A Melbourne-based team owned by Craig Hutchison’s Sports Entertainment Group and expected to be coached by Tracey Neville will enter the Super Netball league in 2024.
After the Collingwood Magpies opted out of the competition for financial reasons, Netball Australia in May opened expressions of interest for a new team to take their place — requiring eight teams to meet its broadcast commitments — with submissions closing on June 20.
Although four parties withdrew from the race in the lead-up to that deadline, it was widely reported that Netball Victoria and Hutchison were the final two left in the running.
The national governing body had hoped to announce which proposal had been successful by July 4 but admitted to the ABC last week it had been too ambitious with that timeline.
Now, more than a month on from submissions date, the governing body has at least delivered on chief executive Kelly Ryan’s promise to give the Super Netball athletes headed to the World Cup some sort of certainty about the competition’s future for next year.
Diamonds players are believed to have been alerted of Hutchison’s successful bid on Thursday before they flew out to Cape Town on Friday to begin their campaign, which gets underway in exactly a week.
The rest of the league’s playing group, including the imports from other national teams like Jamaica and England, found out on Friday morning, hours before the official announcement.
Hutchison’s proposal, which focused on filling Collingwood’s place in Melbourne, was more appealing to the host broadcaster Fox Netball than Netball Victoria’s bid, which was adamant on starting a regional team that would float across Geelong, Bendigo, or Ballarat.
As owners of three-time premiership winners the Melbourne Vixens, the state organisation’s preference was to establish a new fan base away from the city, considering the difficulties the Pies faced in their seven-year existence trying to build a loyal following in the Vixens’ shadow.
None of the eight clubs in the league were operating at a profit before Collingwood left, so how Hutchison aims to form a viable business model under these challenges is at this stage unknown, with more details to come on his plans in the days and weeks to come.
Signing former England 2018 Commonwealth Games winning coach Tracey Neville will be a great start, off the back of her success as an Adelaide Thunderbirds assistant this season.
In her first year involved in Super Netball, under old friend and former Roses colleague Tania Obst, Neville’s impact at the Thunderbirds went a long way to helping them secure their first trophy in a decade in the Australian league.
Neville had applied for a head coaching role with the Queensland Firebirds a few years back but had to withdraw from the process due to the COVID travel restrictions that would have prevented her young family from joining her abroad.
Highly regarded among the netball world for her work with the Roses and long-standing success in the UK Superleague, the pull Neville is expected to have when it comes to attracting athletes is immense.
She will be the first international coach to work in such a high-profile position in Australia since current Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua left the Sunshine Coast Lightning in 2019 and the appointment is sure to ruffle a few feathers among Australian netball traditionalists.
Whether Super Netball grand final MVP Eleanor Cardwell will follow Neville across from the Thunderbirds to Melbourne is an interesting question, knowing the English import took on such a big leadership role with the club in her first year playing down under.
The pair have a strong bond from their days at the Manchester Thunder and the lure of whether to stay with her new teammates after a premiership-winning season or keep that successful player-coach pairing going will be a tough decision.