Netball NSW rejects Hunter’s Premier League bid

This year's Hunter United squad.
This year's Hunter United squad.

Hunter netball officials say Netball NSW is “killing our pathway” after rejecting their application to join the state Premier League next year.

Hunter United has dominated the second-tier Metro League this season, but Netball NSW told the club this week it was not good enough to progress to the state’s elite competition next year. 

Newcastle Netball Association president Dell Saunders and Hunter United administrator Lucia Wilcox said the governing body was happy to use the Hunter as a feeder area for Sydney clubs but would not give the region its own top-level team.

“Once again, NSW, they only think of it down that end,” Saunders said.

She said the region’s best youngsters would be forced to keep travelling down the freeway to train and play with Sydney and Central Coast clubs in Premier League. The Hunter supplied 10 players to Premier League open and under-20 teams this season.

“That’s why we formed Hunter United, to try and give our people opportunities,” she said. “But they don’t look at it like that.

“If the players want to pursue a high level, that’s what’s going to have to happen. It won’t happen from this end.”

Wilcox said the decision had left her crushed.

“I’m upset for the players. They’ve been ringing me and sending me emails. It’s hurtful, and they’re hurting,” she said. “A lot of our coaches here in Newcastle, I’ve been getting emails from them that it’s really disappointing and they’re killing our pathways.

“Everyone is devastated and disappointed. They were really looking for that challenge and working so hard to bring those players through.”

Netball NSW chief executive Carolyn Campbell said the state body had to protect the quality of the eight-team Premier League, which underpins the Giants and Swifts Super Netball sides.

“The one thing I wanted to be clear on, was there a pool of players sitting inside the Hunter region who could actually play to this level, and unfortunately they could not demonstrate that,” she said.

Hunter United playing in Metro League this season.

Hunter United playing in Metro League this season.

“The list of players was then handed over to our high-performance area to review, and they’ve made some comments back about the players and who they are. 

“You couldn’t construct a team around the fact they might have three or four players already playing in Premier League that would come back because we don’t know whether they’ll come back or not.”

Hunter United led Metro League division one by nine points entering Thursday night’s final round, but Campbell said the step from Metro to Premier League was “quite substantial”.

She said Netball NSW was happy to run a nine-team Premier League, but Hunter’s Metro League form was “not enough at this stage” to warrant a place.

She was willing to help Hunter United put together a three-year plan to improve the region’s player base and progress to Premier League.

“There’s very much a future for Hunter United in Premier League, but they need to do the groundwork first.

“The Hunter is a very critical area for us. 

“It always has been and always will be, and we resource it that way, but I’m not going to impact on our underpinning competitions.”       

Former Hunter Jaegers national league player Tiffany Gilmour travelled to Sydney as a teenager to train and play in the former state league.

She agreed that the step up from Metro League to Premier League was large, but she was disappointed the Hunter had been denied a chance to bridge that gap.

“It’s super disappointing for Newcastle and Hunter netball,” she said. 

“From years and years ago you weren’t looked at if you weren’t playing in the Sydney competition. They weren’t coming up here scouting players. You have to be in that competition.

“There has to be an opening somehow. Think of all the numbers that play in the Hunter. It’s so large. They really need to give us a go.

“We are strong. These girls are not going to get better without being put up against harder competition. 

“And then that’s how you lose players. That’s what I did. I got sick of playing State League 3 and said, ‘OK, I’ve got to go to Sydney now.’” 

She hoped Netball NSW would give the region clear direction on how it could progress without a bridging competition between the Metro and Premier leagues.     

“Even if we keep trying and trying, we’re still going to be left in that same position every year. 

“How can we come up with another program? That’s the question we have to take back to them. 

“What do we have to do to make it better?”