The Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds have played out an 18-all draw following a 90-minute contest in their Super Rugby AU encounter at Brookvale Oval in Sydney.
The Rebels seemed headed for victory when they held a 10-point lead late in the match
The Reds forced Super Time when James O’Connor converted an Alex Mafi try
Neither side was able to break the deadlock on the scoreboard in extra time
The contest was forced into a historic 10-minute Super Time period — the first played in Australia’s new domestic competition — when a last-minute try to Reds replacement Alex Mafi was converted by James O’Connor after the siren.
Neither side was able to break the deadlock in Super Time, much to the displeasure of the small crowd in attendance at the home ground of NRL club Manly.
But an O’Connor penalty goal in the 75th minute — after he had thrown the errant pass to Meakes — and Mafi’s last-gasp try, dashed the Rebels’ hopes of winning during regular time.
The exciting finish was in stark contrast to a dour first half played in mostly driving rain.
The Rebels, who were hosting the match in Sydney because of the recent coronavirus spike in Melbourne, opened the scoring with a penalty to five-eighth Matt Toomua in the eighth minute.
Bizarrely, given the wet conditions, the Rebels turned down another gift three points shortly after, declining a shot from in front of the posts only for Toomua to then attempt a long-range field goal from a returning line-out a minute later.
They still went to the break with a 6-0 lead after Toomua landed a second penalty.
With three weeks to run until the start of the 2020 Super Netball season, the sport’s leading domestic teams are dealing with unprecedented levels of uncertainty on and off the court.
The venues that will stage matches are yet to be decided and many players are juggling their own personal work challenges while still trying to maintain rigorous training programs.
Then there’s the task of adapting to the controversial new Super Shot rule, announced just over two weeks ago.
Diamonds Captain and Giants shooter Caitlin Bassett is one of many players still coming to terms with the decision, which will see two goals awarded for a successful shot from a designated part of the goal circle, during the last five minutes of each quarter.
It is a rule specific to Super Netball, and one that the netball community had fiercely rejected during a game-wide survey earlier in the year.
“I think it was fairly well publicised the fact that us players weren’t happy with the decision that was being made, particularly because it was out of our control,” Bassett said.
The 32-year-old, who slammed administrators on social media directly after the announcement was made, has told the ABC she’s still not sure the game is headed in the right direction.
“It’s hard to tell, obviously COVID is unprecedented and so many sports have suffered in terms of financial pressures and us as players are wearing that as well.
“We’re still on reduced rates and potentially still will be into next year so it does make it very hard.
Lightning left in the dark
Sunshine Coast Lightning coach Kylee Byrne says the way in which the decision was made without consultation didn’t go down well at her club.
“We didn’t actually know anything about it,” she said.
“We were actually training on court and I had people hanging around the sidelines, so I knew something was happening in the background.
“Not that you need to know everything that happens operationally in a sport, but something as big as this only six weeks out from the start, I think it needed to be run by everyone.
Seeking clarity through review
The players’ building negative sentiment has not gone unnoticed by Netball Australia, which has commissioned an independent review into the sport.
Called State of the Game, it will assess how all of the game’s participants, from grassroots to elite players to commercial partners, actually view the sport.
Chief executive Marne Fechner hopes it will provide a sense of clarity for everybody.
“Our aim is to capture the voices and experiences of our entire Australian netball family at a scale that hasn’t been done before,” she said.
“We want to capture a collective ambition for our game.”
Bassett says the decision is also putting the quality of the international product, which doesn’t have a Super Shot, at risk.
“The further we move away from international rules the harder it gets for players,” she said.
“I’m definitely a netball traditionalist and I like to keep in line with the international rules because for me at the end of the season it’s just natural progression.”
Players prefer ‘traditional’ game
Lightning goal attack Steph Wood is one player whose stocks have risen because of the rule change.
The versatile attacker, who broke into the Diamonds squad in 2016, has a proven ability to shoot from range while her creative play around the goal circle often causes trouble for defenders.
But despite her playing prowess, Wood still has reservations.
“I liked the way the traditional game was,” she said.
“I talked to a few people and they were like, ‘oh well it’s really just affecting the shooters,’ but I don’t think it just affects them, I think it trickles all the way down the court.
Wood isn’t sure how much the game will change in terms of strategy, although she does feel their own approach won’t be too different to what it has always been in the past.
“I prefer to shoot from further out,” she said.
“I get a little bit nervous when I get underneath the post, we have a running joke at training, you can see my arms shake when I get under the hoop.
“For defenders, a lot of the time you are trying to push shooters out towards the edge of the circle because it’s a lower percentage shot.
“Now you might have to think, depending on where the game is, you need to be pushing shooters towards the hoop so it will be very interesting to see how it pans out.”
Broadening netball’s fan base
Netball Australia says the Super Shot rule was ultimately introduced in an attempt to broaden the fan base of the sport, which is keeping a close eye on its financial position during the pandemic.
Netball is in the midst of a unique revenue-sharing broadcast rights deal with Channel Nine and Telstra, which was signed back in 2016.
It had led to more free-to-air coverage for the sport, but it has left netball more reliant on delivering eyeballs, given it gets paid a portion of the advertising revenue secured by its broadcast partners.
Bassett says the players have taken action in order to secure more of a say moving forward.
“We’ve sat down as players recently and have come up with a manifesto.
“[It’s] basically what we as players want, the direction of the sport and what’s important to us.
“It’s more about developing us as human beings off the court, and that camaraderie and sisterhood you have in those team environments.”
The State of the Game review is due to be handed down in September and will be led by former Diamonds captain Liz Ellis.
Dan McKellar’s home side kept the Rebels try-less for almost an hour, while bagging four themselves to assume control.
Typically, the Brumbies’ first two five-pointers came after lineout wins.
Hooker Folau Fainga’a did superbly to back around after his throw in and then pop a lovely inside ball for winger Andy Muirhead to score untouched under the posts in just the third minute.
Noah Lolesio’s conversion gave the hosts a 7-0 lead, before Matt Toomua cut the deficit to one point with two penalties as the Rebels’ scrum surprisingly dominated the Brumbies’ all-Wallabies front row.
After conceding four set-piece penalties in quick fashion, the referee warned the Brumbies a yellow card was coming next.
But they overcame their wobbles to open up a 19-6 half-time buffer.
The Brumbies’ signature driving maul delivered a try for lively half-back Joe Powell, then Fainga’a barged over for his sixth five-pointer in 2020.
The Brumbies looked like galloping to an easy win when the impressive Lolesio burst free to put winger Tom Wright over three minutes after the break.
But back-to-back Rebels tries to hooker Jordan Uelese and skipper Dane Haylett-Petty and Tooma’s third penalty of the night reduced the margin to one point.
The Brumbies were up for the grandstand finish, though, with replacement forward Will Miller sealing victory with the Brumbies’ fifth try three minutes from time.
“This is something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Catley told Arsenal’s website.
“I’m so excited that it’s finally done. This will be my first taste of European football and obviously there’s so much to look forward to and so many big occasions to come. I can’t wait to get started.”
Several Australians, including key Matildas Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Hayley Raso (Everton) and Chloe Logarzo (Bristol City), now play in the FA Women’s Super League (FAWSL).
“We are proactively managing our online traffic so that systems continue to be available.
“We apologise for the inconvenience.”
The Federal Government made retirement funds available to those who have had their income plunged into doubt as a result of the coronavirus-induced shutdown and ensuing economic crisis.
Under the controversial scheme, those impacted by the outbreak were able to grab $10,000 from their super last financial year and another $10,000 from today until September 24, 2020.
The initiative was rushed into existence to assist the tens of thousands of Australians who had their income plunged into doubt as the lockdown created economic chaos and mass job losses.
But data released over the last few months indicate this emergency dip into vital retirement savings has been spent on online gambling, alcohol and takeaway food, not the essential household items it was intended for.
Real-time banking activity from Alpha Beta and Illion shows many of those who took advantage of the access increased spending on lifestyle items.
A sample of 13,000 people revealed 64 per cent of the scheme was spent on discretionary items such as clothing, furniture, restaurant food, gambling and alcohol.
“That tells us that much of this money was used for lifestyle reasons rather than necessity reasons,” Alpha Beta director and economist Andrew Charlton told the ABC last month.
“Superannuation is there for retirement, not for crises.”
It’s fair to say there will be many more eyes on Australia’s new domestic rugby competition when it kicks off this weekend than just those of the diehard fans.
Super Rugby AU is Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, and was quickly formed to fill the breach left by the 15-team, five-nations Super Rugby tournament which went into COVID-19-enforced hibernation in mid-March.
Australia’s four Super Rugby sides — the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, and the Brumbies — will be joined by the Perth-based Western Force in a full home-and-away competition played over 10 weeks plus two weeks of finals.
But it’s the law variations in place that will draw the extra attention, and from the moment the Reds and Waratahs run out onto Brisbane’s Lang Park on Friday night. Behind every one of the changes is an intention to make a more enjoyable spectacle of the game for spectators, fans and players alike.
A couple are already in place over the ditch, with Super Rugby Aotearoa implementing 10 minutes of “golden point” extra time in the event of a scoreboard deadlock after 80 minutes.
The other is the allowance to replace a player sent from the field with a red card after 20 minutes. The sent-off player can’t play any further part in the game, but the contest can be restored to 15 players on 15, 20 minutes later.
Neither has been seen in New Zealand yet in three rounds, but Australia’s leading referee Angus Gardner is a fan.
“You definitely want the players to decide the game and as a ref you prefer to not make a decision that decides it,” he said last week, of the extra time allowance.
Gardner has been busy over the past fortnight, running live familiarity sessions around the new variations with the Waratahs and Rebels. The focus on the breakdown contest in Super Rugby Aotearoa — and the sharp upsurge in penalties — were a cause for concern initially, and were undoubtedly a reason Gardner and his colleagues were utilised during these intra-squad sessions around the country.
“They’re really rewarding speed to the breakdown, I think for us that’s going to highlight our breakdown presence,” Rebels backrower Michael Wells said, his side spending this week of preparation in Canberra to escape the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Melbourne.
“Attacking wise, you can’t be slow; you have to be really fast. Defensively, if you have a good on-ball presence you’re really going to get pay out of it. I think that was the biggest thing about having Gus [Gardner] here, just to be exposed to those new rules, because it’s different watching it in the New Zealand comp,” Wells said.
The crowds will be much smaller when Super Rugby AU kicks off on Friday night, but it’s certainly hoped the rugby is no less exciting. Rugby Australia is also hoping the decision to go a bit further with law variations will have an impact, too.
Several of them roll over from last season’s National Rugby Championship, in which a rampant Western Force ran away with the title. The line drop-out allowance, which rewards the defending team if they’re able to hold the attacking team up in-goal, works as a faster way of restarting play instead of a five-metre scrum that risks multiple resets.
And 50-22 and 22-50 kicks carry over too, borrowing from rugby league’s 40-20, which will force teams to defend differently at the back, as well as open up attacking opportunity.
“Does that open up more space in the front line to play ball in hand?” Rebels attack coach Shaun Berne wondered.
“And if they don’t defend that back field, are we then able to kick and find those 50-22s?”
The players themselves can already see opportunities.
“It’s going to break some teams when we find that space and take those opportunities, it’s going to hurt a lot of teams,” Brumbies centre Irae Simone offered from Canberra.
Waratahs coach Rob Penney loves the removal of calling for a mark in the defensive 22 from kicks originating in the same portion of the field. But he’s equally wary of the architect of the idea.
“I am a bit worried about Matt Toomua and the impact that he is going to have. He is such a talented 10 and he has the ball on a string really,” Penney said of the Rebels and Wallabies flyhalf.
“I thought it was a real breath of fresh air to hear Matt talking about what could be really good for the game.”
As Rugby Australia works to negotiate its way to new TV deal for 2021 and beyond, the hope is that these variations and the exciting rugby it anticipates will result will be really good for the game over a longer term. Arguably, the future of the professional game is counting on it.
But the condensed campaign means there won’t be time for the five sides to work their way into contention. Most agree the Brumbies start overwhelming as the favourites, given they were running second overall when Super Rugby was suspended.
Brumbies prop James Slipper says that just means the side is already determined to pick up where they left off back in March.
“It’s always important to start well,” he said.
“We actually addressed that this year in Super Rugby and we did start well.
“What you find is when you have a good start is you try and build on that momentum and that winning habit.”
Super Rugby AU Round 1 fixtures
Friday: Queensland Reds vs NSW Waratahs, Brisbane 7:15pm AEST
Saturday: ACT Brumbies vs Melbourne Rebels, Canberra 7:15pm AEST
You are running a widely popular, predominantly female sport that has stood the test of time.
The game has evolved from its conservative roots; it has embraced semi-professionalism and become pleasingly dynamic; it has forged a storied international rivalry that has produced some of the most dramatic moments in Australian sport; it has withstood challenges from voracious competitors and maintained an enormous participant base.
It has even welcomed men to play in their own leagues and mixed competitions — even if they sometimes find it hard to check their fragile egos at the locker room door and keep their pointy elbows to themselves.
But you’ve looked at the TV ratings, you’ve compared the sponsorship model with other predominantly male sports and you want more eyeballs on your domestic competition.
So you’re thinking about making a radical rule change, one that will alter the most fundamental element of the game — scoring.
Naturally, you first take the proposal to your competition committee and carefully weigh their input.
Then you run it by the Players’ Association. Not because the lunatics run your asylum. Because, well, maybe the people who are actually going to be bound by this rule might have some practical suggestions about its application?
You have a quiet coffee with some ex-players and even the media types who are tapped into the thoughts of the fans and the game’s wider community to gauge potential reaction.
This non-consultation process, almost as much as the two-point shot, has caused uproar among the very people who should have had the greatest say in such a radical change.
Instead, the Super Netball commissioners made a mistake common among sports desperate to increase their “reach” — instead of asking what those who love netball wanted, they asked themselves what those who are mostly indifferent to the sport might hypothetically want.
In one sense, bypassing the people who are the cornerstone of your sport and bastardising your game for the edification of those who ticked the “have some interest” box on a fan engagement survey is understandable, even essential.
Sporting stalwarts are notoriously conservative. Cricket’s transition from Test to One Day to Twenty20s involved endless anguished debates pitting so-called traditionalists against the perceived desires of less cricket-savvy consumers.
The obvious difference is that cricket has imposed most of its changes on two new formats. Test cricket remains virtually as it was, albeit now crammed into a schedule dominated by limited-overs fixtures and with those ghastly numbers on the shirts.
Netball, on the other hand, has taken a gimmick from its own short-form game, Fast5, and imposed it on the second highest level of the sport without so much as a “What do you guys think?” in a competition committee Zoom meeting.
No wonder a member of that committee, Diamonds’ star Jo Weston, was apoplectic when the news dropped via press release during the week.
Weston told The Guardian she was not just disappointed with the “insulting” lack of consultation, but by the rule itself.
Which makes you wonder if Super Netball teams will jog onto the court this season or arrive stuffed in a mini minor given the apparent desperation of the game’s administrators to pander to the non-fan.
The one-off media sugar hit of a radical rule change is far easier than the hard yards of long term grassroots engagement, clever promotional campaigns and relationship building with broadcasters.
This attempt to imitate the “innovative changes” in rugby league has proven about as popular with netball diehards as telling them players will wear lingerie and games will be played in a giant tub of jelly.
Yet, gallingly for the game’s ignored insiders, the change has gained support from the type of casual high-profile observers who are unlikely to be at a Super Netball game after the last canape in the corporate hospitality area disappears.
So what’s wrong with the “super shot” (to be taken from a designated spot inside the circle in the last five minutes of each quarter)?
The most obvious problem is that all goals will not be created equal. An artfully worked full court move that gets the ball into the hands of the goal attack will not be worth as much as a long bomb executed during an arbitrary time period.
It also perverts the power balance because a team that has gained the ascendency in general play can have its hard-earned lead erased by a couple of freak shots.
But don’t take my word for it.
I stand to be corrected by those who have played the game at all levels or who have spent years in the crowd or on the media bench at Super Netball games.
The kind of people who should be the first consulted when a beloved sport makes a radical change for the benefit of those who usually couldn’t care less.
All the latest sports news and issues including Australia’s 2023 Women’s World Cup bid will be discussed on Offsiders on ABC TV at 10:00am on Sunday.
Super Netball have run countless polls and surveys floating the idea of a two-point shot over the past few years.
But despite the fact fans and players have always been opposed to the idea, today the league announced it would be implementing the rule for the 2020 season.
Super Netball has used two and three-point shots before in its Fast 5 format
Super Netball Chair, Marina Go, says a new rule for 2020 seeks to build the fanbase and pursue gender pay equity
But teams say they were not consulted, and fan-polls repeatedly reject the rule change at the elite level
The ‘Super Shot’ will come into play in the last five minutes of each quarter and must be put up by a goal attack or goal shooter in the designated zone from at least 1.9m away from the basket on the edge of the circle.
Super Netball CEO Chris Symington said the rule would add an element of “thrill” to the game and that the “time was right” for more innovation.
The sport has used two and three-point shots before in its Fast 5 format, likened to cricket’s T20 and rugby union’s Sevens versions of the game.
But fans have always been adamant that these types of gimmicks were fine as long as there was a clear distinction between the use of them in Fast 5 tournaments and not in elite competitions.
Back in March, Netball Australia put on an Australian Diamonds and Super Netball All Stars bushfire charity relief match, where the two-point shot was also trialled as a one-off exhibition match rule.
This sparked further debate amongst the community as to whether it had a place in traditional netball and again, there was a resounding no from the sport’s fans and players.
The league recognised this angst and even published examples of these reactions on its Super Netball website.
Most took this as a sign their voices had been heard, which feeds into part of their outrage around the announcement today.
Chair of Super Netball, Marina Go, defended the league’s decision on Twitter this afternoon.
But the players don’t seem to be on board with her reasoning for the idea.
National team captain Caitlin Bassett took to Instagram to declare her position, suggesting netball’s next change to make it more “entertaining” would be to wear skimpier outfits like lingerie football.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Vixens were quick to release a statement that the club and its players had not been given any warning the rule change was coming.
Head coach Simone McKinnis declared she was “shocked” and that the news was “out of the blue”, just six weeks before the season starts.
But NSW Swifts head coach Briony Akle took a different approach.
“Every team is in the same boat so it’s the ones who react quickest who’ll be successful,” she said.
“We’ve got some work to do but I know my players can rise to a challenge.”
The reigning champions coincidentally polled their social media followers just last week, asking for opinion on this topic.
And although Paige Hadley and England’s Helen Housby have both expressed their position against the two-point shot, it looks like their coach won’t be letting them dwell on the matter any longer.
“Twenty years ago our best Australian shooters could score from anywhere in the circle and our defenders had to match them,” Akle said.
“Liz Ellis and Cath Cox came from this era and they had pretty good careers, didn’t they?”
Super Netball is due to start on August 1, with fixtures still yet to be released.