Elite netball takes on harder physical edge

Irene van Dyk (right) of New Zealand in a no-holds barred battle with Laura Geitz of the Diamonds.
Irene van Dyk (right) of New Zealand in a no-holds barred battle with Laura Geitz of the Diamonds. Martin Hunter

IT WAS once renowned as a no contact sport but Queensland Firebirds captain and Allora export Laura Geitz says with athletes getting fitter and stronger it's only natural netball has evolved into a more physical sport.

"Girls are getting fitter, faster and stronger," Geitz told the Daily News.

"The pace of the game is quicker and naturally there are going to be lots of collisions. No one steps out onto the court wanting to clean someone up or hurt them.

"But when there are balls flying around everywhere and girls running 100 miles an hour people are going to run into each other."

The debate around the increased physicality of the sport was sparked several weeks ago after Geitz collided with New Zealand player Donna Wilkins in the Firebirds two-goal ANZ championship win in Wellington.

The incident saw Geitz booed by the crowd and later labelled a thug.

Geitz said her role on the court as goal keeper required her to be tough.

"I am not the type of player who is going to back down from a competition," she said.

"In the position I play, I have to be physically intimidating. I am up against players who are much taller and stronger than me. The attack players give as good as they get."

The debate heated up again this week after Bay of Plenty Magic goalshooter Irene van Dyk accused Australian players of "playing dirty" after her team's 57-51 loss against the West Coast Fever on Sunday.

Australian and New Zealand netball operations managers met yesterday to discuss the physicality of the game and accusations of dirty play.

Geitz admitted the level of physicality was intense.

"It is full-on and getting pretty serious," she said.

"If the game is evolving we have to adapt to what the umpires decide. People want to see close encounters and see the girls giving it their all. But I'm not going to go out there and deliberately hurt people to get more spectators at a game.

"We are professional athletes and it is a contact sport."

The Firebirds captain said the level of physicality seen in elite games did not funnel down into junior level sports.

"We are trained to be able to put up with the level of physicality in the elite level games," Geitz said.

"You would not expect that to happen at a junior level."

Geitz said currently there was a lot more focus on strength with the level of physicality increasing at the state level competitions.

Warwick and District Netball Association secretary Linda Bunch agreed netball was becoming a more assertive game in the higher levels.

"It is what you expect when the best of the best are playing each other," she said.