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Netball's new adventure -

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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.