Saturday Serve: Caitlin Bassett's Magic move leaves Netball Australia at a crossroads

Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett has signed with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett has signed with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The defection of Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett to New Zealand has left Netball Australia at a crossroads.

It needs to decide what's more important - having the best netball league in the world or the Diamonds' future success.

As the global standard of netball rises, striking that balance will only prove more difficult.

Bassett has become the first casualty of the sport's evolution, being forced out of her own domestic league in search of match minutes.

The Diamonds centurion announced on last week she would join the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic on a one-year deal for 2021 after terminating her contract with Giants Netball.

It's the first time a Diamonds player has switched to New Zealand's domestic league since the inauguration of Super Netball in 2017.

The move was prompted by Bassett feeling "undervalued" by the Giants, having received little court time following the introduction of the controversial two-point 'super shot'.

The 32-year-old shooter played 292 of a possible 840 minutes across the season, spending the majority of court-side time on an exercise bike. While she undertook her self-coined 'Tour de Bass', Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald opted to play mid-range shooting combination Jo Harten and Kiera Austin - with the former leading the competition in super-shots scored.

The rule change has been a convenient excuse for Bassett's defection, but there's more at play.

She was left with no Super Netball alternative because of limited spots available at rival clubs. Most players had signed deals that would take them through to the end of the current broadcast agreement in 2021.

The retirement of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip will create positions on the Melbourne Vixens' roster, however, the club will likely be searching for another goal-attack with Mwai Kumwenda playing at shooter.

Bassett recently retained her spot in the Diamonds' squad, with the incumbent captain aiming to play at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

But to do that, she needs court time. Something many of the world's best shooters have benefited from in their move to Super Netball.

There are currently 20 international players in Super Netball, 10 of whom are circle attackers and spread across each team.

The league's top three goal-scorers are imports, led by Jhaniele Fowler (Jamaica), Romelda Aiken (Jamaica) and Sam Wallace (Trinidad and Tobago).

But without a limit on international signings in Super Netball, the next generation of Australian shooters - and squad members like Bassett - are missing out on valuable minutes.

An eight team competition is not large enough to strengthen the Diamonds while accommodating the influx of international players.

Other sporting leagues have implemented home-grown rules in an attempt to find the balance between entertainment value and national agendas.

The English Premier League has a minimum of eight domestic players per team, while locally the W-League and WNBL have limits on international signings.

So think about this. Netball is the number one participation sport for females in Australia with almost 1 million players.

Out of the 580,000-odd adult female participants, only 76 played Super Netball this year. And of those players, it was Australian skipper Bassett who struggled for court time.

Waikato Bay of Plenty made a clever and opportunistic move in luring Bassett across the Tasman, with both parties to benefit from the shrewd signing.

For Magic, it's a chance to rebuild the club into an ANZ Championship powerhouse and inject valuable experience into its squad.

For Bassett it's more than a strategic move for extended court time.

It's an opportunity to build back her confidence and find enjoyment in the game she's given her life to once more.

This story Bassett's Magic move leaves Super Netball future at crossroads first appeared on The Canberra Times.