by Luke Gray
NETBALL enthusiasts from around the world will be flocking to Manchester this month as the top six international teams compete at the MEN arena.
The Co-operative World Netball Series has provoked interest worldwide as it will be the first international competition to be played under a set of innovative new rules. These include shorter quarters, double points for scoring from outside the circle and a “power play”, in which a side can earn double points in any chosen quarter.
Urvasi Naidoo, the Chief Executive of the IFNA, the international governing body of netball, believes the variations to the game will be beneficial.
“We just wanted to create something a bit more exciting and introduce a bit more drama to the sport. Netball is already a quick sport but these rules will make it even more challenging for the players. The main aim is to attract new players and spectators to the sport,” said Naidoo.
Sue Hawkins, the woman who will be harbouring England’s hopes at the competition, agrees that the rule changes have had a positive effect on the sport.
“It’s brought a little bit more urgency to the game, encouraging teams to get the ball into the ring quicker. I think that’s what is creating more goal scoring. You play safe when you’ve got time on your hands whereas with the adaptations the sport is much quicker,” said Hawkins.
In a sport where England have recently struggled to compete with Australia and New Zealand, Hawkins will be hoping that her knowledge of the game down under will help England bridge the gap. She was born and raised in Australia and coached Auckland Diamonds prior to her appointment as England coach 18 months ago. Despite her upbringing, Hawkins is fully committed to the England cause and is relishing the opportunity to put one over her homeland.
“I’ve been in charge for 18 months now and it’s going great. I’m working with a terrific group of athletes and I’ve got a good support group around me,” said Hawkins.
“Because I’ve worked in the other two countries I’ve got an insight into the different style of play. I know how a lot of them think so now we’ve got to counteract that. It is an advantage that I’ve coached in both countries.
“Bringing the top six nations over for this event is pretty special so I would be expecting a pretty good crowd. I certainly hope to see a lot of red and white around the place and I hope the supporters really get behind us,” said Hawkins.
If early indications are anything to go by, Hawkins’ wish could be granted. Ticket sales have been successful and organisers are expecting them to soar as anticipation to the event rises. Karen Atkinson, the England co-captain, believes Manchester was the obvious choice to hold such an event after the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Born in the North-West, Atkinson is expecting the event to boost participation and interest in netball throughout Manchester and the surrounding areas.