Centenary
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Centenary Feature: The ANZ Championship era

This story is part of The Coffee Club Centenary Series, helping celebrate 100 years of netball in New Zealand.

The introduction of the ANZ Championship in 2008 launched netball into a new age, the sport crossing the boundary from amateur to semi-professional and in the process providing a defining turning point in its history.

Owned and administered by Trans-Tasman Netball League Ltd (TTNL), a joint venture between Netball New Zealand (NNZ) and Netball Australia, the ANZ Championship effectively merged New Zealand’s National Bank Cup and Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Trophy into a single league.

Ushered in with much fanfare, Prime Minister of the time, Helen Clark, formally launched the historic day for netball in this country at the Britomart Events Centre in Auckland on March 27, 2008.

To launch this new series has taken vision and courage from key people in the netball family,’’ the Prime Minister said.

It’s a bold move – and I believe it’s a good move.’’

A few days later, Sport and Recreation Minister Clayton Cosgrove hosted a Parliamentary reception at the Beehive in Wellington to herald the dawning of the ANZ Championship.

Under the astute leadership of NNZ chief executive Raelene Castle, NNZ Board Chair Raewyn Lovett and New Zealand’s independent representative, David Wolfenden, on the TTNL Board, the brave decision to take a semi-professional competition to the market was wholeheartedly embraced.

The unparalleled support of SKY Television, who showcased the entire competition with five live games, from both sides of the Tasman, every weekend, as well as the generous on-going support supplied by ANZ Bank in sponsoring the league, proved a winning combination.

The broadcasting deal was the biggest in netball history, exposing more live games to larger audiences while the critical support of ANZ was the largest sponsorship of any women’s sport in Australasia at the time.


The ANZ Championship featured five New Zealand teams – Northern Mystics, Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, Central Pulse, Canterbury Tactix, and Southern Steel – and five Australian teams – the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Queensland Firebirds, NSW Swifts, Melbourne Vixens and West Coast Fever.

Spanning 17 weeks and comprising 69 games, between 2008 – 2014, the New Zealand teams played each other twice and the Australian teams once, and similarly the Australian teams played each other twice and the New Zealand teams once. The 10 teams played 13 games with the top four contesting the Finals Series.

There were some significant format changes introduced in 2015 with the league presenting separate New Zealand and Australian conferences, a restructured six-team Finals Series and a new competition, the Challenge Trophy.

Teams continued to play 13 games, eight against teams in their own conference and five against teams in the other conference. Draws were also introduced for the first time, with extra time only being played during the Finals Series.

The Firebirds were the most successful team during the ANZ Championship era, winning three premierships in 2011, 2015 and 2016. The Magic were premiers in 2012, the only New Zealand team to win the league, but were extremely consistent in contesting the Finals Series every year.



Big crowds were a feature with the first Grand Final, in 2008, between the Swifts and Magic, in Sydney, attracting an audience of 12,999 while the 2012 Grand Final in Melbourne between winners, the Magic, and Vixens drew in a crowd of 10,500.

In a decision between NNZ and Netball Australia, the ANZ Championship was discontinued after the 2016 season, replaced by the ANZ Premiership in New Zealand, and the Suncorp Super Netball league, in Australia.

When the final whistle sounded at the end of a pulsating 2016 Grand Final, there was a tinge of sadness. It was the end of an era, the final act of a nine-year competition which the sport was more than ready for.

The introduction of a new-look semi-professional trans-Tasman competition marked the dawning of a new era for netball. And over the ensuing years it continued to deliver an immeasurable amount of good for the sport.

In showcasing the best talent from across Australasia, the competition continued to grow in intensity and the quality of performance it delivered. It was further enhanced by the inclusion of imports from England and Jamaica, and more latterly Malawi, the international flavour heightening interest and stretching the competition’s boundaries

With all 69 games televised live each season, it provided a fantastic platform to broaden netball’s appeal which it did in spades. Viewing audiences continued to grow throughout the competition, it proved a viable commercial entity and teams built strong local community support bases.

But most importantly, women’s sport, and netball, particularly, gained a new respect. The ANZ Championship allowed it to break through traditional male-dominated barriers to establish its own niche as a top-quality sporting spectacle.

Traditional “netties” were joined by a diverse section of the community, wowed by the sheer athleticism and skill factor being produced on court week-in week-out, to become avid fans, across both genders.

Media coverage across all platforms increased exponentially during the step into the semi-professional era which wasn’t entirely foreign in New Zealand but for Australia it was a welcome bonanza. Netball rode the wave and its players became household names.

The ANZ Championship more than did its job in delivering a significant turning point in netball’s history, and providing an important base for the next step in its evolution.

 

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