The Netball Superleague, England’s top division for the sport, added an 11th franchise this season. Leeds Rhinos joined 10 other sides to battle it out for a place in the top four, and then hopefully the Grand Final.
The league has had five different winners since its inaugural campaign in 2005. Last year’s season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving 2019 Grand Final victors Manchester Thunder as the competition's reigning champions.
But is the current format too much? Does the league have too many franchises? This is something that Rhinos’ head coach Dan Ryan believes is the case.
Speaking exclusively to GiveMeSport Women, Ryan, when discussing the future of the Superleague, revealed he thinks there are too many sides at the moment.
(Image credit: Leeds Rhinos Netball)
“Well, I think 11 to be honest, is probably too much. I think we're really diluting and stretching out the talent and the quality and the competitiveness of the league,” he said.
“If we add more teams than 11, I think there's a real difference between perhaps the top five, six teams in the league to the bottom four, or five. And we want to make sure that we have a league over here that every team is at the top of their game every single week.”
The Australian, who has also coached in his country’s top division, Super Netball, went on to mention how England’s top flight sees too many blowout matches. Alternatively, if a similar format to his homeland was adopted, this would make the league more competitive.
“If you look at the league in Australia, there's only eight teams and every single game is hotly contested. And while we do have some close fixtures here in the Superleague, we also have massive blowouts of matches that don't represent the sport as it should,” he said.
The 36-year-old discussed some possible solutions for this, with the hope the league goes fully professional in the future.
“I think the biggest thing that the sport needs to do is to ensure that it is a premier product and it's not about having more teams, it's [about] having more higher quality teams, and also ensuring that every franchise shifts into a professional and commercial space where the players can be paid more, where they can train every day and also where the league itself is showing every game,” he emphasised.
This coronavirus pandemic has caused all Superleague matches to be played at a set venue. The first 11 rounds of the regular season were held at Studio 001 in Wakefield, while The Copper Box is hosting round 12 onward. No revenue generated from not having fans at games could cause huge knock-on effects to the future of some clubs and the leagues too.
Ryan hopes supporters can be allowed to watch matches in stadiums soon, or he could see the division going backwards.
“We cannot go backwards after what we've done this year, and my fear is that we will,” he said.
“But there needs to be an absolute commitment from every franchise and the Superleague to ensure that we move forward in this professional, commercial era. Otherwise, netball is gonna be years behind where it could have been if we don't keep smashing the glass ceiling.”
Feature image credit: Ben LumleyNews Now - Sport News