Nelson, our closest and most intense sporting rival, is becoming a significant and more vital part of the Marlborough club landscape.
The first round of play in the 2012 combined Marlborough-Nelson netball league this weekend completed a full house of interprovincial club competition across all our mainstream sports.
This year Marlborough clubs will do battle with their Top of the South counterparts in rugby, football, hockey, netball and cricket. Although there have been combined competitions in most of these sports for many years they are now an integral, and essential, part of our club scene.
This year's rugby Tasman Trophy club competition has been running since May 12. Originally set up in 2007 as an avenue to provide stronger, more varied opposition for club sides under the Tasman umbrella, the trophy had a chequered path as various formats were trialled and rejected. Finally, this season, clubs on both sides of the hill appear to have embraced the idea – some close results and spirited encounters underlining the value of the combined concept.
Netball introduced a Tasman Trophy to their club season in 2010, but the extra travel involved resulted in a revised competition in 2011. Played over two weekends, amid each province's second round, the new format is a popular innovation – especially given teams this side of the Whangamoas have prevailed on both occasions.
Our club footballers have been involved in many combined competitions and again this season will meet Nelson opposition. The top four division one teams after round two qualify for a seven-week Top of the South league from July 7. With the flagship Marlborough Mariners side off the scene this year, the opportunity to match skills with our Nelson footballing rivals is timely.
Hockey turned a new page last season, introducing a full-season Marlborough-Nelson league involving two men's and one women's side. Beawai won the inaugural men's title and, by all accounts, the lift in standard week-in, week-out helped our men's representative side to victory in the national tournament. This year just one men's and one women's side were involved when the competiton hit off on May 12.
Marlborough Cricket has been involved in a combined club competition, the Kelvin Scoble Trophy one-day series, since the 2007/08 season. Again, there has been some tinkering along the way over dates, format, etc, and it is fair to label the cricket concept "a work in progress", but it has opened the door to tougher competition and helped break down some barriers that existed between the provinces. Marlborough teams have won three out of the five combined competitions.
Many other sports also have regular contact with Nelson opponents at club level – bowls, tennis, harriers, shooting, golf and swimming – to name just a few.
In an ideal world, Marlborough's sporting community could exist on its own, running vibrant competitions boasting evenly-matched sides. But numbers have fallen across the codes, meaning some lateral thinking is needed to provide variation and breathe life into tired formats.
No longer is the trip across the Whangamoas daunting. Although Nelson's population base is double that of Marlborough, our teams are certainly not being overshadowed, as results indicate.
Hockey underlined last season that season-long participation in a combined league can work, although I'm not sure our other sports are ready for that step yet.
The current mixture of local and combined play seems to be working well for rugby, cricket, netball and football at the moment.
In five years' time ... who knows ... combined competitions may be the norm, with a few local match-ups for variation?
- The Marlborough Express
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