Tactix netball coach Helen Mahon-Stroud has welcomed the change to the Trans-Tasman netball league's controversial and confusing overseas player eligibility rules.
New Zealand teams no longer have to apply to Netball New Zealand (NNZ) if they want to include an overseas-based player in their roster as in the first three seasons of the competition.
The league's organisers have tweaked the competition's eligibility rules to standardise them on both sides of the Tasman, with just one overseas import allowed.
"This makes for a much more even playing field and sets the rules out clearly," Mahon-Stroud said.
"We think it's a step forward by the organisers as the previous system was inequitable."
Last season the Tactix wanted to replace injured Australian defender Peta Stephens with English shooter Jo Harten, but their application was denied by NNZ on the grounds it was not replacing like with like and would impact on the court time of national youth player Ellen Halpenny.
The Tactix were left to soldier on without an import and, also racked by injury, finished bottom of the table.
Problems had also arisen with players such as Northern Mystics shooter Cathrine Latu, a New Zealand citizen but ineligible to play for the Silver Ferns until August 2011, after she played for Samoa at the 2007 world championships and Magic centre Francis Solia. They have received exemptions because the Trans-Tasman league rules had not been formulated then.
Australian-based teams could previously include two overseas players in their rosters, but had to apply to Netball Australia for the second.
The championship-winning Adelaide Thunderbirds had two overseas players on their roster this year – Jamaican shooter Carla Borrego and English defender Geva Mentor. Next year that cannot be the case.
The Queensland Firebirds, who boasted another Jamaican shooter in Romelda Aiken, had a request declined late in the season for English international Tamsin Greenway to replace an injured Sarah Wall.
The only way an application for an overseas player would have go to either country for approval now is if a team decided to play a "citizen ineligible" player in their ranks such as a Samoan representative living in either New Zealand or Australia.
NNZ high performance manager Tracey Fear said the change would leave franchises in charge of their own destiny.
"Franchises can now go out, contract an overseas import, and that's their call. It leaves them as masters of their own destiny – it's not leaving it in our hands to sign it off," she said. "They can go out, scout for talent, make the decision, make the call and it's done and dusted."
Fear said the previous system put more onus – and uncertainty – on the franchises.
"Every time an application is put in front of us, it's a lot of work for the franchises to put the case forward. It's something we don't like to arbitrate over.
"We take each case on its own merits, but sometimes while we believe our reasoning is sound, sometimes it's not always perceived as consistent."
The new rule would still allow maximum opportunity for New Zealand players, she said. "That is the driver for us – that we have as many opportunities open to New Zealand eligible players as we can."
The decision was made after a review of the competition's eligibility rules based on submissions provided by the teams during the tournament's first three seasons and discussions with Netball Australia and Netball New Zealand high performance personnel plus the respective player associations.
It is unclear yet if English and Jamaican players will be available to fulfil import places for next season.
England coach Sue Hawkins does not want her players competing in the tournament with the world championships at Singapore in July.
However, Mentor has indicated she may challenge the ruling and was hoping other England players would join her. Jamaica is also believed to have reservations.
Meanwhile, Mahon-Stroud said talks were well under way to bolster the Tactix next year with not only an import but players from within New Zealand.
She confirmed speculation that former Silver Ferns defender Anna Scarlett had been approached by the Tactix.
"We are much further along in this process than we were this time last year," Mahon-Stroud said.
- The Press