Netball – or women’s basketball, as it was known until 1970 – is thought to have been introduced to New Zealand by the Reverend J. C. Jamieson in 1906. Originally it was played by teams of nine players each, on grass courts with baskets for goals. It wasn’t until New Zealand’s first international match against Australia in 1938 that the New Zealand team was introduced to seven-a-side. However, it took over 20 years for the seven-a-side game to resemble the netball we see played today.
Our rivalry with Australia since that first encounter has continued and led to some of the most exciting netball in history. The first world tournament held in 1963 saw us lose to Australia in the final, but one of New Zealand netball’s most influential figures, Lois Muir, was a part of that team. Lois Muir coached the Silver Ferns, our national team, for 15 years, during which they won two world titles (albeit one shared with Australia). Now, named in her honour, there is the Lois Muir Challenge, which was created to fill a gap in our domestic competition. The Lois Muir Challenge showcases some of our younger talent who hope to play in the ANZ Championships and then the Silver Ferns.
New Zealanders can begin playing netball from the age of five in their local competition and move up through the grades. Thanks to the creation of indoor venues in bigger towns, netball is no longer just a winter sport and can be played inside. If you’re fortunate to live near one of these venues, then I’m sure you’re just as grateful as I am that you don’t have to battle the elements on those cold and wet mornings! Indoor venues also provide indoor netball leagues. Indoor netball is a fast-paced six-player game, for which the court is divided into halves (instead of thirds) and shots can be taken from outside the circle. Netball is no longer an all-female sport, with men participating in mixed-grade netball. Although national competitions have been running for women’s netball since the 1920s, they have only recently been introduced for mixed grade and male netball.
Our best competition yet is the ANZ Championship created in 2008. Ten teams compete: five from New Zealand and five from Australia. The ANZ Championship provides some of the most thrilling netball being played not only by our netball elite, but new talent as well. This year we saw the introduction of a move dubbed the ‘Harrison hoist‘, the Wellington Pulse’s surprise win over top-of-the-table Adelaide Thunderbirds and our very own Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic win overall.
New Zealand has been having a great run at netball so far this year. We’ve won our first ANZ Championship and our first Constellation Cup. Currently the Silver Ferns are competing in the New World Quad Series, with a game on Thursday 1 November against our fiercest rivals: the Australia Diamonds. Now we just need to focus on retaining our gold at the next Commonwealth Games and defeating Australia in 2015 to reclaim our world title.