Bidwell: There's no mask to hide the blushes

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2013

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OPINION: It is an utter embarrassment for New Zealand netball and a worrying sign for the Silver Ferns that none of our five franchises made it to the business end of the trans-Tasman league.

The elimination of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in the minor semifinal makes this New Zealand's least successful season in the competition. Only once before, in the inaugural 2008 season, has New Zealand failed to get two teams into the playoffs, with the Magic beaten in that year's grand final.

They, of course, won last year's league, while the Northern Mystics have been to a grand final and preliminary final and the Southern Steel two minor semifinals.

The Magic have been the benchmark, appearing in three grand finals and, until this year, never being knocked out earlier than the preliminary final stage.

This competition is specifically - or artificially, depending on your point of view - designed to ensure that two New Zealand and two Australian franchises make the playoffs each year. Australia has, by far, the greater depth, so the New Zealand teams are only made to play them once.

Outgoing Netball New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle says it might be in the interests of the Australian franchises to have two full rounds of matches, but it doesn't suit those who sponsor the game in New Zealand or Sky TV. The paymasters need Kiwi teams in the finals to get bang from their bucks and so the format will remain.

Never mind that sport is meant to be about the survival of the fittest. In this competition it's more like survival of the reasonable, as the decent New Zealand teams hand two thrashings a season to the poor ones.

And yet, even with the benefit of that huge leg-up, only the fading Magic made the top four.

The Magic paid for pumping the bulk of their $380,000 salary cap into Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman, Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin. The support cast wasn't nearly as good and the established stars were too easily thwarted.

Van Dyk, for instance, had just 29 and 22 attempts at goal in her two games against the Central Pulse this year. On good days she'd have double that, but smart teams are able to take her out of the game.

Kopua and de Bruin love to come hunting and their intercepts lift the team enormously. But if you pass short and low, their effectiveness wanes markedly.

The Pulse were New Zealand's next best team. Fifth, for them, was a high finish but, despite expecting more of themselves, they never showed the mental toughness to make that a reality.

JAMAICAN import Jhaniele Fowler carried the Steel this season and they'd have been an also-ran without her.

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The Canterbury Tactix were definitely in that bracket, playing a spoiling brand of netball in an attempt to bring better teams down to their level.

It netted two wins over the Northern Mystics but nothing else.

You assume the Mystics will eventually come clean about what occurred there this year.

Whether it was management mistakes that scuppered their season or petulant players, someone has to be held to account for a campaign that was totally unacceptable for a squad with that much talent.

The misfiring Mystics were a poor look for netball in this country and have created problems when it comes to selecting the Silver Ferns squad.

Van Dyk, Langman, Kopua and de Bruin pick themselves. Pulse captain Katrina Grant has been in outstanding form but from there on the rest of the players will be chosen on faith.

Maria Tutaia, Kayla Cullen and Cathrine Latu have only their reputations to recommend them. There are a few mothers who might have their arms twisted into playing and then a bunch of middling types who've done little to demand inclusion.

- Fairfax Media

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