Who wants the shorter quarter to stay?
Extra Time examines the ANZ Premiership at its mid-point, while Suzanne McFadden asks if chopping netball's quarters to 12 minutes has been a good idea.
Dame Noeline Taurua loves it.
Mystics defensive rock Sulu Fitzpatrick says it’s increased the intensity of the game, and forced teams to think smarter.
Tactix and Silver Ferns shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit doesn’t notice spending less time on court, but she’s definitely felt the tension lift a notch.
And former Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering simply doesn’t like it, and questions why it was needed in the first place.
They’re all talking about the 12-minute quarter – or the 48-minute game – introduced to this year’s rejigged ANZ Premiership as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis.
Shortening the game by three minutes each spell was one of the modifications brought in by Netball NZ when they pulled together a new 10-week draw after lockdown. Hosting the first half of the competition at one venue in Auckland, back-to-back games, and playing music throughout the matches were among other changes.
When the league restarted a month ago, Netball NZ CEO Jennie Wyllie told LockerRoom: “It could be a new version, a rethinking of a competition for the future as well."
So as other female sports grow in popularity and challenge netball’s dominance, could a shorter, sharper seven-a-side game be worth considering?
This seems to be the perfect time to try something new, with the sporting world in such flux, and New Zealand still the only netball nation in the world back playing. The Australians, planning to start their Super Netball season on August 1, will trial a two-point super shot – only active in the final five minutes of each quarter (they’re sticking with the traditional 15-minute stanzas).
Taurua, the Silver Ferns coach, has had a unique insight into the 48-minute match, sitting behind the players’ benches with alternating teams, helping out the franchise coaches this season.
“I love it,” she told the Extra Time podcast (above). “What I see is that [the players] have no time to muck around; they’ve got to start really fast and really strong. If they are down, they’ve got to have a strategy to really grind away.
“The offset to the 12 minutes, even though we didn’t think of it before, has been tremendous. There’s been so much upside - it’s been fast and furious, and good quality. The intensity has been upmarket.”
The truncated quarters were brought in with the players’ welfare in mind. With four teams from outside Auckland having to travel up every weekend, and then often playing two days in a row, Netball NZ felt it prudent to take care of their well-being.
What they didn’t expect was how players would come out of lockdown in top physical shape – and most teams appear to be handling the new pressures.
Taurua isn't sure whether the 48-minute game will catch on outside of the ANZ Premiership. “We are at this stage taking one tournament at a time. But it’s definitely proved to be positive – not only for the viewers, but the players as well,” she says.
Some of the fans among the 500-strong crowds at the Auckland Netball Centre haven't felt short-changed by the shorter games, and some with families say it’s meant the kids have stayed engaged longer, and they get home earlier.
From a player’s point of view, Stars captain Grace Kara says the shorter quarters have been a great call – for now, at least, it works. But it hasn’t made the game any easier.
“It’s really taxing on the bodies out there, and I’m sure you can see how dogged it is on both attack and defence,” she says.
“But we’ve been reassured that we can go the whole 48 minutes, particularly in pressure situations. With the lengthier preseason, our strength and conditioning coach definitely got results from us. We had to do a bronco test every week, six continuous shuttles, and our testing results are by far the best we’ve had in comparison to other Stars teams in the past.”
Sulu Fitzpatrick, who’s returned home to Auckland and the Mystics this season, is revelling in the new intensity.
“It makes it exciting, because it’s something different for us. You have to play smart, because you don’t have that extra time to switch things up if the other teams takes a lead,” she says.
Selby-Rickit, who’s also moved north from the Steel to the Tactix, says: “To be honest they still feel like 15 to me, because they’re so hard. You can’t really save yourself, because you’re having to go hard all the time.”
From a coach’s point of view, Yvette McCausland-Durie, of league leaders the Pulse, says it’s changed the way her team have approached the competition.
They expected shorter games would translate to closer games (there have been two draws and three games ending within two goals over the last three weeks).
"We were really aware that in the past, our team had won matches in the last quarter. So we’ve tried to make an impact by getting that urgency early – creating momentum and holding it,” she says.
“We’re enjoying it – it’s close, well-contested and managed well by the umpires. And we continuously feel grateful we have a game to play."
Naturally, not everyone is taken by the shortened game. Although Magic defender Erena Mikaere reckons she doesn’t always feel the difference in time while she’s on court, “probably physically and mentally I’m wanting more,” she says.
“When we drew with the Stars, we could have pulled it back in a longer game, because we were definitely defending well. In a 15-minute quarter you can still pull it back.
“I think it’s a better game at 15. There’s time for other teams to come back. I just don’t see it happening internationally.”
Yvonne Willering is probably the most outspoken against the idea - and has been since before the league resumed.
“Everyone is saying the game is faster and more intense in 12-minute quarters. If that’s the case, I question why players can’t do the same over 15 minutes?” the former Silver Ferns player and coach says. “Their fitness should be up to holding that intensity for a 60-minute game.
“I just don’t see why you need to change it. This is the traditional game. I have no problems with experimenting, but if you’re going to make changes, you do it in a game like Fast5.”
The change Willering has enjoyed in this season’s competition, though, is the “genuine” points table, where the top two teams at the end of the round robins will play off for the title. “Everyone is focused on getting into first and second position on the table. In the past, you could finish the round in third and still have a bite of the cherry. Now every game counts.”
Changes to the rules of the game are made every two years by the International Netball Federation. Netball nations can put forward their suggested amendments to the RAP (Rules Advisory Panel). In recent years, the INF have looked to make netball faster, less stop-start and more attacking.
Although Netball NZ isn't seeking to suggest reduced quarters, their head of high performance, Keir Hansen, says quantified comparison and analysis would have to be carried out on the shorter game to “see the full picture” before taking it beyond our shores.
And for those who worry about New Zealand players having to readjust to the full 60 minutes when they return to international netball later this year? That shouldn’t be a problem, Hansen says.
“We’re lucky to have a really good lead time to prepare for international netball this year," he says, with the Constellation Cup against Australia booked in for November. "In a normal year, that transition would be a lot quicker. Dame Noeline will have them well prepared for the longer quarters again.”
* It's a big weekend at the halfway point of the ANZ Premiership: Pulse v Mystics, Saturday 5pm; Pulse v Tactix, Sunday 5pm; Steel v Magic, Sunday 7pm; Steel v Tactix, Monday 7pm. All games at the Auckland Netball Centre, and live on Sky Sport 3.