The news that franchises can start actively recruiting players for next year's ANZ Championship has come as a welcome Christmas present for southern netball officials.
After months of straining to get Southern Steel off the ground, the franchise could have a team named by January 11 with pre-season training set to start by January 15.
Negotiations between the New Zealand players association and Trans Tasman Netball Ltd have been ongoing for more than four months leaving franchises and players in limbo as to when they could sign for the inaugural Trans-Tasman competition, due to start on April 5.
However, this week those discussions came to an end and a two-year agreement was put in place, with formal contracts to be signed after January 8.
Southern Steel chief executive Julie Paterson said she was "absolutely delighted" that they could finally start to contract a team.
"It's been very, very frustrating and very stressful, not just on the franchise but also on the players," she said.
"A lot of players have been making decisions that affect their lives, about where they're going to live, what they're going to do, it's very, very difficult for them ... it's been quite a long waiting game." Paterson admitted she had a "reasonably strong" idea of the team lineup next year but, until they signed a contract in early January, nothing could be confirmed.
She said most players would be under the regime of a training programme at the moment, though it was not specific to the Steel.
"Normally we start fitness training in November, but because we can't say (who will sign for Steel) we can't say `you go do this ..." ' Player contracts can be signed after January 8 and Paterson hoped to have all 12 players signed by the end of that week.
The minimum retainer for players is $12,000 per year with each team required to spend $300,000 in retainers across their 12 contracted players.
Players can also receive other incentives and can receive personal sponsorships.
The agreed eligibility rule means each team may have one New Zealand citizen not eligible to play for New Zealand.
Franchises can also apply for one additional New Zealand citizen not eligible to play for New Zealand or one import by application.
Players association manager Tim Lythe said players were delighted to have finalised such a comprehensive agreement that would allow franchises to take the next steps in player recruitment.
"While franchises have been able to approach players to discuss their availability, the agreement means that teams can now actively recruit players and finalise their lineups for the ANZ Championship," he said.
- The Southland Times