Australian Diamonds netball player, Sharni Layton, who also plays for the NSW Swifts, has a series of accomplishments under her belt. She has won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2011 World Netball Championships plus two premierships with the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the ANZ Championship. Layton shared her insight on the coming changes to the sport of Netball and the ANZ Championships with Hockeyroos Ashleigh Nelson on WiSP World Australia.
Ash: Give us an overview of the current state of the ANZ Championship and what’s going to be introduced next year.
Sharni: So look, it’s a really exciting time for netball. The ANZ started up in 2008 and that was a real growth for us. We used to get paid maybe $1000 a year before that and moving into ANZ we were able to become semi-professional athletes. With doing that, everyone put more time into the gym, more time into training, and I think that’s what’s helped take netball to that next level. It’s been more physical, faster, stronger and a bit more spectacle to watch for the spectator. So for us, there’s nothing wrong with the ANZ championship, it’s going great, but we do need to take another step again if we want to match it with the likes of AFL and ARL and those other male-dominated sports at the moment.
It’s really exciting, Channel 9 have decided to jump aboard. We don’t have all the details as of yet, but what I can say is that Channel 9 have invested in netball. There will two games live a week and two games delayed a week, but they’re all going to be on free-to-air. We’re not going to have New Zealand in it anymore, so it’s just going to be eight Australian teams. The reasoning for that is the games we’re playing against New Zealand weren’t rating great and it was the same for them. So they’re going to do their own league and we’re going to have our own, which means at the moment there’s five Aussie teams and three other teams coming in to make eight. Collingwood football club have invested in a team in Melbourne, JWS have joined up with Netball New South Wales to have a team here in New South Wales, and then Melbourne Storm are going through their feeding club up at the sunshine coast and they’ve partnered with Sunshine University. It’s going to be the five existing teams plus those three teams, but the rest of the details are still a bit unknown at the moment. It is exciting that we’re finally on free-to-air for all our games and then everyone can get around to watch it.
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Ash: So when it was an Australian-only conference back in the days of yesteryear, there seemed to be a lot of strong teams and a few weak teams as well, but they didn’t really have an in between. Do you think going back to this, even with three extra teams, will revert back to that or do you think there’s gonna be a fair spread of players across all teams?
Sharni: Well we’re definitely hoping for that fair spread of players and you are correct, in Melbourne the Phoenix definitely dominated over the Kestrels and the Swifts have always been the most dominant team here in Sydney. Look that’s something that the clubs are going to have to put extra time into to make sure there is an even spread in players. We’re unsure of what the import rule is going to look like yet, but the aim of the competition is to have the best woman sporting league in the world and to be able to do that you need healthy competition. Some of the kiwis might still come over and play, we’re unsure yet, but we’ll still definitely have the imports to be able to strengthen those teams and there does need to be a fair spread of players throughout. It will be interesting, but you just need that. Nobody wants a competition where you’ve got those extra dominant teams I guess.
Ash: Yeah absolutely, and I guess that’s the biggest concern. When I was having a look, I thought “Fantastic! Financially you girls may actually be better off.” I mean is that something that might take some time do you think or do you think people are financially going to be better off straightaway?
“I love the Swifts and I love everything they’ve done for me.”
Sharni: No look it’s definitely going to take time. We still don’t know what the broadcast deal is, and the Players Association is just starting to get into negotiations with Netball Australia at the moment, but we honestly have no clue what that looks like. So, for us, we’re not expecting to be a lot better off, especially at the start when you got a new league coming in. We’re not expecting to be full time athletes as of yet, but we’re at least able to build the sport to a place where we can have that. Channel 9 has signed on for five years so it might not be in the first one or two but hopefully that three, four, and five will be better. All the ladies that have played before that haven’t been paid pretty much at all, but they built the pathway for us and we’re going to continue to build the pathway for those that come after us as well. We don’t think it’s going to be huge, but we’re still going to continue to build the sport to a place where we want it to go. I think with the platform that we have, we also have the opportunity to be able to build our as athletes and build ourselves outside the sport. So that’s also an area where girls can continue to make a living.
Ash: Sharni, with the announcement of the Collingwood Football club, Melbourne Storm, and GWS coming in to invest and support those new teams coming into the league, obviously those football clubs have got more media coverage and a lot more money to spend, do you expect it to be a bigger investment into those particular teams? Are there salary caps in place and things like that to stop Collingwood Football Club from throwing four million dollars at a team to win a championship?
Sharni: One again, still have no idea if there will be cappings, but I believe they will put something in place to be able to do that. At the end of the day, they probably do have a bit of an advantage in that case, but we don’t know how much they’ll put into it either. Collingwood, for example, have also invested in a Women’s football team so what I think is the most exciting is that Collingwood, GWS, and the Storm have seen the potential in our sport and want to be a part of it. We haven’t had that previously so the fact that they’re really great businesses on top of sports groups that are wanting to invest their time and money in our sport can hopefully continue to help improve that mixed level. In regards to that cap side of things, they’re gonna have to do something so that there’s an even spread within the teams, whether it’s a point system for players in regards to rookies and senior players and all the rest of that. I can give them suggestions all day, I’ve had great ideas for years, guys. So what they end up doing, I don’t know, but if they don’t do something then obviously you’re gonna have that uneven league which we mentioned earlier and no one wants to see that domination early. Yeah, it’s gonna be really interesting.
Ash: When does that all start, your players moving to different clubs or teams? Is that something that happens at the end of the year or is that something that’s sort of negotiated throughout the year? More specifically, are you going to be swayed to moving?
Sharni: Straight to the point, but the way that Netball at least does it is that clubs cannot contact players until after the season is over. So, once finals come, if there’s teams that haven’t made finals then they can be contacted. We’ll be making the grand final this year so Swift players won’t be able to be contacted until after that time. It is a really short window, in regards to when players can do that. Our contracts, which we get annually, at the moment only go for two weeks post, and then after that we’re not looked after by Netball anymore. So they do have to wait until after we’re finished playing before we can be contacted. At the moment, cliché cliché, I love the Swifts and I love everything they’ve done for me. I’ve grown so much as a player since being here and I absolutely Rob Wright as a coach so it’s going to take something pretty crazy to be able sway me since I’m extremely happy here.
“Being a part of ‘#RethinkRoleModels’ is just so exciting and when Samsung first approached us it we all got a bit overwhelmed.”
Ash: And just in terms with what’s happening with the actual Aussie Diamonds, are you playing any competitions alongside the ANZ championships or is just purely the ANZ Championship at the moment and then after that focus on Aussie Diamonds?
Sharni: At the moment it’s ANZ Championship, but they’ve never had a crossover. They’ve always been really great in regards to balancing out season and the international season so they don’t cross so teams don’t have to miss plays. We did have an Aussie camp last week though, so after our game we get to fly birds on Sunday and that’s purely just to touch base. We’ve created a really great culture over the last three or four years and we just don’t want to let that go. Although we’re playing against each other week in, week out, and we have a massive rivalry there, it’s a matter of coming back together, making sure we’re all on the same page because we don’t have that time to get up before Quad series cup coming up at the end of August, Constellation Cup in October, and then a Fast Five series at the end of October so we probably only have a week (or not even that) together before we get into our test matches. So we touch base during ANZ to make sure we still know what we’re doing and remember who each other are and what kind of stuff is going on behind the scenes there. As far as tours go, that doesn’t overlap with the ANZ championship so we’ll play out the rest of this year (which has been really exciting), and then into diamonds for the second half.
Ash: Sharni, I just wanted to chat about the current campaign that’s run by Samsung at the moment that features netball and the ‘#RethinkRoleModels’. You were involved in that campaign yourself and obviously there’s the group netball one and then there’s one of you and other individual players as well. Tell us a little bit about that campaign and what it was like to be involved in that?
Sharni: Being a part of ‘#RethinkRoleModels’ is just so exciting and when Samsung first approached us it we all got a bit overwhelmed and, as you know Ash, in regards to female sport, how hard we train and there’s not often a lot of recognition, but that’s not why we do it. However, when people do recognize the hard work that you’ve put in and what you do, you get a bit emotional and a bit teary. When they showed us what they wanted to do with the campaign it was just really exciting, the fact that we get to share our stories.
I think a lot of people look at athletes and they put them on pedestals, but they just don’t know how they got there or how they could get there themselves, especially for kids and younger females growing up. So to be able to share our stories and show them: “no it was really hard work and we all had setbacks in one way or another.” For my personal story, it’s about “prove them wrong” and perseverance no matter what setbacks you have, how you have to keep fighting for what it is you want. Hopefully that way females, especially the younger generation, can really strive for what they want to do. It’s also put our sport in such a great spotlight, and given us the platform to share our sport, share our stories, and continue to grow together which is really, really, cool.
Ash: Yeah, it’s an absolutely brilliant campaign. I love it. I haven’t watched all the individual ones yet, but I’m getting through them. It’s such a great campaign, as you say, for the younger girls looking up to the role models. You can also have a look at those at the WiSp website, so make sure you check that out. Well Sharni, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. It’s really exciting times for Netball in Australia and we’re really looking forward to seeing the changes that will be implemented in 2017, but in the meantime there’s still an ANZ championship going on-
Sharni: There is. There’s a cup to be won ladies.
Ash: I wanna wish you all the best
Sharni: Thanks for your interest and for your support as well. We really appreciate it.