Sunshine Coast Lightning and Australian Diamonds goaler Cara Koenen has thrown her support behind more regional-based Suncorp Super Netball franchises to grow the sport and opportunities for players.
The Townsville-product is quickly becoming one of Australia’s top players and wants to be the leading light for young players in the regional development pathways.
Koenen, who has been with Lightning since 2017 and was part of the club’s most successful period, said she is determined to take the sport to new heights – alongside every other player in a professional netball competition around the world.
“I am a massive advocate of progression for our sport. All of the girls want to pave the way for the next generation of athletes coming through, we want to make this a sport that women can pursue and women can live on,” she told The Netball Post.
“More franchises is a great way to go about it. I feel very blessed to play as part of one of the only professional sporting teams in Australia – it has such a good community feel.”
Sunshine Coast Lightning is backed by NRL club Melbourne Storm and the University of Sunshine Coast.
The club, alongside the Collingwood Magpies and GWS GIANTS, was admitted to the Suncorp Super Netball for its inaugural season in 2017.
Since then, it has gone on to be the most successful in SSN history with two premierships (2017 and 2018) and a grand final appearance (2019) already to its name.
Koenen said Townsville could become a contender for a new franchise with its thriving highway tourism and picturesque landscape.
“I am just a massive advocate and as a regional player myself, I would love to see a clearer pathway for the players so they can avoid relocating,” she said when asked about a potential Townsville-based franchise.
“Players face huge financial commitments, a massive move away from home – it is really about establishing a clear pathway in regional Australia.
“There are so many talented country kids, it couldn’t hurt the sport in terms of the talent we have locally and internationally.”
Netball Tasmania is currently in the process of applying for entry into Super Netball.
While a region like North Queensland could be considered a contender, Netball Tasmania is currently pushing for entry into the SSN in the coming years.
Despite harbouring a nursery of junior talent through its own pathway, Tasmanians are struggling to crack the big time with a lack of professional opportunity and exposure.
That’s why Netball Tasmania CEO Aaron Pidgeon said it was time to include a side from Tasmania before other sports move in.
“We believe that we are important for netball to move towards a true geographical spread, to become a national competition,” he told The Netball Post.
“On the flip side, we don’t want to miss the boat. We have the Big Bash League side, we have the Jackjumpers entering the National Basketball League and there’s a strong bid for an AFL side and even an FFA-round ball football side in the national league.
“We believe there could be a number of national league sporting teams in Tassie over the next few years and we want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that.”
Mr Pidgeon also said while the partnership with Collingwood Super Netball was great, playing just one match in Tasmania a year won’t see the traction of a homegrown club.
Netball Tasmania is pushing the Tasmanian Government to invest in the bid and Mr Pidgeon said those conversations remain positive.
“We have had favourable conversations with our government, and they are waiting on the next step in terms of entry to the SSN,” he said.
“There’s room for expansion in the competition. Netball Australia and the broadcasters need to reconcile a few things first, but we have seen that there is sufficient talent in the country to support it. We have seen a number of players come from nowhere, step in and perform strongly.
“We are very clear that our pathway down here is limited. There’s no chance to play elite netball in Tasmania right now.”