MYSTICS MEN PREPARING TO OUTSHINE STARS IN TWO-GAME SERIES
No matter who you are, where you come from or what your background is – men’s netball offers a place of belonging. That’s the message from new Mystics Men head coach Helene Wilson as she readies the squad to contest two invitational matches versus the Stars Men in May.
For the second year running the Mystics is fielding a men’s side in another step towards developing the men’s game. Following a series of trials, Wilson and assistant coach Ripeka Pirie have named a squad of 12 which features a mixture of experience and youth she says could be the recipe to success.
“There’s a real diversity of understanding and experience and that’s what’s fun about it because when people haven’t been coached to play a certain way, you can actually allow them to explore their own strengths and bring their point of difference to the court,” Wilson says.
The team has assembled from all corners of Aotearoa New Zealand, some as far away as Hawke’s Bay, ahead of their first match versus the Stars Men at 5pm Saturday 6 May at The Trusts Arena in Henderson. The match will precede the MG Mystics’ round 10 game versus the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel at 7pm. The final game of the two-match series will be played on Sunday 21 May at Pulman Arena in Papakura before the MG Mystics take on the Robinhood Stars in round 12.
“We’re aiming to win and we hope to win…our plan of attack is just to work on our own game and our own skillset and to make sure we’re clear about what we want to do so we can go out there and put our best foot forward,” says Wilson.
Fresh off the back of six years at the helm of the MG Mystics, including leading the team to the 2021 ANZ Premiership title, Wilson has swapped places with new MG Mystics head coach Tia Winikerei who last year led the men’s team for their inaugural invitational series.
Wilson says her biggest take away from working with the men is that “it’s a lot of fun, there are a lot of characters”.
“First of all they bring a level of athleticism that is different to the women and with further coaching on the technical aspects and skillset within netball they can really bring that to the game at a higher level which is exciting.
“The other thing they’re learning is the structure and application of skills that we tend to use in the women’s game and how they can apply that with the freedom the men like to play with. So not to take away from what they do well, but to add another dimension to their thinking.”
Women’s netball can learn a lot from the way the men play and vice-versa, Wilson says, with each playing a role in the development of the sport across the board.
For many years, men’s netball teams have been called upon to support preparations for women’s teams often in pre-season and ahead of important competitions.
“For as long as I can remember we’ve called on the men, because of their athleticism they stretch the women in a different way,” Wilson says.
“It shows the women a different level of training. The men challenge the women physically, but the women can challenge the men with their skillset so it works well both ways.”
Former Mystics and New Zealand men’s captain and Sky Sport commentator Kruze Tangira has also been involved with the women’s side as a training partner, with other ANZ Premiership franchises following suit and providing an opportunity for men to train alongside their squads.
“We did that not only to support Kruze and his ambitions in the men’s game as we had the staff and support network to help him on his journey, but also to push the women in their own training environment,” says Wilson.
The pathway for men in netball has come a long way, boosted by the addition of an open men’s club league this year at Netball Waitākere playing on Saturday afternoons. Trans-Tasman fixtures between the New Zealand men and Australia are becoming a regular event, with the teams last meeting in October 2022 to play as curtain-raiser for the Constellation Cup opener at Spark Arena.
The New Zealand men also took on the Silver Ferns in a three-match Cadbury Netball Series in 2021 to help with preparations for the Commonwealth Games and again last year.
Wilson says the more regular the competitive fixtures the better in securing a pathway for men in netball.
“Young boys can play it all the way through primary and intermediate school now which we didn’t really have when we were kids. I think young men are exposed to netball much more now and it’s a game that’s very inclusive so a lot of the men talk to me about how everybody feels a real sense of belonging which is quite unique for them.”
In the lead up to the first match versus the Stars Men, Wilson says the team is looking to bring something fresh and exciting to the court.
“The thing about the men’s game is that they all play together and know each other really well, so the question we’ve been asking ourselves is ‘what’s our point of difference?’. We’re going to go out there and do something slightly different, which we hope will set them up, not only for their upcoming netball season, but hopefully for higher honours with the New Zealand men.”
Mystics Men 2023 Squad
Te Reiwhati Vercoe
Head Coach: Helene Wilson
Assistant Coach: Ripeka Pirie
Manager: Nikola Kemp
Physio: Rebecca Gatland