A Commonwealth gold, a home World Cup, a sell-out 9,000 crowd at the 2020 Superleague opener.
Since the England Netball team won their first-ever Commonwealth gold medal, beating Australia by one goal in the final second two years ago, netball has grown from strength to strength in England.
In a sporting world once dominated by the likes of football, rugby, and cricket, netball made its breakthrough, and began to earn its place in the heart of many English people – and as a regular on Sky Sports!
The success of the national team, set the domestic league in great stead to hit the ground running this season.
That was of course until the Coronavirus pandemic stuck, bringing what should’ve been the greatest Superleague season yet to an abrupt halt midway through round four of the competition in March.
The initial postponement meant there would be no league action until 30th April, but on Monday that was extended until at least the 31st May.
In these unprecedented times, sport is the last thing we should be thinking about, yet you can’t help but start to think, question and worry, about all netball’s hard work being lost.
You begin to fear what these franchises are going to have to go back to, when a perhaps ‘new’ normality is restored.
Reigning champions and current league leaders, Manchester Thunder, became the first team to furlough their 15 players and 2 coaches under the government scheme, and have since been followed by Surrey Storm, Saracens Mavericks and Celtic Dragons.
“Furlough”, has become a common word, haunting us in nearly every article we read, and every news bulletin we watch, not just on sport, but on every business sector.
It is thought to be a word to define a “temporary absence”, but the truth is when it comes to netball it might be more permanent than we think.
Prior to furloughing their players, netball Superleague franchises were already at a disadvantage as they don’t own their training venues, and so will not be able to return to training until the government re-open the facilities.
Genevieve Gordon, the chair of the British Association of Sport and Law, who helped write the Superleague contracts, doesn’t think the process of furloughing netball players has been thoroughly thought through.
She told The Telegraph: “If players are furloughed, the question really is, are they free agents?
“If they are free agents, they don’t have to go back to the club they started the season with.”
This means even if the league is eventually able to resume, the franchises could be left without their best players, to finish the rise that has only just begun.
Another question being raised is how the league will be finished, with players suggesting a Super Cup-style tournament may be a better way to finish the season.
Despite stepping down as England Netball manager at the end of the 2019 World Cup, Tracey Neville is one person that has remained focused on the sport's rise.
She tweeted the hashtag “#keepingnetballontherise”, after telling Sky Sports that shortening the netball season upon its return or “anything like that, would be an absolute travesty for the franchises.”
For now, the Superleague has released no plans on how they may change the league format, but have said they will “consider a variety of options for reigniting,” the league when the time is right.
They will hold their next meeting mid-May to review the situation.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk