Nearly twelve months ago the Australian Mens and Mixed Netball Association (AMMNA) took a gamble to live stream their flagship event, the Australian Championships.
The streaming was privately funded – a nod to the belief in the administration, the players and the game itself.
Forty matches were beamed via their Facebook page, website and Netball Scoop that garnered nearly 140,000 views during the four days of coverage. Not only did it reach all corners of the country, but as far as New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Cayman Islands and Norway.
On the back of that success, AMMNA are ready to do it all again as Sydney host the 2018 Championships, which begin this Sunday at Genea Netball Centre.
A decade ago there were half as many teams as will contest for next weeks’ titles, and two fewer divisions. More teams has forced the need for bigger venues. Crowd numbers last year were close to 5000 for the week.
The missing piece from the state-against-state event is the Northern Territory, who have shown keen interest to field a team next year. Their inclusion will be another important box ticked in the pursuit of driving the game forward in an increasingly aggressive era for sport.
New South Wales have the benefit of playing on home soil this year, but with that advantage comes extra pressure – especially for the Open Mens side, who, after an historic victory last year on the Gold Coast, are seeking back-to-back titles for the first time in the events’ 33-year history.
The victory sparked wild celebrations as they broke an 11-year drought to claim the title. Queensland were in the box seat after Day 4, but crashed out of the tournament losing four of their last five games (including both the Semi and Preliminary Finals) after a horror run of injuries and illness derailed their campaign.
NSW head coach, and Silver Fern great, Teresa Tairi had to be a quick learner in her first foray in coaching elite mens netball, but doesn’t feel the burden to win consecutive titles and playing in front of a home crowd.
“I was very proud of what we achieved on our journey – we had a lot of fun along the way, too. Winning the title was the cherry on the top!
“Our preparation is about the process, not the result. There’s been a real paradigm shift, in thinking and confidence. If anything they’ve taken things to a whole other level this year.
“They know success isn’t given, it’s earned and they are all working hard to earn their place, because we have such an abundance of talent in our group. As a coach it’s very encouraging to see.”
The opportunity to play for Australia is also on the line this year.
Eight representative teams will be selected during the Championships and announced at the AMMNA Awards on April 7, following Grand Final Day.
Two teams will be chosen to contest the New Zealand Mens Nationals in August, two teams will head to Papua New Guinea for the inaugural Trans Pacific Cup in September and four teams for the biennial Trans Tasman Cup to be held in Adelaide in late October.
Given the hosting of the Trans Tasman Cup alternates between Australia and New Zealand, it’s the first time in four years that family, friends and fans will get to see Australia play on home soil.
The series, to be held at Priceline Stadium, is expected to attract thousands of spectators across the five nights of action, in a city that could lay claim to providing the best netball media coverage in the country.
Queensland Suns shooter Junior Levi is one of the most experienced current players internationally, with 17 tests under his belt.
His approach is simple – play well for your state and the rest will take care of itself.
“I think you should always approach the year the same way, if it’s a touring year or not. It’s (the Championships) is almost the best netball you get to play. A lot of the talent is in Australia, so it’s just as difficult and just as intense as an international series, so the preparation is the same.”
“Fingers cross I stay healthy and have a good week, but I’d stop playing netball if I ever got complacent about making the Aussie side. I take the process that it takes to be selected, as well as playing for Australia, very seriously.”
While thoughts of wearing the green and gold hover in the back of some players’ minds, spectators and live stream viewers can expect a fast and tough brand of netball across the Championships – something Tairi is looking forward to.
“The games are going to be challenging and exciting. I hear some of the Open teams have had a change in guard, so there’ll be a few new faces and talent coming up from the younger age groups, which is always thrilling because they bring a whole new freshness and explosiveness to the competition.”
For Levi, he’s hoping the Suns can get through the week unscathed to make the grand final, after missing out last year for the first time since 2007.
“There’s been a lot of emphasis this year on conditioning, particularly given we have a super young team this year, to be able to withstand the tournament.”
“This year, more than ever, the states are stronger, so it won’t just be a battle of the big three (Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales). It’ll be tough on everyone.”
The 2018 Australian Championships run from April 1-7 at Genea Netball Centre (formerly Netball Central) in Sydney. The event will be live streamed from April 4, including all Preliminary Finals and Grand Finals. Tickets and weekly passes are available from the venue.
The 2018 Trans Tasman Cup will be contested across four divisions – 20&U, 23&U, Open Mixed and Opens Mens. The event will run from October 23-28 at Priceline Stadium in Adelaide. Ticket details will be advised shortly.
Cover image: Powershots Photography