Netball New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle has rejected Norma Plummer's claims that a New Zealand team won't win the trans-Tasman competition this year.
Instead she is backing NNZ's current systems to finally bring a title to this side of the ditch.
Plummer – the former Australian Diamonds coach and current coach of the West Coast Fever – said at the weekend: "An Aussie team will win this competition again. I don't think the Kiwi teams can do it."
While her Fever side certainly don't look like they'll be taking the honours, one of the other four Australian sides could make history by winning the ANZ Championship title for a second time.
Plummer believed New Zealand teams' inability to win across the Tasman, the inferior player development pathways and less time spent training would ultimately hinder the Kiwi outfits.
But despite Plummer's swipe, Castle is confident either the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic or the Northern Mystics can seriously challenge for this year's crown.
"Well I think that's Norma being Norma," Castle said. "Norma likes to stir up those sorts of comments. But we certainly believe that we've got a couple of teams there at the moment that are capable of winning this championship."
As for Central Pulse, Canterbury Tactix and Southern Steel, Castle felt they were competitive, though not contenders.
There have still been blowouts in the fifth year of the competition, but by smaller margins than in the earlier years, and Castle felt this year was the strongest group of New Zealand teams.
She says fans on this side of the Tasman should be patient in waiting for a title, and she does not believe her organisation needs to make drastic changes to their pathway to match the Australian Institute of Sport model.
"They take 20 odd girls every other year or every year and put them through a fulltime training programme. That's a huge benefit for them, that's the way their pathway is and the funding structures that they've got," Castle said.
"We're not in that situation so we have to find other ways to identify those talents. And Netball New Zealand's got some accelerant squads at the junior and senior levels, and we try and identify that talent and give them extra help and support. So in our own little way we're doing those things."
Castle said Victoria had about the same number of netballers as New Zealand and that this country couldn't compete with the Aussie structure because of that sheer numbers' disadvantage. "It's just the nature of the business," she said. "We think we do a pretty good job really."
In terms of managing more wins across the Tasman, Castle admitted there are lessons the teams need to take from the likes of the Warriors, the Breakers and the Phoenix, who regularly make the trip and transition.
"It's about routine, it's about working out what flights work for you, and how your body clock works," she said.
"I think it's about the consistency in the preparation and making sure you do understand how you prepare and what works best for your team.
"And at the end of the day it's just toughening up and getting over the mental side of it really, I think."
Magic coach Noeline Taurua said Plummer's comments were her prerogative and that they didn't worry her. Taurua's side have won four of the six games won by New Zealand sides in Australia, with the Mystics claiming the other two, but doing better across the ditch was not a focus for the Magic.
"It's irrelevant to us to be honest, we just get on with it and it doesn't change from week to week," Taurua said. "We just know that we have to be tougher on the ball and that we must be prepared to fight for the ball. But that's also the thing that we've been working on every game, is taking that same mindset irrelevant whether it's an Australian or a New Zealand team that we play up against."
As for the amount of training various teams do, research by the Waikato Times has found there is little difference.
"Yeah certainly once they get to the franchise level it's not different," Castle added.
Plummer's Fever side does their weights and gym work as a team, but that isn't the same across the board, including in Australia. Some teams run those sessions in cluster groups, with players based in two different regions.
"The logistics are totally different as well and I think it's horses for courses," Taurua said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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