Men’s netball will take centre stage as the different districts in the country will come together to battle for the Males National Netball Championships crown. The Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rusternburg will play host close to 50 teams at the tournament set for 27 March to 1 April.
Participants will be eyeing to dethrone EThekwini who won the last edition of the competition and coach Nkululeko Thusi says he has been working on finding out what their opponents will bring to the competition.
“Our preparations are pretty much okay. They (players) have been active constantly, our players are playing during the weekends for different teams in the Super League. Most of them play for one team a bulk of them play for one team and it will be easier for me and the team to do well. We obviously want to defend our trophy, to be more aggressive when it comes to our defensive style, and to have a more structured defensive formation because we just ran, like headless chickens trying to chase people that were playing structured defence,” says Thusi.
He says understands that his side has a mountain to climb to successfully defend their title.
“It will be tough because the other provinces and all the districts are prepared. Everyone has been active in terms of netball because I have been doing some homework, Gauteng will be ready, Western Cape and Limpopo will be pretty much ready for the competition,” he adds.
Johannesburg coach, Klaas Mokgomole is hopeful that his team will have a good showing at this year’s competition even though they will only have one senior side taking part.
“We decided to take only one team this year, this is based on finances. Players pay for themselves and this year things happen to be very expensive especially since Gauteng is not helping us with things like transport or anything so players have to pay for everything on their own. Most of the players don’t work or they are students or they are not working a decent job so it is going to be a bit difficult. You might find that a player took their rent money to pay for this, so it might play a role in their mind during the game. but we have talent. Preparations and logistics are always hard but Johannesburg is blessed with talent. I have a feeling we are going to bring a medal, I can’t guarantee what medal but one of the three medals is going to come back to Joburg,” says Mokgomole.
The Championships are also a platform for national team coaches and selectors to pick players for the respective teams. The Wits Brainwashers coach says this is a motivation for players to put their best foot forward.
“The fact that they can be selected to play in the SA team is motivation, males are recognised now. Last year we saw the team go play in the Caribbean, that is a motivation
that there is something greater. You can get a chance to be in the national team for the A team or the Under-23s and recognition for some players. There are a lot of benefits unlike in the past when you just played and after the national champs it’s gone but they also need to understand that you are the cream of the crop of Johannesburg. Johannesburg is a very competitive area,” he says.
Men’s netball has been on the rise in South Africa recently, having the senior national team take part in a competition outside of the continent for the first time last year, is a big step that indicates that the sport is growing. Thusi reckons the stigmas around the sport may be part of the hindrances that are stalling the growth of the men’s games.
“I think it is important to break down the stigma because everyone thinks that netball is for women or it’s for gay men but it’s totally not it. I am from a basketball background and I understood that it’s not for gay people or mainly for women. In fact, it’s more competitive than basketball, that is what I figured out. I was introduced to the EThekwini trials, I think five years ago. I made the team and I became the captain then afterward I fell in love with the game and started coaching at the district level,” says the Basketball National League KwaZulu Marlins assistant coach.
Mokgomole reckons the introduction of men’s netball at varsities will also play a huge role in growing the sport.
“Now we have netball being introduced in universities for USSA (University Sports South Africa) and the fact that those students can get sports bursaries. We are seeing progress, it’s just that we don’t have sponsors. It’s hard to get sponsors for the males when it comes to netball. But there is progress especially when it comes to competitions and competitive matches, we are seeing progress. We have left the system where we found that there were few districts when we go to Championships, now we have more districts and more Under-23 teams. Last year was the first time that we had Under-23s playing in the champs and now we have more divisions in the competition,” says Mokgomole