Spoilt for choice, Samason chooses life in NZ after tough 2023

THE relationship between Australian and New Zealand netball has always been idolised in the eyes of international viewers.

From 2008 to 2016 there was the ANZ Championships, which saw five Australian and five New Zealand teams compete week in, week out. Each had their respective conference titles, but it was the overall competition that was fierce.

The best players in the world would be located in either Australia or New Zealand, until Netball Australia severed ties with Netball New Zealand and ANZ to start their partnership with Suncorp.

Since then, the relationship between the two island nations has had something looming over its head, and that’s Australia’s willingness – or lack thereof – to sign international talent.

The ANZ Premiership currently has two international players signed, being South Africa’s Jeante Strydom and Australia’s Emma Thompson.

Now signing with the Northern Stars for the 2024 season, Rahni Samason is eligible for both the Australian Diamonds and the Silver Ferns.

Samason has joined the Northern Stars in training (Image: Kiri Wills/Instagram)

Netball New Zealand has a rule that in order for an athlete to be selected into the Silver Ferns squad, they need to be playing in the ANZ Premiership competition unless granted an exception.

Now Samason doesn’t need to worry.

Samason was signed to the Melbourne Vixens for the 2023 season, but was unfortunately riddled by injury before the season even started. She suffered a stress fracture just prior to the Suncorp Super Netball season in March, healed, and aggravated it when playing a game for the Southern Saints in the Victorian Netball League (VNL).

“I knew it was going to take me out of the field,” Samason told Rookie Me Central.

“I had to have another knee surgery in May, and from then my manager (Peter Munt) called because the contract opened in New Zealand and he asked me if I’d be open to it. I just kind of said yes without hesitation.”

Samason has a history with knee injuries, rupturing her ACL in 2018 after a wildly successful VNL and Australian Netball League (ANL) campaign with the Vic Fury. She was the ANL MVP in 2018 and a Vixens training partner at the time.

Samason playing for the Vic Fury in the ANL (Image Mark Witte/Getty Images)

It took her a while to get to where she belonged, debuting with the Vixens in Round Five of the 2021 season as a late call up to be a temporary replacement player. She went on to shoot 19 goals, eight super shots, shoot the winning goal, and be named player of the match.

Though, injury ensured things took a swift turn from that high point.

“It was probably one of the most challenging years of my netball career,” Samason said.

“There’s a real feeling of helplessness on the sidelines, not being able to contribute anything and it was really hard because I was grappling with that lack of value within the team.

“[Vixens] did really well to keep me included and that my voice was heard. It’s still quite isolating and still quite hard when you can’t physically go out there and be with them as a group.”

Samason playing for her now former club the Melbourne Vixens at the 2023 Team Girls Cup (Image: Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The battle between Netball Australia and the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA) added fuel to the fire as some players were pushed out of the league and looked to others to continue their professional careers.

This wasn’t the case for Samason, who already had eyes on playing in the ANZ Premiership. After some lengthy discussions with her manager, several potential opportunities arose.

“(The CPA discussions) did help my decision to move, but there was no kind of pressure from the Vixens forcing me out,” she said.

“They were very focused on their finals campaign because that’s what was happening.

“It sucked to be on the sidelines, but there was no pressure from management to find somewhere else to go.”

Samason was born and raised in Melbourne but she has roots tying her back to New Zealand. She has always been drawn to the Kiwi style of play and reflecting her game off that while gaining a lot of inspiration already.

Originally starting out as a wing defence, Samason quickly changed positions thanks to her mum who played as a shooter growing up. Her mum disagreed with having Samason in the midcourt and she hasn’t looked back since.

Samason playing against Shamera Sterling (Image: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Samason will bring her long range shooting skills to the Stars who came out second best last season against their Northern counterparts the Mystics.

“There’s a lot of motivation in this group because we have been the bridesmaids for a few years now,” she said.

“I think we’re ready and really wanting more for that gold.”

A strong connection has been made in the Stars family as inaugural player Maia Wilson met Samason at her new studio apartment on her first day and welcomed her to the area. Samason described Wilson as bubbly and welcoming, excited for the 26-year-old to join the shooting lineup with herself and Amorangi Malesala

The Stars are a week into pre-season and Samason was prepared to just train and meet her fellow teammates. Eventually she started to grab lunch and casually hang out with her teammates with Wilson by her side letting her know the ins and outs so she could stand out in the league.

Samason’s time in SSN pushed her to play against some of the very best. Two players that stood out to Samason were Courtney Bruce and Shamera Sterling and she said she loved every encounter.

“I love beating them, but also when I get beat, that would just fuel me to keep pushing and trying to get better so I could compete with them the next time,” she said.

Now being located across the ditch, Samason can’t wait to line up against the likes of Silver Ferns duo Kelly Jury and Karin Burger.

Samason’s ultimate career goal is to play at the international level whether that be for Australia, New Zealand or the Cook Islands.

“I want to play at the very top,” she said. “I want to push myself. I want to see how far I can personally go.”

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