Most of South Africa’s top netball players will be in action in the annual SPAR national netball championships which get underway at Hoy Park in Durban on Monday.  The senior and Under-21 tournaments will be played simultaneously, with 18 teams competing in each.

The weeklong tournament is the premier national event on the Netball South Africa (NSA) calendar and has once again especially been scheduled to be played during the countries women’s month with the tournaments opening ceremony being staged on Women’s Day (Wednesday 9 August) as part of netball’s celebration of women.

For the third successive year, the championships will be played on a provincial rather than a district basis.  This system was introduced in 2015 with the aim of improving the standard of play, and tournament director Mami Diale said the policy had been very effective.

“We believe there has been a definite improvement across the board, although I will be recommending that we introduce development programmes in some areas where the improvement is lagging,” she said.

Netball South Africa (NSA) president Mimi Mthethwa-Zulu said she believed there had been good progress with the transformation of the sport.

“We operate on a target basis rather than introducing quotas,” she said.

We look at the demographics in each province and our aim is to ensure that by 2018, the teams reflect the demography of their province.   But the bottom line is that we want the provinces to send their best players to the championships.  We are focussing on development rather than quotas,” said Mthethwa.

Western Province are the defending champions, having beaten Free State by 50 goals to 35 in last year’s final.  Coach Anneli Lucas said that although only two members of the winning team would be playing this year, she believed Western Province would still perform well.

“It’s different combinations and different dynamics, but I have something up my sleeve and I think we will do very well.  We have outstanding goalshooters – Bakie (Juanbyaije ‘Bakie’ Zauana) was named the best shooter last year – and we also have good defenders,” she said.

“If you have accurate shooters and a solid defence, and if you keep your centre passes and turn a few balls, you should win most of your matches.”

None of the SPAR Proteas who will be travelling to Australia and New Zealand for the first phase of the Quad Series later this month will be playing in the national championships, but many of the stars of the recent Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League will be in action.

The tournament ends on Saturday.