Women storm the bar­ri­cades

Net­ball, Aussie rules, cricket, foot­ball ... the days of play­ing for noth­ing are well and truly over

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - Terry Mallinder

SHOTS ring out across the com­pound. Star­tled women scurry out of their makeshift beds. They would have had no more than an hour’s sleep. If any at all. But they have quickly learnt the drill – and are ready for their next gru­elling task or­ches­trated by mil­i­tary per­son­nel who take no pris­on­ers. It might be work­ing to­gether to push an all-ter­rain army ve­hi­cle up a hill, or drag­ging them­selves up a rock face that comes with its own water­fall. Wel­come to the start of Queens­land Fire­birds’ pre-sea­son train­ing ... and to the new world of do­mes­tic women’s sport­ing out­fits in Aus­tralia. It’s not for the faint-hearted. Only for the truly ded­i­cated. And fi­nally giv­ing sportswomen the stage – and the recog­ni­tion – they de­serve. For net­ball’s cham­pion Fire­birds team, not ev­ery week­end is like the one spent at Kokoda Bar­racks at Ca­nun­gra in the Gold Coast hin­ter­land. But it shows the lengths the fran­chise and the girls, un­der the watch­ful eye of un­com­pro­mis­ing head coach Rose­lee Jencke, are will­ing to go to for suc­cess. In one par­tic­u­lar case, ar­guably the most gru­elling 800m they will ever en­counter, nav­i­gat­ing their way, kick­ing and scream­ing, through an ob­sta­cle course full of pits and per­ils – 10-foot-high walls to climb over; cargo nets and deadly barbed-wire fences to crawl un­der; swing­ing rope bridges to cross; and end­ing with a 30m drop into Coomera River. “Mil­i­tary-style train­ing can be quite in­tense, se­vere, very stren­u­ous,” Fire­birds phys­i­cal per­for­mance man­ager Cal­lum Koch tells News Re­gional Me­dia. “But the camp ... with­out go­ing into too much de­tail, was more about per­ceived risk. Putting the girls in sit­u­a­tions where they were un­com­fort­able. “Rose’s motto for the camp was ‘get com­fort­able with be­ing un­com­fort­able’. It cer­tainly shone through in the ac­tiv­i­ties the girls did.” Newly ap­pointed Fire­birds cap­tain Gabi Simp­son and her team­mates em­braced the ul­ti­mate in boot camp-style bond­ing – even if at one stage it meant en­dur­ing a four-and-a-half-hour train­ing ses­sion, be­gin­ning at mid­night. With the loss of sev­eral ex­pe­ri­enced campaigners such as for­mer skip­per Laura Geitz, the Fire­birds know how im­por­tant it could be dur­ing the sea­son. “It brought what is a new group to­gether quickly,” Simp­son says. “There’s no bet­ter way to bond than through some hard times to­gether.

“The camp was re­ally im­por­tant for the younger girls to un­der­stand they can play a huge role in the team. There were plenty of times they showed that when the go­ing gets tough they will stand up and take the game on.”

Back on more solid foot­ing, the Fire­birds are no less in­tense in their prepa­ra­tion for the first ever sea­son of Su­per Net­ball. They won the last two ti­tles in the now de­funct trans-Tas­man ANZ Cham­pi­onship and have stan­dards to keep in the new-look league now fea­tur­ing eight clubs from through­out Aus­tralia, and which starts Fe­bru­ary 18.

The com­pe­ti­tion pre­vi­ously com­prised five teams each from here and New Zealand.

“There is a lot of great tal­ent in Aus­tralia and it’s now evenly dis­persed among eight teams, so we’re go­ing to be see­ing dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions,” Simp­son says.

“We are tak­ing our his­tory with us into this new tour­na­ment, but we’re look­ing for­ward to start­ing off what could be a great new ad­ven­ture for the Fire­birds.”

Koch’s brief in­cludes strength and con­di­tion­ing, phys­io­ther­apy, med­i­cal, sports sci­ence and re­search pro­grams for the Fire­birds, while also over­see­ing Net­ball Queens­land’s Elite De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram. He has ar­rived from one of the AFL’s two new fran­chises, Gold Coast Suns, where he spent five years.

“I’ve come to an en­vi­ron­ment at the Fire­birds that has been re­ally suc­cess­ful,” he says. “And it’s ob­vi­ous as to why.

“Just the work that Rose does with the girls in set­ting ex­pec­ta­tions, what the girls owe to each other. She cer­tainly doesn’t take short cuts. She’s very clear with what she ex­pects.”

Koch ad­mits he has been sur­prised by their level of ded­i­ca­tion. “Par­tic­u­larly in re­gards to their net­ball and other en­deav­ours they have in their life – whether it’s part-time work, part-time study,” he says.

“The girls do a re­ally good job of man­ag­ing that so it kind of com­ple­ments their per­for­mance in the sport­ing arena.

“There’s a sense of hu­mil­ity, they un­der­stand the im­por­tance and the im­pact that they as sport­ing role mod­els in the com­mu­nity can have. I think that’s prob­a­bly been the most im­pres­sive part for me.”

For the Fire­birds and the rest of the Su­per Net­ball teams it’s a full-time com­mit­ment … for part-time wages.

Play­ers have 12-month part-time con­tracts, av­er­ag­ing 20 hours a week, with 10am to 4pm each week­day pro­tected.

“We have a cer­tain amount of time in the morn­ings and the af­ter­noons when the girls are avail­able,” Koch ex­plains.

“We have to be re­ally sharp in what we pre­scribe for their

...they’ll have to re­assess. I’m hop­ing it will go berserk

train­ing. They cer­tainly un­der­stand it’s qual­ity, not quan­tity.”

Net­ball’s do­mes­tic elite are at least now be­ing re­warded more sub­stan­tially fi­nan­cially for their (limited) time.

Play­ers com­pet­ing in the 2017 Su­per Net­ball com­pe­ti­tion will be the high­est-paid do­mes­tic sportswomen in Aus­tralia. Each club now has $675,000 to spend on its 10 listed play­ers, which equates to an av­er­age salary of $67,500. The min­i­mum has more than dou­bled, from $13,250 in the ANZ Cham­pi­onship to $27,375. There’s in­creased spon­sor­ship dol­lars and the Nine Net­work has be­come the of­fi­cial broad­caster, tele­vis­ing two games live each Satur­day night in prime time.

It’s all part of what is truly a land­mark year for women’s sport on the do­mes­tic scene,.

The new girls on the block, fe­male Aus­tralian rules foot­ballers, have al­ready shown how hard they can play on and off the field be­fore the AFL Women’s com­pe­ti­tion even be­gan last night.

Their sport is fastest-grow­ing for fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in this coun­try and de­manded a league of its own af­ter soar­ing rat­ings for ex­hi­bi­tion matches on Chan­nel Seven last year.

A match be­tween the Bull­dogs and Mel­bourne peaked at 1.05 mil­lion view­ers na­tion­ally and av­er­aged 746,000. With 387,000 alone watch­ing in Mel­bourne it out-rated any non-fi­nals Satur­day night men’s game in footy’s heart­land.

Af­ter months of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the AFL and the play­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion, the min­i­mum wage rose from a start­ing $5000 to $8500. Mar­quee play­ers will re­ceive $27,000 (which in­cludes mar­ket­ing and am­bas­sado­rial roles) for the seven-round home and away sea­son.

In stark con­trast, the guys’ av­er­age wage hit $300,000 in sea­son 2016, with a hand­ful paid more than $1 mil­lion.

Bris­bane Lions skip­per Emma Zielke, whose side takes on Mel­bourne to­mor­row, dreams of a day when the girls can be fully pro­fes­sional and “don’t have to have a job’’.

“The AFL are on the right track. They have to in­tro­duce the prod­uct be­fore send­ing girls full-time,” she said re­cently.

“Once we’ve had a sea­son they’ll have to re­assess. I’m hop­ing it will go berserk and the AFL and the club will recog­nise that.”

Un­til then, play­ers such as fel­low Lion Sharni Webb are soak­ing up the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in an elite sport­ing en­vi­ron­ment as op­posed to sub­ur­ban or coun­try footy, grate­ful of the op­por­tu­nity.

“It’s a big step up, but I think ev­ery­one’s re­ally lik­ing the pro­fes­sional side of things,” Webb says. “Re­cov­ery is so good. We’re taken such good care of. We’re not go­ing home wrecked and tired and dread­ing the next ses­sion.”

The just com­pleted sec­ond sea­son of Women’s Big Bash League cricket has paved the way for fe­male sport on free-to-air TV, peak­ing on Chan­nel 10 with a na­tional au­di­ence of 500,000 for the fi­nal be­tween the Syd­ney Six­ers and Perth Scorchers. In turn, min­i­mum wages have more than dou­bled since WBBL|01 from $3000 to $7000, with a max­i­mum set at $15,000.

“We al­ways talk a lot about ex­po­sure, and noth­ing is as good as it can be. In the WBBL, we’re show­ing we can go as well as the men,” Bris­bane Heat star and BBL|02 player of the tour­na­ment Beth Mooney said.

With in­creased path­ways for sportswomen, foot­ball – aka soc­cer – and rugby league are both try­ing not to fall too far be­hind in the bat­tle for par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Suf­fice to say, Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion Aus­tralia urged its women’s clubs to start dip­ping into their salary al­lowance a lit­tle more – set at a min­i­mum of $35,000 and a max­i­mum of $150,000. Some play­ers had been play­ing for noth­ing. By com­par­i­son, A-League clubs spend at least $2.3m on their squads – 67 times more than their fe­male coun­ter­parts.

The NRL, mean­while, is ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting a women’s league up and run­ning.

The battlelines may have been drawn, but the girls, how­ever, aren’t about to start fight­ing among them­selves. “Fe­male sport is all very close knit,” Webb says. “I know girls who are in the Su­per Net­ball, I know girls who are in the Big Bash. We’re all get­ting around and sup­port­ing each sport, be it on so­cial me­dia or go­ing to matches. It’s just cool build­ing this cul­ture of women’s sport.”


Bat­tled-hard­ened Queens­land Fire­birds skip­per Gabi Simp­son can’t wait to the start of the new Su­per Net­ball com­pe­ti­tion.


From left, Sharni Webb of the Lions; Romelda Aiken at a boot camp for the Queens­land Fire­birds; Gabi Simp­son with Kim­ber­lee Green; Mar­i­anne Kapp of the Six­ers.

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