It’s fair to say I don’t have a whole lot in common with Laura Geitz, the super-fit, world-beating 185cm netball superstar who has become one of the game’s most recognisable faces.
She’s the 28-year-old Australian Diamonds and Queensland Firebirds captain who has redefined the art of circle defence and has a way of making things happen at key moments in big matches. Like in the dying seconds of last year’s ANZ Championship grand final, when she somehow got a tip on a ball destined for her opponent, NSW Swifts shooter Caitlin Thwaites, or the first quarter of last year’s Netball World Cup final in Sydney, when she single-handedly swung momentum Australia’s way with a flurry of tips, intercepts and rebounds.
Squeaky-clean off the court, but fierce and uncompromising on it, Geitz is the ready-made role model every sport wishes it had. I might wear the GK bib when I take the court for my beloved Echuca United Eagles in country Victoria and I’m also 185cm – but that’s where the similarities end.
One thing I do have in common with the two-time world champion, ANZ Championship-winning captain and Commonwealth Games gold medallist is a very strong aversion to radical rule changes.
Earlier this month, the game’s governing body, Netball Australia, signalled it is contemplating major changes for next year’s new eight-team Australian league, launching a fan survey about changes, which closed last Wednesday.
The four-question survey asked fans’ opinions about the potential introduction of a two-point scoring zone for part or all of matches, coach-initiated time-outs and soccer-style shoot-outs to find a winner in drawn games.
A working group set up to look at the changes will meet this week to discuss the survey results and a spokeswoman told SBS Zela Netball Australia would make the final decision at its next meeting, which is in August.
The two-point shot is among the most controversial suggestions, as it would fundamentally change the game and how it is played.
When the ‘two-pointer’ idea was first mooted earlier this year, Geitz said it would “alter the whole concept” of netball. “As a defender, you try to push your player as far away as possible from the post, but that (a scoring zone) would mean you’d be wanting to push them closer to the post … that changes the game,” she told Guardian Australia. And speaking to the ABC, she said:
“I think we’ve got a great product. I don’t think we need to change it in any way. We love our game. It’s not like we have trouble filling stadiums, so I don’t want to see our game change too much.”
The recent response from fans to the survey was swift – and overwhelmingly, negative. Social media was plastered with posts with one clear message for Netball Australia: no, no, no. I’d like to join the chorus. I am flabbergasted such changes are even being considered.
The introduction of a two-point zone, in particular, worries me. Netball would cease to be netball under this rule. It would be like allowing AFL players to ‘throw’ the footy, basketball-style, to their team mates or awarding teams four points for a behind, instead of one. It would change everything about the way the game is played, in attack and defence. It would still be a sport, but not footy, right?
Some people believe that the dominance of super-tall, holding shooters who rarely stray from under the post – think 193cm West Coast Fever and Diamonds shooter Caitlin Bassett or 196cm goal-scoring machine, Jamaican Romelda Aiken – has prompted the potential change, as games can become predictable and repetitive.
But as is the case in all elite sport, crafty players and coaches work out ways to flip the narrative on its head. Look at NSW Swifts coach Rob Wright’s use of “shorter” shooters like Stephanie Wood this ANZ Championship season or the new breed of shooters who use pure athleticism to dominate their opponents – think code-hopping Firebird Gretel Tippett or World Cup player of the tournament, Malawian Mwai Kumwenda.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander, who is part of the working group looking at potential changes in the new domestic league, said potentially having different international and domestic rules was fraught. “I think the game needs to be kept in its purest form. We have a great game,” she said.
Current and past players have also weighed in. West Coast Fever and Diamonds shooter Nat Medhurst – who is among just a handful of shooters who regularly sinks shots from outside the “easy arch” under the post, so could benefit from a two-point scoring zone – sided with Alexander.
Former Melbourne Vixen defender, Bianca Chatfield, who won a world championship, gold and silver Commonwealth medals and two trans-Tasman ANZ Championships before retiring last year, also had a say.
Netball’s great strength has always been its difference to other sports. No, you can’t just run with the ball. Yes, you have to stay in a certain area. No, you can’t just take a break when you like. All goals are worth the same. The things that others deride about our sport are what make it great – control, finesse, discipline and strategy.
It was Winnie the Pooh’s shy friend Piglet who said: “The things that make me different are the things that make me.” And so it is for netball. Hands off the rules, please.