Netball South chief executive Sue Clarke: ''The more we
work together across that parochial Otago-Southland
boundary, the better we will be off in the South.'' Photo
by Gregor Richardson.
Netball South chief executive Sue Clarke's biggest
challenge will be to bring the tug-of-war to an end.
Otago and Southland are, in many ways, more comfortable in
competition with each other than they are playing on the same
The deep South is two separate provinces with their own
identities and a deeply entrenched rivalry.
But structural changes to the way netball is organised at a
national level have meant Netball Otago and Netball Southland
have been forced to merge into one zone.
While you can change the name to Netball South, you cannot
strip away the parochialism that easily.
The last merger is still bedding in, and it has been six
years since the Otago Rebels and the Southern Sting were
forced to combine when the ANZ Championship was established.
It did not go well to begin with. Initially, the Steel was
seen in Dunedin as the old Sting dressed up as an
The game's profile in Dunedin suffered as the franchise
failed to do enough to promote the game in the city. Otago
quietly reduced its stake in the Steel from 40% to 20%, and
the Steel board finally woke up to the fact it needed to do
Last season, the board made a concerted effort to raised
awareness of the brand and, with Netball Otago and Netball
Southland now operating under one banner, the two provinces
really are in the same boat.
Convincing the public is another matter. That role has fallen
to Clarke, who has her first official day in the job on
Friday. If anyone can bring the two provinces together, it is
the upbeat 48-year-old.
She lives in Dunedin, was born in Invercargill, went to
school in South Otago and spent her teenage years in Clinton
- or on the border, you might say.
''I certainly understand the parochialness but I also
understand that we are very proud as southerners,'' she said.
''I believe, if we can show we can lead New Zealand in
netball, then some of those barriers will quite quickly break
down. The more we work together across that parochial
Otago-Southland boundary, the better we will be off in the
The expanded region certainly needs to pull together. Netball
South's flagship team, the Steel, is that proverbial small
fish in a big pond.
Dunedin and Invercargill cannot hope to match the marketing
or sponsorship opportunities which exist in Sydney, Brisbane,
Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne or even Auckland, yet the team
must compete with sides from those areas.
The Steel is at a big disadvantage come recruitment time and
finding the funds to keep the franchise financially viable is
an ongoing struggle.
The Steel's financial struggles were described as ''grim'' by
franchise chairwoman Janet Copeland in February but Clarke
said those concerns had eased.
''Otago and Southland netball have worked hard to come back
to a level playing field and that is where we are at. We
don't have a big debt and we haven't got a lot of money in
''The budgets are a work in progress because we have got two
regions coming together. We've certainly got some draft
budgets and they are looking OK. There is not a lot of fat in
those budgets but that is my job - to come in and say,
'Rightio, what have we got in there that we really don't
require and what do we require?'''
The Steel trimmed $100,000 from its budget for the 2012
season and results suffered. The team won just two of 13
games and narrowly avoided last place.
Beneath that level, the Otago team ended a 14-year drought to
win the national championship in October, so there is talent
in the region. Developing the younger players and nursing
them through to the next level is an area in which the
franchise plans to invest resources.