Super Netball sets tough precedent for teams affected by COVID and clarifies rules around loaning players

Last week, the Giants netball club could have been forgiven for thinking a member of its staff smashed a mirror, walked under a ladder or ran into a black cat.

Heading into the second round of the Super Netball season, their squad has been decimated by COVID-19, with six players testing positive ahead of their clash against the Adelaide Thunderbirds.

Unfortunately, it looks like bad luck comes in threes, as three members of their contracted playgroup were among those infected: Amy Parmenter, Jamie-Lee Price and Sophie Dwyer. The others were Giants sparring partners: Jemma Donoghue, Natalie Sligar and Eliza Burton.

On top of that, the club were still waiting for two other of their contracted players, Amy Sligar and Lauren Moore, to be medically cleared to join the squad, having been dropped from the first round for the same reason and unable to attend. . weekday training.

Amy Parmenter was one of the key players who were left out.(PA: James Ross)

That left the Giants with just five full-time contracted players and five uncapped sparring partners available to build their 10-gameday squad (some being managed through injury).

And yet, two appeals they made to postpone the match were rejected by the Super Netball league.

Ahead of the start of the season, the competition announced a new COVID-19 emergency framework which aimed to keep the season alive and provide support for affected teams in 2022.

This included an option for clubs to request to reschedule a game if five or more of their top 10 contracted players had contracted the virus, or if three players in one position had been infected.

Based on those guidelines, the Giants qualified on both counts, as Parmenter, Price, Dwyer, Amy Sligar and Moore are all part of their 10th gameday, and Parmenter, Price and Sligar each occupy positions halfway.

Once the news became public, a number of prominent voices within the netball community expressed concern for the welfare of the players, the integrity of the league and the standard of its matches, should such be the case. be the Super Netball position throughout the year.

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Especially with the request to postpone the game coming so early in the competition, with plenty of time to catch up midweek and complete the season before the Diamonds begin their preparations for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Giants captain Jo Harten tweeted that “a precedent [had] now been set for the whole season,” while former Diamond Sharni Norder told Fox Netball “it’s bad form not to have today’s game rescheduled.”

Norder was working on the sidelines when the game was broadcast at the time, watching the Giants struggle to take on the Thunderbirds as the game progressed, eventually losing 56-43.

It should be mentioned that Amy Sligar and Moore were finally cleared to play, meaning the Giants only had to replace three of their contracted athletes. Even so, they didn’t appear to be at 100% capacity and lacked intensity in the competition towards the end.

At a time when studies are still being done on the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the body, the league really should be doing everything it can to make sure players recover properly.

A woman wearing a polo shirt smiles
Giants head coach Julie Fitzgerald was unhappy with the league’s tough approach.(AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

It will also be difficult to hold the league to a responsible form of consistency around these decisions, given that their decision to refuse the Giants bid appears to have been largely based on their access to a longer roster than the rest of the others. clubs.

Most Super Netball teams have between four and six practice partners in addition to their 10th game day (four of those are known as Nominated Athletes), but the Giants have signed eight for the 2022 season, to bring their total roster to 18.

This was done with good will, providing a new opportunity for emerging players who have faced so much disruption to NSW lanes over the past two years of the pandemic, but was then used against them. when considering their application to reschedule round 2. meeting.

Kelly Ryan holds a netball under her arm and smiles.
Kelly Ryan has defended the Super Netball league’s decision to move forward.(Provided: Netball Australia)

If the league sees this as an advantage for the Giants, then how can they make a fair comparison between their predicament and a team like the Queensland Firebirds, for example?

The Firebirds only have 14 total players available this season and would be reduced to eight athletes if they were to rule out six of their players in a week.

These variables make it difficult to make a fair judgment for both parties.

And what if another team is affected leading to a must-win game at the end of the season or in the finals? Because a tough decision to keep the game going like the one forced on the Giants would tick the consistency box, but it could potentially cost a leading team their right to challenge for the Super Netball crown.

In retrospect, officials will be happy that the game played out and Round 2 ended in its original time frame, but they may have created a bigger dilemma for themselves in terms of how they judge each of these requests fairly. cheeky.

Chelsea Pitman becomes a hot property

Of course, the second biggest story to come out of Round 2 revolved around the Giants’ call-up for 33-year-old Australia and England international midfielder Chelsea Pitman.

As part of the COVID emergency framework, teams can register their interest in borrowing another club’s designated athlete or training partner for the week, after exhausting their own roster and gaining clearance from the league and the player’s relevant Super Netball club.

Chelsea Pitman plays for the Thunderbirds
In a fun twist, Chelsea Pitman (center) ended up making her debut for the Giants against the team she used to manage.(Provided)

In a nice gesture, which will likely result in good karma for West Coast Fever on the track, Dan Ryan gave the athlete named Pitman the go-ahead to don an orange dress for the Giants.

Ironically, 24 hours later, the Fever themselves had their starting wing attack, goal attack Alice Teague-Neeld ruled out with COVID-19 for the round, at a spot Pitman would have occupied.

By this stage, she had already been promised to the Giants and had begun preparations to make her debut for her fourth club in the Australian National Netball League.

Pitman won a gold medal at the 2011 Netball World Cup with the Diamonds and another at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with England. She recently captained the Adelaide Thunderbirds in 2020 before she was told she would not be required for the 2021 season.

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The veteran spent the last year playing in the South Australian Premier League and helping the Roses side prepare for the upcoming Commonwealth Games, before Ryan threw him a lifeline to take a coaching contract. training partner with the Fever for 2022.

In a win-win situation, Pitman received a game fee (in addition to his meager $5,000 contract) for taking the field with the Giants, and although they may have lost the game, knowledge that she could be seen sharing with fellow mid-courtier Maddie Hay will be invaluable to her development.

So will we see that happen much more this season? And will a player of Chelsea Pitman’s caliber potentially play for all eight teams if COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc?

Could Pitman even play against the Fever if their opposition got stuck?

First of all, it is important to note that an athlete can only play one match per round. Beyond that, the league has introduced new guidelines.

Nominated athletes will only be able to represent a maximum of two teams other than their own throughout the regular season. They also cannot play against their original team.

Although Chelsea Pitman is considered a training partner with the Fever, she is also one of their four nominated athletes, which means she can play for the Giants and one other Super Netball club, other than the Fever this year. She can’t play against the fever.

Other teams like the Giants, as mentioned above, have more than four sparring partners. This means that four of their training partners are also classified as nominated athletes, while the other four are considered training partners only.

For those who are only training partners, there are no restrictions on the number of teams they can replace or their ability to play against their original team.

In addition to this, there is a separate group of athletes associated with each club who are not under contract in any way. To make matters confusing, these are known as Named Contingency Athletes that other teams can borrow.

Another interesting thing to consider is that the borrowing team must take full responsibility for the player under their watch, so if Pitman had injured himself during the Round 2 game, that would leave the Giants footing the bill for one of the related costs.

Whatever happens, the idea of ​​seeing Chelsea Pitman back on the pitch in the Super Netball league is one that’s definitely got fans excited… and who knows where those opportunities might take her next year.

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