The final game of Round 5 in the Suncorp Super Netball produced one of the most extraordinary matches that will be debated for a long time to come.
Over the last six months, women’s sport has created far more headlines than normal.
With the rugby sevens team’s gold in Rio, the success of the second season of the WBBL and now the amazing crowds and viewer numbers for the inaugural AFLW competition, these headlines have surely been warranted.
Largely forgotten in this has been by far the largest women’s participation competitive sport in Australia.
In 2015, 846,000 Australians played regular netball, the vast majority of them being female. It is a truly national sport and it’s about to attract its share of headlines as well.
The Super Netball season starts this weekend. After many years of playing in a trans-Tasman competition largely dominated by Australian teams, this year’s competition is solely in Australia. It is considered however to be the strongest competition in the world, featuring not only Australians but also a large number of quality imports.
Adding to the established clubs of NSW Swifts, Queensland Firebirds, Melbourne Vixens, West Coast Fever and Adelaide Thunderbirds, we have three new clubs. Two of them, Collingwood Magpies and Giants Netball, are affiliated with AFL clubs, and the Sunshine Coast Lightning will service the fast-growing region of southeast Queensland.
Importantly, a five-year broadcasting deal with Channel Nine and Telstra has been signed, guaranteeing two free-to-air games per week. With Sydney and Melbourne each now having two teams, local derbies will be regular featured games, and it also opens up the chance for a number of double headers during the season to maximise crowd numbers.
On top of that, under a new collective bargaining arrangement, the average salary has risen from $40,000 to $67,500, with a minimum wage of $27,375. If it’s not there yet, it is likely to become the first women’s team sport in Australia to go truly professional.
So, who’s going to win it? The Firebirds have dominated in recent seasons but Diamonds captain Laura Geitz is taking some time out to have a baby and the Firebirds, plus Sydney Swifts, have lost players to the new clubs.
I’m tipping the Magpies featuring Sharni Layton, Madi Robinson and Caitlin Thwaites to win the grand final against the Kim Green-led Giants.
Overall, this has to be a good thing for netball in this country. Having eight domestic teams rather than five provides much greater opportunities for young athletes coming through the system. Regular free-to-air coverage is also a plus, with participation numbers to remain strong.
So, with Super Netball on our doorstep, it’s netball’s time to shine.