A two-point shot may be introduced to seven-a-side netball if rule trials in New Zealand later this year prove successful. Creating an additional two-point scoring zone within the shooting circle is among three rule innovations to be trialled at this year's national U19 and U23 championships in Dunedin as Netball New Zealand attempt to take the lead on revamping the game's rules.
Under the International Netball Federation's constitution, changes can be made to the game's laws only every eight years. With the current eight-year cycle ending after the 2015 Netball World Cup in Sydney, the INF rules advisory panel have drawn up a list of proposed changes and offered member nations the chance to trial the innovations. Netball NZ and their counterparts in England have taken up the challenge, each picking out a few rules to trial at domestic level. "We believe the game needs to change, and we want to take a leading role in this," said Netball NZ head Hilary Poole. "The important thing is these rules are trialled extensively so we ensure there are no unintended consequences to the rule changes."
The sport has moved at a rapid rate over the past six years since the introduction of the transtasman league. While the professional league operates only in New Zealand and Australia, it has encouraged other countries to become more professional in their approach to the game. With the players now fitter, faster and stronger than what they were even five years ago, there are concerns the rules have not evolved with the rest of the sport.
Netball NZ's operations director Kate Agnew believes the introduction of a two-point shot has the potential to open up the play in the circle and make for crash and bash under the goal. "It will provide a new skill dynamic which will lift interest and potentially changes the pattern of play around the circle, because it increases the space you might wish to use. "There's also the potential to promote a different type of shooter physically, as well as skill set-wise." It is hoped the addition of a two-point shot will improve the spectacle for fans as it increases pressure and risk-taking on the players.
The two- and three-point scoring zones in netball's shortened format, Fast5, have made for tighter, more compelling contests, with the likes of Malawi and South Africa proving competitive as they can draw on their long-range shooting capabilities. "I'd love to think that would be an outcome that we would get closer contests. I think that was one of the big drivers to ensure we get quality contests and anything that would bring that we'd welcome," said Agnew.
Under the rules being trialled, one of the most unpopular laws will be scrapped with the requirement that players have both feet wholly in the circle for centre pass-offs to be modified so that they need to have only one foot inside the circle.
Netball NZ will also look at changes to the injury breaks, with the rules currently open to exploitation. At ANZ Championship level, injury breaks are often called for the purposes of strategic time outs. Under the proposed changes, all injury breaks will be 30 seconds long and the player who called the stoppage must leave the court or be involved in any positional changes.
A rules review group comprising representatives from each of the zones will evaluate the success of the changes and present their findings to the INF congress.