England’s road to success begins in Australia

Tamsin Greenway, one of the genuine superstars of world netball, believes England are showing signs that they can compete on the global stage against the powerhouses of Australia and New Zealand. Sarah Leach hears why she is so optimistic

Britain’s top players, who defected to join the professional ranks of Australia’s Suncorp Super Netball, return later this month to show exactly what they have learnt from their time down under.

The mass exodus left the UK Super League depleted and understrength, but former international and current director of Wasps Netball, Tamsin Greenway, believes it may play into England’s hands when they compete at the Commonwealth Games in April and the World Cup the following year.

Greenway should know. She was one those who packed their bags for Australia to help improve their own game. The wing-attack played two seasons for Queensland Firebirds, and says: “You wouldn’t ever want to stop the English players going out there in terms of becoming an international player … I always said that didn’t happen until I played in Australia and found out what it was all about.”

If playing alongside the world’s best is one bonus, then being a full-time professional athlete is another. Players were semi-professional before the start of this year’s campaign when Netball Australia brokered a lucrative rights deal with Network Nine and Telstra. Under the two-year agreement, the eight teams in the Suncorp Super League have up to $500,000 to spend on players, plus up to $150,000 for bona fide employment, education and ambassadorial roles.

Of the current England squad, ten girls are part of the Australian league, and the majority of them will be back for the televised British Fast5 All-Stars Championships at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday, September 23. The competition is backed by Sky Sports and sports promoter Matchroom with the winners collecting £25,000 prize money.

Greenway says: “Having the likes of Stacey Francis coming back and playing for Storm in the Fast5, and Helen Housby and Sara Bayman playing for Manchester Thunder, players like Gabby Marshall, the England Under-21 vice-captain at Thunder, will get invaluable experience from training with these guys.”

It has certainly worked the other way round for England’s Gever Mentor, who has spent nine successive seasons in Australia and was named player of the year for the 2017 season. She regularly posts Instagram pictures of her Audi-sponsored car, and her achievements are awe-inspiring for her England team-mates and have helped foster new belief and a winning culture within the camp.

Greenway hopes that one day the UK will have a league structure to rival those in Australia and New Zealand, the powerhouses of world netball. “The challenge will be to make our league as attractive and get it to a semi-pro level where we’re actually inviting some of their best players over. I think that will come, but it takes time.

“We’re in transition now. We’re starting to make the league far more commercial and I think it will change. We’re playing catch-up. Our league is growing and getting better. It’s giving youngsters the opportunity. It won’t keep happening forever that we’re losing players. They’re going over there but players do come back. You know they learn things out there.”

The pay-off could be an improvement in England’s chances of success on the global stage, culminating, it is hoped, in England cricket-style celebrations when the 2019 World Cup is staged for the first time in 22 years on home soil, in Liverpool. Greenway won 70 caps for England during an illustrious playing career, and her best result in a World Cup was a bronze medal. However, the Red Roses have not made it to a final since 1975 when they were beaten by Australia.

There has been a perennial gap between England and the teams from the Antipodes. England have only a handful of wins over either nation in the history of the game. However, after goal defence Katrina Grant collected her 100th cap for the Silver Ferns in the recent narrow 2-1 series win, she admitted: “That is the best England side I’ve played against.”

Greenway agrees. “We’ve proven we can compete with them, we now need to win a major competition. I truly believe we have a squad to do that now. I think the transition [of players] that Australia and New Zealand are going through, at some point we are going to beat them. I have full faith that this team can do it. Hopefully I’ll be there in Liverpool to see it.”

Sky Sports will show the British Fast5 All-Stars Championships, on September 23rd, live on Sky Sports Arena, 5pm, from the O2. Tickets are available here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Leach is a freelance sports broadcast journalist/producer based in London. She is also a former Netball athlete at national level both in Australia and here in the UK (Super League). Lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage in sport. Instagram: @sarahleach_1 Twitter: @sarleach Sarah’s latest articles.

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