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Netball's new adventure

Mick O'Regan: That inscrutable gaze of the Broncos mentor is definitely turning south towards
Kogarah.

In fact this week on The Sports Factor, it's a program about new challenges and new championships.

Now as we've just said, some very familiar faces will be on the move at season's end, and so far,
the most notable is the coach of the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League team, Wayne Bennett.

Wayne Bennett: My life has been adversity, but from each disaster I've come back stronger. I don't
fear that what's happening here, I know how to battle through it, I know I'll come out the other
side of it, and I know they'll come out with me, it's just a matter of when. And we'll be better
for it, we'll be stronger people; we'll appreciate winning more than we ever have in the past.

Mick O'Regan: Rugby League coach Wayne Bennett, featuring in a memorable edition of 'Australian
Story', way back in 1999. Well the news of course is that he's heading south to coach the St George
Dragons next year, and we'll talk to Bruno Cullen, the Brisbane Broncos Chief Executive, a little
later.

There's also news of a big change in another sport. This weekend marks the beginning of the new ANZ
championship for Australian and New Zealand netball, a Trans-Tasman comp that will see the world's
leading players do battle on a weekly basis, as ten teams compete for the title of inaugural
champions.

Noeleen Dix is the President of Netball Australia.

Noeleen Dix: It's a terrific jump, it's actually a totally new operation for both countries, in
that we have both run our own national leagues in the past. In the case of Australia, the
Commonwealth Bank trophy ran for a terrific eleven years, but it had just about run its race. New
Zealand were experiencing the same problems with their league, in that they had two or three teams
that were dominating the league, so both countries were looking for reviewing what they were doing
for their elite players in that competition field. And we probably started talking about doing
something together about two years ago.

Mick O'Regan: Now I've spoken in the past to players who've recognised the difference between the
profile of the sport here in Australia and what they've experienced when they've gone to New
Zealand to play in internationals, and they basically said the Silver Ferns are recognised in the
street, they're the centre of a national media focus. Is the biggest difference going to be for
players used to their profile in Australia joining a competition where the overall profile is much
higher?

Noeleen Dix: Well I'm hoping that that profile that the New Zealand netball competitions have
attracted will translate to here. The big difference between what we've both been doing is the fact
that their National Bank Cup, which was their previous national league, was televised on
free-to-air television on TVNZ which basically rates as a commercial television, and it had become
hot property, and the Silver Fern national team had become the darlings of New Zealand, and so they
ranked on a level with the Rugby League and Rugby Union players. So that sort of notoriety and
recognition I suppose has been there for the New Zealanders and been a terrific asset for their
product.

Mick O'Regan: Well just on that, do they look aghast back here at the disparity between the way,
say, netball is covered compared to any of the football codes?

Noeleen Dix: I think it's a direct reflection of the success of their television coverage, and
because Australia has had terrific coverage by the ABC for the last 11 years, for both their
international and their Commonwealth Bank trophy, a lot of the games have been buried, and they
haven't rated that well. Whereas the National Bank Cup was at prime time television and it really
was incredibly well rated. So what we're looking for is a translation of those ratings with Fox
Sports here in Australia.

Mick O'Regan: When I think of sport that migrates full-time if you like, to Pay-TV, obviously Rugby
Union comes up; are you aware whether that migration of the super 14 competition from free-to-air
to Pay-TV has changed the profile of the game? Do you know that it's been a success as far as the
number of eyes on screen, bums on seats are concerned?

Noeleen Dix: I don't know the ratings, but what I do know from our perspective, and the basis
behind our decision to go down this path with subscriber television, is the fact that we actually
needed the dollars. We needed the broadcast rights that we have been able to attract from Sky-TV
New Zealand and Fox Sports here in Australia, to actually make this a winner. Without those
broadcast rights, this league would not be taking place, as would the AFL competitions, because you
need that amount of money to actually underwrite the costs of running a league of this nature, and
the arrangement that we had with the ABC, it was terrific, because they underwrote all the
production costs, but there was absolutely no money in our pocket to actually help us.

Mick O'Regan: As far as the implications for the grassroots of the sport are concerned, as you
establish a new Trans-Tasman competition as that pool of elite players solidifies to some extent
into the ten teams involved, how does that work back through in terms of its effect on the club
competitions in the various Australian States and even suburban club competitions?

Noeleen Dix: Well that was of very great concern to us, and part of our planning in the whole two
years has actually been about looking at the total picture of what we're doing in developing our
players, because really, Netball Australia's role is to produce players to represent Australia and
to win world championships, which we did last November. So we very much need to look at that total
flow of how we pick up players playing in their respective State leagues. We then discovered that
there is actually a gap between that State league level and taking that step into this Tasman
trophy competition.

What we're launching this year is an Australian Netball League, which actually commences in August,
so the State leagues will be finished, the ANZ Championship will be finished, and players who are
hoping to make that transition will be playing in a six to eight week competition around Australia,
and it will be all States and Territories involved, and hopefully this league will just be a
stepping-stone for players to actually show the selectors what they've got, and also to actually
make an impression on the clubs that are recruiting for next year.

Mick O'Regan: Noeleen Dix, from Netball Australia.

Across the Tasman, the Manager of Netball New Zealand's High Performance Unit is Tracey Fear. She's
also expecting great things from the new tournament, not only for the players, but also for
officials.

Tracey Fear: Both countries will be putting up their best umpires, unlike a test match which
features neutral umpires from around the world that aren't always exposed to this level of game. So
it will be interesting to see what sort of impact that has on the physicality of the game.

Mick O'Regan: Are you expecting a more physical, a more confrontational championship because of the
calibre of the teams involved?

Tracey Fear: Look you have definitely got the best players in each country coming up against each
other, so all of them are very fit, highly skilled athletes, and I think there will be huge
contesting to every ball, as there should be. In terms of the control of the game, we may well see
a more controlled game than what we've seen in a test match.

Mick O'Regan: Now I'm interested in the difference in the profile of the sport in both countries.
Obviously here on the eve of the championship commencing there is increased attention to the fact
that netball has this new competition. In New Zealand, what's the build-up to the ANZ championship
been like over recent weeks and months?

Tracey Fear: Look there's been a great built-up here. Everyone is well aware this new competition
is about to happen. One day out from the start of the first game everyone is just really looking
forward to seeing the teams out on court. So here when it all matters when you've got player
against player, team against team, and that's what the New Zealand public is really anticipating to
see how well the New Zealand teams can put it against the Australian teams.

Mick O'Regan: Indeed, obviously that Trans-Tasman rivalry will be crucial, but what about the local
derbys? Is, for example Christchurch playing Auckland, the biggest game in the domestic season for
New Zealand netballers?

Tracey Fear: Oh look I think you will see it's a new era really, whereas previous or historical
rivalries have now changed, because those rivals are now having to join together to make one team.
So it will be really interesting to see how the New Zealand teams match up against each other, and
particularly where they've had to come together to form one team has been really great to see, and
really looking forward to seeing how those teams of the past now mould into one team.

Mick O'Regan: And the week-by-week calibre of this event do you think is going to have benefits for
the national teams, for example as High Performance Manager of the Silver Ferns, are you expecting
out of this competition to see greater benefits for your key players?

Tracey Fear: There are definitely some very key high performance objectives out of this
competition, and one is the preparation of our national players for the test arena, and it's also
about providing pathways for our young talent, our developing elite players to be able to come
through. What is really exciting for us, as I'm sure it is for Australia, is to see how well our
players match up against their Australian counterparts on a week-by-week basis. Whereas in the past
we've always had to, you know, as you develop players through, wonder how they're going to go when
they're up against the best, which is the Australians, and this way we get to see it before they
actually reach national level. So huge advantages for each country to see how well their,
particularly their developing elite players contest each week.

Mick O'Regan: Tracey Fear, from Netball New Zealand.

For the players, the new competition is a chance to take the big step towards a fully professional
competition that lures and holds the world's best.

Clare McMeniman plays with the Queensland Firebirds.

Clare McMeniman: I am 185 centimetres tall, which in our team is fairly short. We've got a 197
centimetre girl shooter, but for me I'm 185 centimetres tall and I'm about 70 kilograms. I'm lucky,
I have really low skin folds!

Mick O'Regan: Half your luck. Now tell me, in a game of netball, you're a defender, you're also
Vice Captain of the team, but what's your key role? What's your coach looking for you to be doing?

Clare McMeniman: As a defender I'm obviously there to give the attacker as hard a time as I can
possibly do. So I'm a really big body on court. We've got a strong physical presence, so I can't be
pushed around. I'm there to push the attacker around, and obviously just going out and attacking to
get the ball every opportunity I can.

Mick O'Regan: Now in the past on the program we've had Liz Ellis as a guest; it's a similar role to
the one she's playing where she's desperately trying to stop the goal shooter from the opposition
getting two hands onto the ball and being able to have a shot?

Clare McMeniman: Yes, I suppose with Liz that's what she's known for, it's desperation, she's there
the whole time and for her as a goalkeeper she's that last line of defence. I'm lucky in the fact
that I have an opportunity to play all three defensive positions, that's probably one thing that
defenders are known for, we're tenacious and we're determined and we're there at every opportunity,
picking up the scraps and going for the loose balls, so that's definitely a part of our game.

Mick O'Regan: What do you think it will be like playing in New Zealand where the recognition of
netball is just so much higher there? They're effectively on the same level of public recognition
as, say, members of the All Blacks or the New Zealand Rugby League team would be. That would be
very different from what it's like here in Queensland or in Australia.

Clare McMeniman: Yes, it's entirely different. I think crowd attendance at games is a big thing,
and as well just the basic media coverage and the publicity of the game. I went on a tour to New
Zealand a couple of years ago and there was Fisher and Pykel ads which were just household ads on
TV which had members of the Silver Ferns in them, which for us was just totally foreign, because
the Australian netball team had no coverage whatsoever. So it's exciting for us to be able to get
into a different country where netball is recognised on a much higher level, it's really exciting,
and we're looking forward to the challenge of being foreigners in a country which will have netball
be such an exciting prospect.

Mick O'Regan: How do you think you'll go selling whitegoods?

Clare McMeniman: I don't know if I'd be too good at that.

Mick O'Regan: The nature of the competition, are you expecting this championship to be a noticeable
step up in terms of its physicality, the speed of the game?

Clare McMeniman: Yes, I agree with that, that it is going to be a step up for Australia and New
Zealand. But I think that the great thing that's happening within this competition is that we've
got a lot of players from other international areas, so there's players which have come over from
England, we've got one of those in our team, Tamsin Greenway, there's players who are playing from
Samoa and so from that aspect it's also lifting the standard of world netball, not just netball
between Australia and New Zealand. The game is going to be much more fast-paced. We've been
training since October, preparing ourselves for that exact challenge. It's how physical it's going
to be, the speed of the game and the intensity at which it's going to be played at, and because the
game has moved to a semi-professional level, that's just an expectation that comes with that
competition being moved to the next level.

Mick O'Regan: Now being a semi-professional, what does that mean? I mean obviously being a full
profession is that you make your living from netball. Being a semi-professional, describe that to
me.

Clare McMeniman: I think it's just a technical term really, because we still train like
professional athletes, there's no difference, it's just that we're being paid a wage, which enables
some of the athletes to take on part-time roles in their normal jobs. Everyone still works an
everyday job, it's just that we get a little bit more money for doing something we love.

Mick O'Regan: But everyone still has a regular job that they hold down, utterly distinct form
netball?

Clare McMeniman: Yes, entirely different. Everyone in our team works, everyone in every team as far
as I'm aware, has a full-time or part-time job away from the sport.

Mick O'Regan: Even as you said that the players who have come in from overseas to be the sort of
marquee foreigner players in the comp I suppose, they too have to get other jobs while they're
here, in addition to playing netball?

Clare McMeniman: Yes, that's correct. From our team, Tamsin Greenway, she holds a full-time job
working here at Netball Queensland as a Development Officer, so she is in charge of doing coaching
jobs, along those lines, so everyone's having to partake in some form of employment because the
wage we earn from netball isn't enough to sustain a lifestyle.

Mick O'Regan: Is that your amibition, would you see yourself as someone who would aspire to be a
professional netballer, a full-time professional?

Clare McMeniman: I would love for the sport to move in that direction, but one of the reasons I do
enjoy playing netball is because we can have a job outside of the sport as well. I'm the sort of a
person that quite likes a dual side of being able to work and have netball as a pastime, but I love
the fact that it's moving into a professional arena. That's what we're all aiming for as athletes,
is for our sport to be a professional sport so that people don't have to work.

Mick O'Regan: Now people who follow Australian Rugby would recognise in your surname McMeniman,
that there is a Hugh McMeniman who plays for the Super-14 team, the Queensland Reds. He's your
brother; when you see the sort of conditions under which Hugh plays and trains and works as a
full-time Rugby Union professional, does the disparity jump up in front of you, or do you see well
that's how they do it in Rugby, this is how we do it in Netball?

Clare McMeniman: I appreciate all of the training and the work that Hugh puts in to his profession.
And he works very hard for everything that he gets. Netball is getting there, and it's moving very
slowly, but I think that that's what we're working towards. I don't resent him for being a
professional football player, and for football players getting paid the amounts of money that they
do, that's a great thing for them, and for us, that's something for netballers to aspire to.

Mick O'Regan: Vice-Captain of the Queensland Firebirds Netball team, Clare McMeniman.

End of an era

Next up, the seasonal churn in Rugby League's coaching ranks.

Peter Doust: Afternoon everybody, and thanks for coming. Today the Dragons announced the signing of
Wayne Bennett as head coach for 2009, '10 and '11. And in saying that, we've sought not to
reappoint Nathan Brown as head coach. The Board of Directors completed a comprehensive and
deliberate process yesterday, and this morning I spent time talking to the players and the staff of
the Dragons to inform them of the decision, and I think we all, 100%, say how grateful we are to
Nathan Brown for his contribution to the Dragons over the last six years, but we've just chosen to
move in a new direction.

Mick O'Regan: Peter Doust, Chief Executive at the St George Illawarra Dragons, with the
announcement that galvanised the attention of the Rugby League community. The new direction is to
be provided by an old navigator.

Wayne Bennett: I love the things that it teaches you; it teaches you to be disciplined, it teaches
you not to give in; it teaches you to take a knock; it teaches you to handle disappointment.

Mick O'Regan: And handling disappointment has been high on the St George agenda for some time.
Wayne Bennett will be moving from one of the youngest clubs in the competition, to one of the
oldest. From establishing football traditions in Brisbane to rediscovering someone else's, namely
St George's.

Bennett's departure from the Broncos marks the end of an era, like Kevin Sheedy at Essendon, or
Bobby Rose at Collingwood, or Jack Gibson from almost anywhere.

Bruno Cullen is the CEO of the Brisbane Broncos, and I asked him how he sees the role of the head
coach.

Bruno Cullen: Oh, look, it's vital I suppose, probably the pivotal job in the organisation. I mean
I've got a role to run a commercial operation, a publicly-listed company, so all those things are
quite separate from the football, but then run off the back of the football, so the Director of
Coaching, the Head Coach, no matter what title you might give them, play an extremely vital role in
that space of the only product you've got, the product that he's producing, and then it goes back
to brand. So the commercial side of the business is all on the back of the power of the brand and
the brand's on the back of the power of the footy team and we're not talking about winning
premierships, we're just talking about entertainment, we're in the entertainment industry, it's a
sport, but we're in the entertainment industry. If people don't enjoy going to, being at, and going
from a game of footy, then your business is in trouble. So that all revolves around the head coach.

Mick O'Regan: Now tell me, in the 20 years or so that Wayne Bennett has been the head coach at the
Broncos, how would you sum up his legacy?

Bruno Cullen: Well I guess along with some of the other early players, and I talk about the Barry
Marantas, the Porky Morgans and the John Rebots of the world, Wayne has played again, quite a
significant role and he, if you like, I won't say he is the Broncos because he's moving on, and the
Broncos will stay, but he's built the Broncos, and he's almost irreplaceable in that regard.
No-one's indispensable, but Wayne Bennett, that being and that 20-year coaching reign, that will
never be repeated. So what Wayne's done, and the contribution he's made to the club is basically
irreplaceable.

Mick O'Regan: Now I know there's nothing settled on who'll be the Director of Coaching for the
Broncos in 2009, though there's much talk around Craig Bellamy, the current coach of the Melbourne
Storm, in looking at a new Director of Coaching, do you think the club will be seeking to continue
the traditions that have been established, or is this an opportunity to move off in a new
direction, with a new coaching philosophy, and possibly a new style?

Bruno Cullen: The guy that comes in to replace Wayne, his biggest mistake would be to try and be
Wayne Bennett, or be the next Wayne Bennett. As I said before, Wayne's quite unique and he's
irreplaceable as the being that he was, or has been. The new guy has got to come in here with, as
you say, his own philosophies, his own ideas about how teams should play, the sort of roster that
he wants here. He has to maintain the culture and the discipline that Wayne's built up over those
20 years, but they're about the only two things he needs to maintain. He will fail and I've got no
doubt this, he will fail if he tries to be the next Wayne Bennett, he's got to be the next whatever
his name is, and stamp his own personality and philosophies on the game on this team and this club.

Mick O'Regan: Is it tricky this season when Wayne Bennett is concluding his period at the Broncos,
and yet there's much speculation about what might happen next season. Does this put either the
club, the coach or the team in difficult waters?

Bruno Cullen: Obviously with the results so far, it hasn't shown that, and this has been very well
managed, and everyone's played their part there, but particularly Wayne. The timing of his
announcement that he wanted to move on was six weeks before the kick-off. He named that time
because he knew there'd be emotion around that announcement. He wanted to give the players enough
time to get their emotion out of that, that probably took a week or two, so then he always knew he
was going to have another month to focus on the premiership kick-off. We've done that.

It's going to have to be well-managed, but so far everybody's played their part and it's been, if
you like, almost perfect, and I'm not talking now about just because we've won those first three
games, I'm talking about the way the players have handled it, the way Wayne's going on about his
business like absolutely nothing's happened, and who cares what's happening next year, it's this
year that we're focusing on. All of the staff are the same, including the front office staff, and
it's really - and people might not understand this, but it's really business as usual.

Mick O'Regan: Right. Just as far as that business as usual goes, obviously there's much talk about
players leaving and players coming, and the potential of someone of Wayne Bennett's stature to lure
players to St George, the opportunities that might be created with a new coach at the Broncos. In
that sort of sliding diagram of opportunities opening and closing, do you think there will be major
player movements?

Bruno Cullen: Look I don't expect so, but again, just to remind people, we won the premiership just
one short season ago. At the end of '06 we were the premiers, and we've just started '08. The 18
players we took to the Grand Final in '06, we've lost 8 of those: Shane Webcke, Tame Tupou, Casey
Maguire, Petro Civoneceva, Brad Thorn, Brent Tate.

Mick O'Regan: Pretty significant players in that list.

Bruno Cullen: So I don't expect in the next year or two that we'll have that same sort of player
movement. All of those players except Casey Maguire were internationals, Tame played for New
Zealand, the rest of them played for - and Casey did play for Queensland - so the rest of them were
State of Origin and/or Australian players. So on the player front nothing has changed. Now
obviously Wayne being a coach here was an attraction for some people to come here, but those people
that have come here, under three-year deals and know that the next two years aren't going to be
with Wayne, aren't all that disappointed. Of course they would have loved to have been with Wayne
for three years, and all due respect to Wayne, but they've now had a taste of the Broncos culture
and what it means to be around a joint like this, and the support staff and the support structure
we've got.

So they love being here, whilst they might be slightly disappointed, they're not going to do that
two or three years with Wayne, they're extremely happy to stay. We have got players coming off
contract this year, and we'll be negotiating with them over the next little while. But again, I
don't see this period being any different than any other year when if a player's attracted to
another club, and there's 15 other clubs out there, then it'll be the same, it'll be game-on, can
we keep them here, or are they being attracted away from the joint by another club, whether that be
St George, or the other 14.

Mick O'Regan: Just finally, there's been a growing rivalry between the Brisbane Broncos and the St
George Dragons or the St George Illawarra Dragons as they are now of course, there were two
consecutive Grand Finals in '92 and '93, in both of which the Broncos triumphed. Do you think that
Wayne Bennett running the coaching for the Dragons will add a certain spice to the rivalry between
the clubs?

Bruno Cullen: Look that's probably, if you don't mind me saying, it's probably a little bit
overplayed, I mean that was a long time ago, that's 15 or 16 years ago. We've actually got a very
close relationship with St George, they're one of the best crowd pullers here in Brisbane, they've
got a great tradition and I've got a very close relationship with their CEO, Peter Doust, and we
always work together in both our games here and their games down there, where he tries his best to
get as many Dragon supporters to come along to the Suncorp Stadium, they love playing up here. So
look, our relationship generally is extremely good.

As I said, the premierships were a long time ago. Wayne going there will make a huge difference,
he's got some inside knowledge, or a lot of inside knowledge about this club, and once he crosses
the border and puts the big red V on, he'll be doing all in his power to be successful down there.
Now we wouldn't expect anything less, so we look forward to the ongoing rivalry, but at the same
time we expect it to be very civil and very friendly, except when they get out on the field for 80
minutes when we play.

Mick O'Regan: Brisbane Broncos Chief Executive, Bruno Cullen.

Warren Ryan has had different counters with Wayne Bennett as an opposing coach and as an analyst
and commentator. So, does he think the guidance of a good coach can put the fire back into the
Dragons?

Warren Ryan: No, only if it was a winning team. Just the whole question of what comes first, the
chicken or the egg, well these days football is - there's a famous quote by an American player. The
Manager's talking to the equivalent of a CEO in America, and the CEO's desperately trying to see if
the player is interested in coming to his club, and he said, 'You know, does he lean in any
particular direction?' and the Manager says, 'Yes, he leans towards the cash.'

Mick O'Regan: Show me the money. Do you think it's possible to distil specific attributes that he
brings to the game as a coach that's made him so successful?

Warren Ryan: Well I was a rival of his when he first began. I was coaching Balmain, we had quite a
record, over them initially.

Mick O'Regan: What was the secret of those early wins?

Warren Ryan: I had a fabulous pack of forwards.

Mick O'Regan: That helps.

Warren Ryan: As I wrote in the column. St George have been more famous in recent years for building
the strength of other teams' packs rather than their own. And there's a lot of people have a
feeling that the forwards they've let go are better than the ones they've kept. So Wayne hasn't got
the personnel there to win a comp, I don't care how good a coach anybody is, if they get the St
George of the current crop of players there, they can't win the competition. That's point 1. Now
unless that changes next year, I think he'll get a lot more maturity out of them, and he won't put
up with this adolescent nonsense that some of them go on with. I think he's very, very good in that
area.

But Wayne to me has never been a wonderful strategic coach in terms of the technical side of the
game. But he's been a wonderful achiever, and blokes want to play for him. Even Andrew Johns in
assessing all the different coaches, even though he was only briefly with Wayne in the Australian
side, that was the assessment that he attributed to Wayne that he was a terrific man-manager. So
he'll get the best out of his troops, but it's just a matter whether the troops are good enough to
give him the results that he wants or the club expects.

Mick O'Regan: Would it be the icing on the cake for his career to spend the last couple at St
George and bring that great old club a premiership?

Warren Ryan: I don't think it's going to happen, but you know, stranger things have happened. But a
lot'll have to change there in terms of personnel before that lot could win a comp.

Mick O'Regan: And just on the outgoing coach, Nathan Brown, will his period at St George be
regarded as an out-and-out failure do you think?

Warren Ryan: Yes, I think so. I think it's already been regarded as that by everyone you talk to,
just shake their head and say what talent he had and what little he did with it. The pity for Wayne
is that he didn't come there when they had all the talent, and that was back when I suppose Timmins
and all that gang played, Thompson in the forwards and they had such a - and Luke Bailey - they had
a terrific line-up of talent.

Mick O'Regan: Warren Ryan, former Rugby League coach, now part of the Grandstand commentary team on
ABC Local Radio. So no immediate miracles for the Dragons, though 2009 will be exactly 30 years
since their last premiership.

Thanks to The Sports Factor team of producer, Andrew Davies, our technical producer this week,
Peter McMurray, and to Sabrina Lipovic in ABC Archives.