Netball in the UK has never been stronger with its premier tournament gaining national TV coverage. We catch up with Superleague sensation Tuaine Keenan to find out more…
It’s always been one of the most popular school sports here in the UK, but it’s fair to say from the grassroots right the way through to elite level, netball in this country has never been in a better position.
According to the latest Sport England annual ‘Active People’ statistics, more than 180,000 players aged 16 and above take to the courts at least once a week, not to mention the thousands more schoolgirls who play as part of their physical education.
But it’s at the elite level where the sport has really come on leaps and bounds. The England team regularly competes in front of sold-out crowds and the Vitality Netball Superleague has grown in popularity year-on-year since its launch in 2006.
The current season has seen the competition expand from an eight to 10 team tournament with three new squads Scottish Sirens, Severn Stars and Wasps taking to the court, Yorkshire Jets having dropped out from last year.
The cream of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh netball talent has been complemented with international superstars from countries including the traditional powerhouses Australia and New Zealand, plus nations such as Jamaica, South Africa and Fiji.
We’ve helped to kit out one of the Superleague squads, Team Northumbria, with some of gear from our growing range of netball equipment, which covers everything from freestanding and socketed netball posts, training and match netballs, bibs, and protective padding for netball posts.
And we’ve been keeping a close eye on the girls’ fortunes in the opening few rounds of the 2017 campaign, which included the spectacular Super Ten weekend where all ten teams headed to the Genting Arena in Birmingham to play a full round of fixtures in one bumper day of fast-paced netball action.
It’s been a tough start for Team Northumbria, no more so when inspirational captain and New Zealand international Kati Cooper sustained a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury in their 70-46 loss to Wasps during the Super Tens.
The loss of their skipper has seen the side turn to another Kiwi, Tuaine Keenan, to take on the captaincy duties and lead the girls as they attempt to turn a series of very close losses into much-deserved victories out on the court in the second half of the season.
We caught up with defensive dynamo Tuaine to find out how the standard of netball in the UK compares to the sport down under, the booming popularity of the Vitality Netball Superleague, and how she handles having her mum as her head coach.
I’m very competitive and like to dominate my opponent from the first whistle! I usually play as a Wing Defence (WD), Goal Defence (GD) or Goal Keeper (GK). Because I’m a shorter than many other GKs I focus on fast footwork, reading the game and taking ball as early as possible.
Competing in the play-offs in 2015 for Yorkshire Jets at the famous Copper Box Arena, where the London Olympics were staged.
That would be losing my high school national final by one point in the dying seconds after we were on a 59 game winning streak.
That would be the New Zealand international Maria Tutaia. She’s the best shooter in the world.
It was all a very last-minute opportunity to be honest! I was only made aware of the league when my best friend Kendra Falefitu was offered a contract and within a couple of weeks they approached me and I jumped at the chance to join too.
I loved my time in Yorkshire and it was a very difficult decision to move, but I needed a change of environment. I was lucky enough to have opportunities at other teams and I felt that TN would be the best fit for me to challenge myself and also help me to grow as a player.
I don’t mind this question because it’s easy to answer! My mum has coached me in six or seven different teams over the years, so I’m comfortable with how we handle the player/coach dynamic. She may seem harsh on me to some but she is always fair. She isn’t easily impressed though, so I focus more on doing my job for the team and not looking for her approval.
Even though we’ve had some bad luck with injuries I feel like our leadership group which includes Kati and Leah Kennedy is very strong. We work closely together to keep the girls focused and motivated both on and off the court. I’m honoured to have been given this role and feel we have a strong team culture that is starting to translate on court.
It has been a tough start, as you said we’ve had a few setbacks, but our last couple of performances have given the girls real confidence in our ability to compete and hopefully win our next few games. We are aiming for consistent four quarters performance in all our matches, which will in turn give us the wins.
Leah and I have a great partnership because we understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We work together to promote turnovers and are always covering each other’s backs.
I think the Vitality Netball Superleague is getting more competitive every year but ANZ really is still the pinnacle for the sport. The more media coverage and getting more fans at games over here will continue to push it to the next level though.
There’s definitely been an increase in media coverage and with events like Super Ten the league has gained a lot more exposure for spectators. The addition of three new teams this season has also resulted in a lot more interest, with high profile signings and domestic player movements providing the league with a breath of fresh air compared to the predictability of previous seasons.
I feel there is a big difference. Netball New Zealand-style is very much about working together, we are innovative with the rules and play with real flair. In comparison, English netball is very structured, more ‘body on body’ and athletic. I struggled a bit when I first arrived as I like to think outside the box so the more rigid style of play took some getting used to, but I feel it’s added another dimension to my game now.
I think they need to play the New Zealand and Aussie teams more regularly and try something a bit unorthodox to shake things up. England can be a bit predictable so play more and keep them on their toes!
Always think outside the box and be just as committed to being a smart player as you are to being an athletic one.