs in strength gains which is a little bit concerning because the stronger they are the more they withstand injuries and things like that so we're trying to get them doing some stuff right now to rectify that but luckily any strength losses are easy to get back."

She said lockdown was good for them in that some of the players who had a few injury niggles had got over them.

"I've probably had 'touch wood' the best couple of trainings weeks that we've had with full availability.

"We've got a double header first weekend ...so it's a real fine balance between getting them ready for that and not hitting them too hard too early. It's very mathematical, my strength and conditioner has got all sorts of calculations happening at the moment."

Wills said it was a relief that the 15 minute quarters had been cut to 12 minutes.

"It's a really really tough draw for all teams and particularly those teams that have to travel - that really impacts on your recovery ...it's protecting the players and ensuring that they can handle the load.

"I just think that the games too will be of a higher quality ...and audiences aren't going to see massive blow-outs I think it's just going to keep the competition a little bit tighter."