New Zealand netball needs time to prove ditching Australia was the right move
With divorce from Australia complete, next Sunday marks the start of New Zealand netball standing on its own.
No more propping up the domestic trans-Tasman league by providing the lion's share of interest and commercial support. And... no more of the embarrassingly lop-sided results against Australian teams.
The message emanating out of New Zealand's six sides, with the addition of the new South Auckland-based Stars team, is the inaugural ANZ Premiership will see the Kiwis regain their own style.
A return to the flair, openness, speed in transition and aerial nature that's long been central to NZ netball.
That may well prove true over time. But for those familiar with the record which shows Australian sides won 169 matches against Kiwi opponents; New Zealand teams winning 62 games against their Aussie rivals, it seems a bit of a cop-out.
"There were a number of factors," Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie explains. "There was the potential for that competition to be all sorts of things and performance, investment need to come into consideration if you look at what was going on. It's not just the Kiwis didn't win consistently over the nine years.
"We're living in different parallel worlds in terms of the investment in New Zealand in women's sport and what the investment is in Australia for the same equivalent. It's not an excuse, because we want to come out on the world stage and beat the best of the best no matter who it is. We've got to do what we feel is right for our talent pathway."
Backed by strong long-term commercial partners, Netball NZ is clearly confident its product will deliver.
The Beko League - aimed at providing a stepping stone and filling a fundamental gap in youth development pathways - also underpins the standalone New Zealand competition.
But how long it takes for New Zealand to regain its style, and for that to filter through to the international stage and result in regularly knocking over Australia, is anyone's guess.
Ultimately, the success or otherwise of the new domestic league will be judged on how the Silver Ferns perform at their pinnacle events; the 2018 Commonwealth Games and World Cup one year later.
Having a viable domestic league is great but unless tangible improvements are seen at national level, questions will be asked about the new competition.
Beneath the excitement being projected around this new venture, a degree of apprehension also exists.
"Any high performance team should be aiming for those big events and we will see the outcomes of a whole lot of things that have been put in place. I'd anticipate that's the time for that to shine through."
Credit must be given on some fronts. All 47 games will be broadcast live, and targeting Monday and Wednesday nights should allow netball to capture audiences with limited competition. There will also be three triple header Sundays at the same venue.
Extra time - two three-minute periods - has been brought back, and unlimited substitutions leaves the door open for cunning coaches to prosper.
"We think it is going to sit with the best sporting competitions in New Zealand. The ability for us to flex and put innovations into either the game or event presentation will be massive."
The preseason tournament in Otaki revealed the Southern Steel, who have retained towering Jamaican shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and the bulk of their squad, will be competition favourites after emerging undefeated from three hit-outs. They were also New Zealand's most consistent team last season.
Elsewhere the Mystics could be strong with Bailey Mes returning home to join fellow Silver Ferns shooter Maria Tutaia and Ana Harrison prowling around defence.
Netball NZ also have a vested interest in the Stars, fully funding the start-up team coached in year one by Australian Julie Hoornweg.
"They've got a really good roster; great coach and a fantastic board and management so they will hold their own. I expect some fierce local rivalries."
SUPER CLUB COMPETITION STALLS
Netball New Zealand's plans to launch an international super club competition in July appears to have hit a snag.
Keen to avoid simply playing Kiwi teams alone after the end of the trans-Tasman league, NNZ invited eight nations - the likes of England, South Africa, Australia, Jamaica, Fiji and Scotland - to register their interest in participating in a competition involving some of world netball's best domestic teams.
The blueprint is for teams to play 20 games in a five-to-six day round robin format at one New Zealand venue in early July, 2017.
Now it seems those plans may have stalled somewhat.
"We're still working on that," NNZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie said. "There are a number of different moving pieces in it that have been in the mix but we're still waiting on some outcomes. Once we get those we'll be in a position to give more direction on where we are heading."
Australia are proving a difficult party to get across the line, and it could be that the venture goes ahead without their involvement.
"They're definitely interested in it but they're also in the process of trying to stand up a competition and going through a change in leadership over there so it never stands still. We're just working through if there's a new CEO what the direction might look like.
"We still aim to work in partnership with them on all fronts but it's not precluded to Australia there's interest from elsewhere so we're working with all the parties."
Four months out from its initially scheduled tipoff, Wyllie could not give a timeframe on when the tournament might be finalised.
"We haven't determined that. It'll have to be a time that's right for all the stakeholders involved but we're still ambitious about getting it off the ground.
"The concept is still the same and that's what we're talking with all the various international countries about currently."