Trans-Tasman netball's one-sided affair

1:39 pm on 23 July 2016

Opinion - New Zealand and Australian netball once had a 'special relationship'. Not any more.

Australia netball captain Laura Geitz tussles with Silver Bailey Mes during the World Cup in Sydney.

Australia captain Laura Geitz tussles with Silver Fern shooter Bailey Mes. Photo: Photosport

The two countries dominate world netball and in 2008 formed the ANZ championship, a trans-Tasman club competition that has drawn huge crowds and excellent television audiences. They also play an annual test series, the Constellation Cup.

When Netball New Zealand could get a better deal out of Sky Television than anything Australia could manage with its broadcasters, Sky became a major funder of the ANZ championship.

That suited the Australians and they fell into line.

But Australians have a history of ruthlessly looking after themselves first.

Take cricket as an example. Australia finally fronted for a test against New Zealand in 1946, but not until 1973 did they consent to play another test. Instead they kindly sent B teams and let New Zealand teams play their state sides.

Even now it's difficult for our cricketers to get a fair shake of the dice - when was New Zealand last invited to play in the prestigious Boxing Day test in Melbourne?

Since the ANZ netball championship began, four Australian teams have won it and only one New Zealand side, the Magic, in 2012. The Australians win more than two-thirds of their matches against New Zealand sides.

The Australians recently announced they would be dropping New Zealand and instead running their own 17-week domestic competition involving eight teams. They had apparently outgrown New Zealand.

New Zealand had leverage previously, because of Sky Television. Now Australia's Fox Sports and Ten Network are on board, so it's goodbye New Zealand.

The Australians seem happy to operate in splendid isolation. Or perhaps they think their new netball competition will be like the English football premiership, with overseas stars bolstering a domestic competition.

Whatever happens, it will suit Australia, not New Zealand.

This week an ANZ championship all-stars team was named. Bear in mind only one team, our own Southern Steel, went through the round robin part of the competition unbeaten (the play-offs are taking place now).

Yet not one player appearing for a New Zealand franchise made the all-star team, not even anyone from the high-flying Steel.

One New Zealander was named - Laura Langman. But this season she played for the Sydney Swifts.

Perhaps Netball New Zealand should take Hugh Grant's approach when he played the British Prime Minister in Love Actually.

Perhaps Netball New Zealand should take Hugh Grant's approach when he played the British Prime Minister in Love Actually. Photo: AFP

When I think about what's going on with Australian and New Zealand netball, I'm reminded of the famous scene from Love Actually, when Hugh Grant, playing the British Prime Minister, stands up to the American President, played by Billy Bob Thornton, at a joint press conference.

If Grant was representing New Zealand netball and Thornton Australian netball, a press conference might play out like this:

Journalist: Mr Thornton, have you had good discussions?

Thornton: Very satisfactory indeed. We got what we came for and our special relationship is still very special.

Journalist: Mr Grant?

Grant: I love that word 'relationship'. Covers all manner of sins, doesn't it. I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on Australian netball taking exactly what it wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to New Zealand. We may be a small country, but we're great at netball. The country of Lois Muir, Waimarama Taumaunu, Yvonne Willering and Lyn Parker, Sandra Edge, Bernice Mene, Irene van Dyk's shooting, Maria Tutaia's shooting too, come to that. A friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger. And the Australians should be prepared for that.

Netball New Zealand needs a bit of that Hugh Grant spine just now. Otherwise it's in danger of being steamrolled by its trans-Tasman neighbour, 'special relationship' or not.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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