Netball: Year Stanley will always cherish

Otago netball coach Georgie Salter holds the Caltex Cup after returning from the national championships in Hamilton in August 1998. Kneeling in front are Kylie Young (left), Kara Salter, Georgie Salter and Leonie Matoe. Standing, left to right, are Sarah Gardiner, Sarah Grenside, Vic Edward, Katie Fay, Lesley Nicol, Belinda Colling, Jo Steed, Adine Harper, Anna Rowberry, assistant physiotherapist Kevin Dysaght, Megan Anderson and Belinda Blair.
Otago netball coach Georgie Salter holds the Caltex Cup after returning from the national championships in Hamilton in August 1998. Kneeling in front are Kylie Young (left), Kara Salter, Georgie Salter and Leonie Matoe. Standing, left to right, are Sarah Gardiner, Sarah Grenside, Vic Edward, Katie Fay, Lesley Nicol, Belinda Colling, Jo Steed, Adine Harper, Anna Rowberry, assistant physiotherapist Kevin Dysaght, Megan Anderson and Belinda Blair.
Former Silver Ferns captain Anna Stanley (nee Rowberry) had some highs during her distinguished netball career, but one of her greatest memories was playing in the Otago national provincial championship team in 1998. Ten years on, she talks to netball writer Adrian Seconi about that season.

Anna Stanley's trademark bullet pass and vision took her to the top of her sport.

The former Silver Ferns captain was one of the glamour girls of New Zealand netball and reached her zenith when she led the national team to victory at the 2003 world championships in Jamaica.

But the 32 year-old mother of two remembers her "scarfie" days fondly and, in particular, the 1998 season with the Otago national provincial championship team.

"God, 10 years ago. That makes me sound very old now but I can remember it very vividly," Stanley said.

"It was one of the best teams I ever played in throughout my netball career. I forged some great friendships that have lasted and I've got some great memories."

Otago teams had a stunning season, winning 22 consecutive matches. The newly-formed Rebels won the inaugural Coca-Cola Cup in the franchise-based competition and Otago remained undefeated in the Caltex Cup, beating Wellington 60-54 in the final to claim the national provincial title.

Coach Georgie Salter was at the helm and was being talked about as the next Silver Ferns coach, and with a group of talented young players the province looked to be on the cusp of a dynasty.

"We were all drawn to Dunedin because of the university and that is why we were such a great team. We just weren't playing netball. We had lives outside of netball.

"We had a good time together and I'm a firm believer when you enjoy playing with the mates you have around you, you perform well. A happy team is a winning team and we got the formula right in Dunedin."

The party ended when the athletes started graduating and moving on, Stanley explained.

"I guess the thing with Otago is it is such a transient province to play for because players are going there to study, do a three or four-year degree and leave again.

"That is one disadvantage. They can't really keep players long-term because they do end up moving away. But while they've got the good players there you've got to make the most of it, and that is what we did back then."

When you read through the line-up it is no wonder the team dominated. The squad had four former or future national captains in Stanley, Lesley Nicol (now Rumball), Adine Harper (now Wilson) and Belinda Colling.

Vic Edward, Jo Steed (now Morrison) and Belinda Blair (now Charteris) all had made or would make appearances for the Silver Ferns.

As Stanley said, the team was lucky to have that many fantastic players all in Dunedin at the same time.

It was an exciting time for netball with the launch of the Coca-Cola Cup - netball's first tentative steps towards professionalism. The arrival of that competition helped increase netball's profile and provided the players with more opportunities.

"I remember sitting down with the girls and trying to think of a name for ourselves."

The group eventually came up with Rebels. The name seemed appropriated with so many of the students in the team away from home for first time.

But the team was anything but rebellious with Salter's no-nonsense approach. The astute coach quickly whipped her players into a formidable unit.

"She is certainly one of my favourite coaches," Stanley said.

"She certainly got the best out of me as a coach. Sometimes people don't know how to take Georgie but she has a real netball brain and is very analytical. The players that played under her in '98 thrived."

Stanley, in her role as a presenter for Sky Television, has been keeping a close eye on the national championship.

Otago has had a good year winning the inaugural Lois Muir Challenge and the under-21 national title. The bulk of those players are in the Otago side.

"It is great to see some great talent coming out of Otago now and if anyone can tap into the talent down there, Georgie is the one to do it."