A proud centenary for NZ netball

Kate Heffernan brings the ball down the court against the Diamonds. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Kate Heffernan brings the ball down the court against the Diamonds. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Netball New Zealand becomes the first country to celebrate 100 years in 2024. Netball writer Kayla Hodge casts her eye over the past, the present and the future.

Where it all began . . .

We often wonder how we get to where we are today.
But if it had not been for a Dunedin pioneer, netball would not be in the position to celebrate its centenary.
Myrtle Muir could not have foreseen the impact she would have on the sport when she started playing the nine-a-side game in 1915 while at Otago Girls’ High School.
By the time she was 19, Muir was the secretary of the Otago Union, and when she moved away, she became heavily involved in administration in Canterbury and Wellington.
Her dedication grew in 1924 when she and other regional leaders banded together to form the New Zealand Basketball Association — netball was referred to as basketball back then — and paved the way for the future.
Dunedin hosted the first national tournament two years later and Muir was named president of the association in 1932, a position she held until 1949.
She went on to serve as the first Silver Ferns coach in 1938, coaching the side to their historic first game against Australia, and their next games in 1948 — the first international games on New Zealand soil.
Muir guided the Silver Ferns through four games, and while they failed to record a victory, the impact she left goes far beyond winning and losing.
But New Zealand was the only country still playing nine-a-side — all other associations moved to the seven-a-side format — and that left them struggling to adapt.
In 1958, New Zealand finally agreed to adapt to the international rules with seven players, and the national championships that year were the swansong for the nine-a-side game.

Silver Ferns coach Lois Muir (left) and defender Lyn Gunson after a game in 1985. PHOTO: NETBALL...
Silver Ferns coach Lois Muir (left) and defender Lyn Gunson after a game in 1985. PHOTO: NETBALL NEW ZEALAND
Consistent progress

International netball continued to flourish and the Silver Ferns attended the first world championships in 1963, narrowly losing to rivals Australia.
Four years later, the Silver Ferns, led by captain Judy Blair, reversed their fortunes with a 40-34 victory over the Diamonds to win their first world title.
Over the next decade, the sport made great leaps, and there was a new dawn in 1970 when the association finally decided to change the sport’s governing name from basketball to netball.
That, alongside the change to seven-a-side, were some of the biggest changes in moving the game forward domestically — and internationally as well.
The Silver Ferns were dealt a unique ending to the world championships in 1978, when they were named joint winners with Australia and Trinidad and Tobago in a three-way tie.
After the heartbreak of losing the 1983 tournament, the Silver Ferns were crowned world champions in 1987 in stunning fashion.
They were one of the greatest Silver Ferns teams of all time — under the guidance of Otago coaching great Lois Muir and led by captain Leigh Gibbs — and no team came within 10 points of the Silver Ferns.
Domestically, under president Anne Taylor, the sport made strides, with more sponsors and coverage raising netball’s profile.
Taylor later introduced a national league for club teams, which laid the groundwork for domestic netball as we know it today.

Irene van Dyk takes a shot under pressure from Diamonds defender Liz Ellis in one of the great...
Irene van Dyk takes a shot under pressure from Diamonds defender Liz Ellis in one of the great battles of the 2000s. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Turning professional

Undoubtedly, the turning point in changing the landscape of elite netball came in 1998 when the Coca-Cola Cup — later rebranded the National Bank Cup — was introduced.
Ten franchises were established, and the mighty Otago Rebels won the inaugural title over their neighbours, the Southern Sting, who went on to win a remarkable seven titles in 10 seasons.
It put netball in the spotlight, with games broadcast on television and stands packed with fans throughout the country.
It had an obvious impact on the Silver Ferns, who, coached by Ruth Aitken, won their first world title in 17 years in 2003.
Under Aitken, they were formidable, winning their first Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2006 and backing it up in 2010, when they beat Australia 66-64 in an unbelievable double-extra-time clash.
Domestic netball was redefined in 2008, when the National Bank Cup was abandoned in favour of the transtasman ANZ Championship, comprising five New Zealand and five Australian teams.
The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic were the only Kiwi side to win an ANZ Championship title, in 2012 — coached by now-Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua — in a golden era for the franchise.
Playing Australian teams regularly took netball to another level, attracting international players to our shores and pushing new standards for players across the country.
But when Australia wanted to return to an in-house domestic competition, the ANZ Championship was abandoned, morphing into a New Zealand-only ANZ Premiership in 2017.
The Southern Steel had a mighty run in the opening two years, going unbeaten to win the inaugural title. Who can forget them coming back from 12 goals down against the Central Pulse to win the title in 2018, and send captain Wendy Frew off in style?
Internationally, it was a different story. The Silver Ferns struggled and finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, but bounced back 12 months later to win the World Cup, again for the first time in 17 years.
But after such a high, they dipped again at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, where they won bronze, and finished fourth at the World Cup last year.

The future

That brings us to now. What does the future look like for netball? There are more questions than answers for that one.
Should we join domestically with Australia in some form? Where are the Silver Ferns heading in this next cycle? How do we get more funding and investment in the sport?
NNZ announced this week the ANZ Premiership would be cut from three rounds to two next season.
The national body had also agreed to a one-year extension to their broadcast deal with Sky TV.
Saturday games will now be on TVNZ and provided in-house from NNZ.
It has raised questions regarding player salaries and where that leaves the future of the domestic game.
There have also been rumours regarding — possibly — three New Zealand teams joining Super Netball in Australia.
It is a crucial time for the sport in the next four years as the Silver Ferns build towards the next World Cup, but equally it is vital for the grassroots game to keep growing.
After all, it is where every elite player starts.
Like all sports, there are triumphs and struggles, and while it is a special time for netball, there is so much intrigue as to where the sport might find itself in another 100 years.
Where does the future of netball lie? Only time will tell.

Hodge’s NZ Team of the Century

Goal shoot: Irene van Dyk. Changed the way the game is played.

Goal attack: Joan Harnett. The belle of the court could do it all.

Wing attack: Rita Fatialofa. One of the best to do it.

Centre: Sandra Edge. Those no-look passes were something else.

Wing defence: Laura Langman. Just too good to leave out.

Goal defence: Casey Kopua. New Zealand’s most-capped captain was unstoppable in her prime.

Goal keep: Vilimaina Davu. A force to be reckoned with.

Substitutes: Grace Nweke, Anna Stanley, Kate Heffernan, Leigh Gibbs, Yvonne Willering.

Coach: Lois Muir. Finished her 14 -year tenure with 91 wins, 10 losses and six draws. That record speaks for itself.