What if: The ANC does not go ahead

AS mid-September approaches, so do the initially planned dates for the 2021 Australian Netball Championships (ANC) – the maiden event replacing the former Australian Netball League (ANL), which played weekly in tandem with the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN). But as have many competitions over the last 18 months, with ongoing COVID-19 restrictions in place the competition was downgraded to be played within a decentralised and hub-based model instead. With next Monday set to be the first day of the original competition and no confirmation of replacement dates or locations, we pose the hypothetical question of ‘what if the 2021 Australian Netball Championships do not go ahead’?

There is no doubt the last year and a half has been difficult for many talented netballers, with feeder competitions effectively put on the backburner and development pathways all but cut off by ongoing restrictions. While some competitions got off the ground, majority of the statewide competitions have dealt with consistent breaks in between matches, and in some cases overall season cancellations with no end in sight.

Of the major effects that the absence of ANC could have, the most obvious is that it would mean yet another year without an elite pathway and its resulting opportunities. One of the major benefits of the ANL was that it was a weekly competition, giving SSN bench players and training partners a chance to develop court skills and combinations and, in return, give the developing players an opportunity to step up to the challenge. With the ANL no longer in session, many talented pathways athletes would be relying on the elite coaching environment within ANC clubs and the opportunity to play the best of the best – realistically, the best of the future. This loss in consistent court time also inhibits players from developing their craft and combinations over the course of multiple games.

Another huge negative of the competition potentially not going ahead is that for each year the top elite pathway is not in session, more developing talent goes unidentified. Diamonds are made under pressure, and sometimes it is that pressure of top level competitions and training partner potential that allows the pathways players to shine. With so much talent on offer in state pathways going head-to-head each week where possible, the ANC would be a fresh opportunity to prove oneself against fresh legs, fresh threats, and adjust accordingly within a short timeframe.

Many players also want that chance to prove themselves capable of transitioning seamlessly to the next level, with a key example of this the development of Sophie Dwyer. Dwyer was a key cog in the 2019 ANL season, winning player of the match in the grand final despite not playing in the winning side, and then stepped up to the challenge of SSN in 2021 with little issue. Current players Lara DunkleyTayla Fraser, Lauren Moore, Allie Smith, Elle  McDonaldJacqui Newton and Rudi Ellis are others who played in that match before receiving full time contracts for 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Realistically, with the competition being played as a decentralised competition this season, there is still a chance of some states and territories playing out a version of the championships next week, but with no word yet from clubs or governing bodies, burgeoning talent may have to wait another year.


Picture credit: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

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