17 Apr 2024

Netball coming to grips with new rules after four suspensions

8:56 am on 17 April 2024
Maddy Gordon.
Stars v Pulse. ANZ Premiership Netball. Pulman Arena, Auckland. Sunday 14 April 2024. © Photo: Andrew Cornaga / Photosport

Pulse's Maddy Gordon during a game against Stars in Auckland on 14 April 2024. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/www.photosport.nz

New rules saw more suspensions dished out in one round of netball's ANZ Premiership on the weekend, than across an entire typical season.

But netball officials believe it won't be long before umpires and players adjust to the new interpretations around 'dangerous play'.

World Netball's revised rules came into force at the start of this year, which put a greater emphasis on player safety and effectively lowered the threshold for suspending players.

The first two suspensions came in the opening game of the season between the Mystics and Magic.

In the second quarter, Oceane Maihi was suspended for two minutes after a contact with Mystics shooter Grace Nweke, which resulted in her falling to the ground.

In the final quarter, Mystics captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson was sent to the sideline for two minutes after a heavy hit on Ali Wilshire that left her sprawled on the ground, was deemed dangerous.

In the next game, Stars defender Khanye'-Lii Munro-Nonoa was suspended for dangerous play, after a late challenge on Pulse centre Maddy Gordon early in the game.

Then with just 11 seconds left in the final game, Steel defender Taneisha Fifita became the fourth player to be suspended after moving slightly into the landing space of Tactix shooter Ellie Bird, who did not look too bothered by the contact.

In contrast, no suspensions were issued across the ditch, after the completion of round one of Australia's Suncorp Super Netball competition (SSN) over the weekend.

Former top New Zealand netball umpire turned Super Rugby referee Jono Bredin is a member of World Netball's Rules Advisory Panel (RAP), which developed the revised rules.

Charlie Bell of the Tactix shoots during the round one ANZ Championship match between Tactix and Steel.

Charlie Bell of the Tactix shoots during the round one ANZ Championship match between Tactix and Steel. Photo: Joe Allison

Bredin said there were instances in the SSN that potentially warranted a suspension, while there were situations in the ANZ that perhaps did not.

"There would be situations that we've observed across both leagues that potentially in our view wasn't the right outcome. But I guess the key thing from us here is that this is all new for the umpires as well as it is for the teams. And what we were pleased to see was umpires looking to apply these game management actions to protect player safety. Going forward it's just an umpire education piece to make sure that we're ruling these things in the correct manner," Bredin said.

"There were certainly situations where there were suspensions over the weekend that were well applied. And there were probably some missed opportunities in Australia, based on the games that we saw over the weekend."

Former top Australian umpire Michelle Phippard is also on the Rules Advisory Panel and Bredin said they had shared notes after the first round of both leagues.

"We're running a Zoom session with all the international umpires next week to just check in - in terms of game management, contact, and the new short pass rules. Those are the three areas that we just want to make sure that we're all aligned and getting consistent application across the world."

Under the new rules, any play which results in the head and/or neck area being contacted must be considered dangerous play.

"Whether it was intentional or not, if it causes contact with the head or neck of an opponent or it causes a player to slam into the goal post for example, and hit their head, then the umpires must treat that as dangerous play.

"Umpires may consider intent if they're considering whether it will be a suspension or an ordering off, depending on the severity of the incident."

Referee Jono Bredin.
Auckland v Southland in round two of the Bunnings NPC at FRugby Park, Invercargill, New Zealand on Sunday August 14th 2022.
Image Credit Blake Armstrong / www.photosport.nz

Super Rugby referee Jono Bredin says the onus is on the players to not put their opponent's safety at risk. Photo: BLAKE ARMSTRONG

An umpire must suspend a player in instances of dangerous play and a player must always be ordered off for intentional or highly reckless acts of dangerous play that endanger player safety.

"If an umpire deems something as dangerous play and if there is head or neck contact - there is no warning, the minimum sanction is a suspension."

Bredin switched codes in 2019. He's now a Super Rugby Pacific referee, in a sport that's been grappling with rules around preventing head contact for a lot longer than netball.

"When we were drafting up this rule change we looked across all contact sports, including rugby, and with the greater focus on player safety and incidences, which result in concussion, sports have taken quite a strong view."

Bredin said the onus was on the players to not put their opponent's safety at risk when they were going to contest the ball.

"I guess it's risk and reward and if they don't get it quite right, they have to sit off for two minutes or in a more serious case for the rest of the match. Players need to get their timing right so you don't have a situation where you're putting the judgement in the umpires' hands."

Under the new rules, coaches don't have to return the suspended player to court at the end of the two minute stand down.

"It encourages coaches to think long and hard about putting that player back on court, especially if they don't think that their behaviour wouldn't be able to be adjusted.

"If a player had already incurred a suspension for a dangerous play, for example, and then there was another action that was deemed dangerous play, the umpire would have no choice - that would be an order off."

Saviour Tui of the Magic during the ANZ Premiership round one match between the Magic and Mystics at Globox Arena in Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday April 13, 2024. Copyright photo: Aaron Gillions / www.photosport.nz

Saviour Tui of the Magic during the ANZ Premiership round one match between the Magic and Mystics at Globox Arena in Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday April 13, 2024. Copyright photo: Aaron Gillions / www.photosport.nz Photo: Aaron Gillions / www.photosport.nz

The revised rules also beefed up definitions around what is and isn't contact, and put greater emphasis on protecting players when they are in the air and/or trying to land.

"And those are situations that we saw ... one of them was a situation in the weekend that ended up in a suspension where a player was in the air and was contacted quite hard."

An ordered off player has to sit out the rest of the game but the new rules now allow a team to replace that player at the end of four minutes.

Bredin said they expected there would be a settling-in period.

"We've seen this in other sports, when there's been a change in interpretation around these sorts of instances.

"We're not concerned that there's been a number of suspensions in the first week, because I think in the heat of competition you probably see things that you don't in pre-season so I think things will settle down.

"And hopefully we'll see a change in behaviour from the players that will see everyone competing within the rules and playing in a safer way, which is ultimately what we want.

"It's week one, it's a work in progress and we'll continue to monitor that as the year goes on and support the umpires."

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