WITH netball’s COVID-19 restrictions still in place for the indefinite future and the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season put on hold until August, it was only a matter of time until pathway programs were brought into the mix with the announcement yesterday that the 2020 Australian Netball League (ANL) season has been cancelled due to difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The most direct of the Australian pathways to the domestic league, the ANL sees all eight states and territories compete, with matches and teams aligning with the Super Netball competition. The ANL is a direct feeder to the SSN, with players using teams as an elite development opportunity.
Announced by Netball Australia on Tuesday morning as “due to financial pressures and inconsistent restrictions on training and matches between states and territories”, the cancellation means a lot of things for different aspects of the sport – namely the Super Netball benches and training partners, with players typically playing in the ANL when they do not receive SSN game time.
Where this affects players at the top level, it flows down at a more significant rate to the individual pathway programs of each state, with emerging Australian talent unable to match up against those hailing from opposing states and territories.
Netball Australia Executive General Manager of Performance Stacey West says that the national governing body is exploring alternate development opportunities in place of the competition.
“We recognise that this is a lost development opportunity for this cohort,” she said. “A group including athletes, coaches and officials that we seek to nurture and progress each year to support our high performance pathway. “This [alternate opportunities] is likely to be similar to the centralised talent camps Netball Australia delivers at the Netball Centre of Excellence based at the AIS, which involve skill development, match play and education.”
Netball Victoria released a follow-up statement on Tuesday afternoon, announcing a newly devised 2020 Victorian Elite Development Squad program, providing elite development across two squads made up of athletes from both the 2020 Victorian Fury and 2020 17/U and 19/U Victorian State teams.
Victorian Fury head coach, Di Honey and Netball Victoria Pathways Manager, Cathy Fellows have been announced at the program’s helm.
“Whilst today’s announcement was obviously disappointing for all the athletes and support staff involved, who have put in so much work already this year, we’re looking forward to be able to continue working with Victoria’s best up-and-coming netballers to technically develop their skills to an elite level,” Honey said.
Unfortunately, the cancellation of the ANL could prove more significant a loss than other competitions, with the plethora of talent involved in the pathway potentially unable to progress in their development without game time against opposing state and territory talent, meaning less opportunity to be brought up the ranks to a Super Netball club if the chance arises.
Thus far, no official announcements have been made regarding individual state competitions, which will come down to each state’s netball governing body.
While the ANL cancellation is unlikely to have a major impact on the future of netball in Australia, it is important to recognise the significance of the lack of game time these players will get, with the influx of international netballers in the Suncorp Super Netball already seeing less opportunity for ANL players to prove themselves at the top level.