Netball Expert & Columnist
Netball in England could be strengthened by creating an independent style
Last Updated: 19/12/19 1:30pm
With Wasps having just returned from a pre-season trip to New Zealand, Tamsin Greenway looks at their presence in Super Club, she ponders the merits of a Champions League style competition within netball and looks at ways to bridge the gap between the northern and southern hemisphere.
Firstly, I know I'm not the only one who would love to see an annual Champions League style competition within netball. I believe this is something both players and spectators would love, and that has got scope to add real value to world netball.
New Zealand have had this Super Club competition for a couple of years now and it really does show the appetite for mixing club teams together from different countries and the excitement and interest that brings.
Of course, this sort of competition does not happen overnight, and you need to think about a lot of different things when it comes to making it happen. Where would it be hosted? How would teams qualify? What would be make-up of the teams?
After answering those questions, you would also need to think about the element that makes the sporting world go around - funding! And, finally the INF's position within it… after all you would want the best players in the world being available to play in it wouldn't you?
Following all of these logistical questions, there's one more for me and it's an important one too. How do you ensure that every side within it, particularly talking about Superleague teams, are competitive? This I feel is one of the hardest parts.
Creating a unique style
We are all aware the Australian league is the strongest league in the world, and I think for this [a Champions League style competition] to work we need to continue to address why Suncorp is stronger and how the other leagues, including Superleague, can catch up.
The final standings at Super Club with Wasps finishing in eighth, Collingwood Magpies winning and the six Kiwi sides being in the middle, show what we already knew - there is a performance difference between the two hemispheres and the matches themselves highlighted some key issues.
First, Wasps were not able to take their full squad to New Zealand which was a shame because both Fran Williams and Iona Christian would have added greatly to the side. A clash with the Roses programme meant they missed out on what would have been an invaluable opportunity.
Second, watching all of the matches what caught my eye again is how complete the style of play is from the New Zealand and Australian sides.
I'm still not convinced English teams both at club and at a national level, have truly found an 'English style'.
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Over the years here in England, we have often tried to copy a Kiwi style [that impressive zone] or an Aussie style [man-on] netball due to the influence of foreign coaches and the success of those teams.
However, the beauty of the English Roses is a mix of cultures, which lends itself to blending them together and creating a totally independent style and a style that is different and works for us.
Importantly that then needs to filter from the top, right the way down through the leagues, to solidify and strengthen English netball.
On the tours that I have been on as a player, the club sides in New Zealand caused you just as many issues as the national side because they know exactly what they're doing - they know the Kiwi way and how to deliver it. Look at how many problems the Silver Ferns caused England in the World Cup semi-final...
Here in England, I find that sometimes our lack of identity means we don't always know how to combat things (like an unfamiliar zone) and that then filters down into players not having the same level of game-sense you find overseas. It means they are less able to unpick the unfamiliar when confronted with it, which is the case across world netball.
Tactically, at all levels, we also need to improve in the northern hemisphere to be able to then find the answers to the challenges posed, but these two things go hand in hand. I think we are getting there in England and the level of tactical knowledge is improving, but we are not quite there across the board yet.
During my time in the England squad the emphasis was on SAQ and being fit enough and strong enough to play at the elite level. It was lacking and it was needed, but I felt it was always just part of the bigger picture.
A lack of fitness is not the reason northern hemisphere sides are losing games to their southern hemisphere counterparts now, Wasps' girls were just as fit and powerful as those from Tactix, Pulse or Mystics, but their skill levels were different.
Across the board in England, skill levels are not at the level they are in New Zealand or Australia. Over there, non-international players' game-sense and ball handling skills are superior to their counterparts here. How can Wasps average 60 goals a game in the Superleague and struggle get to 40 against these sides?
Time to reflect and recover! Some of the squad head straight back to the UK tomorrow and back into work whilst others are taking a few days to enjoy beautiful New Zealand. We feel so, so lucky to have had the experience ..... 1/2— Wasps Netball (@Wasps_Netball) December 13, 2019
There are cultural issues which feed into that, about the age at which people start playing netball here versus there, and the opportunities to play and the mental strengths. But, I think until programmes are put together at club level which give players the tools they need to upskill, the gap will remain.
For players who are not internationals, we need to ensure they still gain the training equivalent to those who are part of the full-time programmes and this can only happen in their Superleague environments.
In England, a focus needs to be on the programmes that are implemented, the support of the amazing coaches we have in the game and the tactics and game-sense that's being shared with players from a young age.
We have got to help upskill coaches and players because we do not want to just keep shipping the cream of the crop off to Australia so they can then compete at a higher level.
We want the northern hemisphere to be as competitive as the south and I know with more opportunity and exposure, Wasps and other English clubs will be right in the mix.
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with the Vitality Nations Cup in January 2020. The four-nation competition starts on January 19 with England taking on the world champions New Zealand.