WARRACKNABEAL’S Riley Richardson is excited by a growth in men’s netball despite missing out on a place in the Australian Men’s netball championships grand final on Friday.
The 24-year-old Richardson said it was disappointing for Victoria to miss the grand final but it showed the sport was becoming more competitive at the top level.
“I think we’ve made the grand final in the open division for the past 15 years but we’ve had a lot of key players exit,” he said. “We blooded a younger team this year – it was exciting to see we could still match it with the big team despite having a new lineup and combination.”
The Victorian team won four of its eight matches during the round-robin stage of the championships which ran from April 1-5.
There was first up losses against New South Wales and Queensland before the side registered two wins against each of WA and South Australia.
A third win against WA in the semi-final saw it through to a preliminary final showdown with Queensland. A 50-41 loss saw it bundled out of the championships before New South Wales ultimately won 61-52 in the grand final.
“The game has really grown in New South Wales over the past four or five years,” Richardson said.
“They’ve gone from losing games by 20 or 30 goals to the top teams to now going through the championships undefeated last week.”
The mid-court player said there had also been a shift in the physical size of some teams.
“A few of the teams we were playing against had seven-foot shooters,” he said.
“That brings a shift in the game in terms of those sides being able to just throw that long ball in quickly.
“For the teams that don’t have that big shooter – like Victoria – it becomes a challenge to make sure you have scoreboard pressure while trying to stop a nearly unstoppable force.”
Richardson has represented his state for the past nine seasons at the championships. During the season the squads will train together twice a week but are often left to train as individuals or in small groups.
“Sometimes we get the opportunity to train with the Melbourne Vixens,” he said. “We love going down there to have a hit out with the girls because they are the best in the nation.
“A lot of our players and coaches are also affiliated with Victorian Netball League teams, so we have a lot of opportunities to train with them as well.”
Richardson said he loved the team aspects of netball as he built relationships with his teammates and coaches.
The sport was always a part of his life while growing up in Warracknabeal with his mother Jane a prominent A Grade player for the Warrack Eagles. Without many opportunities to play netball within the Wimmera he often had to travel to Melbourne before first representing Victoria’s under-17 side in 2009.
He said it was great to see netball start to get wider coverage at the top level as well as in the men’s game.
“We were streaming the national championships online last week,” he said.
“I think we need to keep using social media to drive greater awareness and appreciation of the sport.
“With a bigger platform there is really no telling where men’s netball could end up – maybe one day we can get up on equal footing with the women’s league.”