Netball’s sold-out grand final sets women’s sports on fire

Sarah Leach Columnist

By Sarah Leach, Sarah Leach is a Roar Expert

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    Netball Grand Final -  Queensland Firebirds vs Northern Mystics

    Netball Grand Final - Queensland Firebirds vs Northern Mystics (courtesy of Trans-Tasman Netball League Ltd)

    Guest column: The Queensland Firebirds is set to face-off against New Zealand’s Northern Mystics in today’s ANZ Championship Grand Final on home soil in Brisbane. The Firebirds have romped home a spot in the big event following a record 14-game undefeated pathway to the decider, which sold out in less than 20 minutes.

    To the avid netball fan a lightning fast sell-out for a game like this is of no surprise, but to the average Rugby Union, League or AFL fan the reaction to a sell-out netball game could be along the lines of “You’re kidding?”. What’s all this ANZ Championship fuss about?

    Netball’s popularity is nothing new. The participation of girls playing the game is above and beyond the total number for each of the football codes. What’s changed?

    The truth is that Netball really has come a long, long way.

    Netball in Australia and New Zealand is paving the way and giving hope for amateur female sports to turn from not only playing for love, but also now playing for love and money. The days when top-level netballers would sell raffle tickets to get petty cash together for strapping tape or travel expenses for national championships are gone.

    Since the inception of a semi-professional league in 2008, clubs have a salary cap in 2011 of $270,000 to throw amongst their squads. This income has opened the door for players to start to entertain the idea of a professional netball career.

    Most players work or study as their salary is not still comparable to a full-time wage. Minimum wage is around $12,000, but is still much more than the zero dollars our national and international stars were earning only a few years ago.

    So a minimum wage, to a netballer, is nothing to turn one’s nose up at, but rather be very grateful for.

    Netball ‘Mums’ and fans can now watch netball in the comfort of their own home with ONE’s coverage, giving viewers the choice of more than one game each week, as was the case when the ABC had coverage rights.

    This evolvement of netball’s continued resurgence is now becoming an example to other female sports such as soccer’s W-League, while netball is fast learning from male counter-parts in Rugby, League and AFL who were at Netball’s current stage some 50-100 years ago!

    This Grand Final in particular has become a fairy-tale story where the unbeaten and hot favorite side is coming in to play the absolute underdog.

    While the undefeated Queensland Firebirds have improved each week getting fitter, faster, stronger and molding a combination with or without the injured captain and Australian representative Lauren Nourse, the fourth-placed Northern Mystics have scrapped the barrel a number of times to hurdle teams and peak at this right end of the season.

    The Mystics had to overcome the NSW Swifts in their minor semi, winning by a mere 4 goals 49-44, before toppling New Zealand’s reigning top team last week – Irene Van Dyk’s Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic – a feat they had never done before. The Mystics got through by just one goal, 43-42.

    Neither the Firebirds nor the Mystics have played in an ANZ Championship Grand Final and both are conquering a number of firsts this season.

    More excitement surrounding this title battle is the match-ups between the teams. Firebirds’ GS Jamaican import Romelda Aiken is perhaps ‘most improved’ player with an ability to receive and hold for balls perfectly.

    Combine Aiken in the Firebirds’ shooting circle with this year’s joint MVP player and Australian representative, GA Natalie Medhurst and you’ve got an unbeatable shooting circle.

    But put those two against Mystic’s and NZ Silverfern GK Anna Scarlett with this year’s best young player of the year, GD Kayla Cullen, and you’ve got a super-hot match-up.

    In the mid-court it will be young and in-form Chelsea Pitman (WA) with Elissa Macleod (C) and Keirra Trompf for the Firebirds versus the older and more experienced Megan Dehn (WA), Temepara George (C) and Joline Henry (WD) who have the ability to play wise and composed netball in crucial moments.

    Both George and Henry are experienced NZ Silverfern representatives and will be sure to try and out-smart their younger opponents who fight for every ball.

    Then undoubtedly the best match-up will be Firebirds’ strong circle defenders Laura Geitz (GK) and Clare McMeniman (GD) against in-form shooters Maria Tutaia (GA) and Catherine Latu (GS). Latu has been Mystic’s top shooter for most of this season; however, Tutaia has stepped up and delivered when teams have put too much focus on containing Latu.

    So that’s that – this afternoon’s ANZ Championship Grand Final is absolutely the hottest ticket in town, so any Rugby, League or AFL fan not yet convinced?

    Turn the game on at 2.30pm and have a look at what all the fuss is about!

    The 2011 ANZ Championship Grand Final will be shown Live on TEN and ONE HD, from 2pm AEST Sunday 22 May.

    Sarah Leach
    Sarah Leach

    Sarah Leach is a former netballer who played at a national level in both Australia and the UK. She is currently a broadcast journalist and creative producer based in London, as well as a lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • May 22nd 2011 @ 8:22am
      Doug said | May 22nd 2011 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      Good luck to both teams. It should be a good game.

    • May 22nd 2011 @ 8:37am
      PaddyBoy said | May 22nd 2011 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      I really enjoy watching netball, but loads of people seem not to. I love the stopping and starting, and the player with the ball being less important than the players without, very rare in sport.
      I’ll watch even if the Swifts are out, go the underdog as always.
      Does anyone know the maximum wage?

    • May 22nd 2011 @ 8:52am
      AT said | May 22nd 2011 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      Never understood why netball isn’t a big sport with males, in terms of participation. I played in a mixed comp once. It’s fast, athletic and skillful. If someone has the finances to start it up, it could be a sleeping giant.

      Good luck to both teams.

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2011 @ 9:56am
      The Cattery said | May 22nd 2011 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      Many community sporting clubs in the Southern parts of Australia combine aussie rules and netball, so many grow up having a strong affinity to both games.

      I think the ongoing growth of netball as the premier women’s sport in Australia is inevitable.

      My family and I will be tuning in this afternoon – good luck to both teams.

      • May 22nd 2011 @ 10:42am
        Titus said | May 22nd 2011 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        Shame none of the teams from the southern parts of Australia made the final.

        • Roar Guru

          May 22nd 2011 @ 11:01am
          The Cattery said | May 22nd 2011 @ 11:01am | ! Report

          There’s no shame about it – only two teams can ever make the final – on this occasion we have one Australian team and one NZ team (recalling that there are an equal number of NZ and Australian teams in this comp).

          Tune in and enjoy the game.

    • May 22nd 2011 @ 11:45am
      Working Class Rugger said | May 22nd 2011 @ 11:45am | ! Report

      I’ll likely be watching as well. Good on the ANZ Championship. The lack of Women’s professional sport has always left a huge gap in the Australian Sporting landscape. It’s been around for 3 seasons now and hopefully they can kick on from here.

    • Roar Guru

      May 22nd 2011 @ 12:35pm
      The Cattery said | May 22nd 2011 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

      …and without wishing to put too fine a point on it, it’s impossible to avoid the elephant in the room – netballers have very nice legs.

      My wife will mention the shooting percentages of the respective teams, I will nod knowingly, incapable of taking my eyes of the screen.

      I love sport, especially any sport demonstrating our womenfolk in such a fine light.

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