Netball: Buckner in southern hot seat

New Netball South chairman Paul Buckner. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
New Netball South chairman Paul Buckner. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
There is a lot of talk about combinations in netball. You would not get the ball from one end of the court to the other without all the players working together. The same is true for the game's administrators.

If the newly formed Netball South - a merger of Netball Otago and Netball Southland - is going to be a success, both regions need to buy into the concept, chairman Paul Buckner says.

The 52-year-old Dunedin lawyer is, in a sense, a sort of Laura Langman figure. But instead of linking the defence with the attack, it is his role to bring Otago and Southland together under one happy banner.

That is a big challenge and he is a realist. The rivalry is firmly entrenched.

"There will always be a rivalry and that is how it should be," Buckner said.

"But people have to accept that Otago and Southland are together now."

Netball New Zealand's decision to move from a regional structure to zone-based model meant Otago and Southland was forced to merge.

There is now just one governance structure rather than the three previous organisations which used to run the Steel, Netball Otago and Netball Southland.

The delivery of netball to the community has been streamlined but Buckner is confident the service will not be compromised and the game's grassroots will continue to be well-served.

Still, he was surprised by Netball New Zealand's decision not to separate the professional and amateur wings of the sport.

Rugby, of course, has gone the other way and Buckner wondered whether netball should follow suit.

"It is interesting. I asked the same question up in Auckland to the New Zealand board. They've done a lot of research and believe they have got it right, which means rugby has got it wrong. We'll have to see where that goes ...but I actually like the idea of the franchise being owned by the two regions.

"We've got the one structure now and we've got the opportunity to promote the Steel and get the buy-in in Otago."

One of the first jobs for the newly formed board will be to appoint a chief executive. That appointment is expected to be announced early next week.

There was a shortlist of three candidates and Buckner was confident the board had found the right person for a key position.

"The CEO will be based in Invercargill but we need to see that person in Otago and to move around the region."

The Steel has been guilty of not doing enough to build its profile in Dunedin and the board of Netball South is determined not to repeat that mistake.

The headquarters has to be based in Invercargill so Netball South can dip into the funds of the Invercargill Licensing Trust.

But, while there is no agenda to shift camp to Dunedin, Buckner did not rule out a move at some time in the future.

"Invercargill is where our funding is but it doesn't mean it is forever.

"It would be a lot easier if that funding could be used throughout the region. But there are other funders out there who we might come across.

"There is absolutely no agenda to move ... but where it is in two or three years' time is not set in stone."

Buckner is married and has three adult children. As well as his work with netball, he is a commissioner for New Zealand Cricket and is a former president of the Otago Rugby Referees Association.