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After month in Auckland hub, home sweet home for Netball Premiership clubs

Sam Winders has seen enough of the roads north of Rotorua in the past six weeks.

Sam Winders. Source: Photosport

By Clay Wilson for rnz.co.nz

After more than a month of matches on the road, three ANZ Premiership netball teams are back on home court this week.

The Covid-19 pandemic meant, when it was announced, the revamped competition was scheduled to be played exclusively in Auckland.

But New Zealand's efforts limiting the impact of the virus soon allowed organisers to include home games for all in the latter stages of the Premiership.

With their squad based right across the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region, the Magic captain said half a dozen trips to Auckland to play had definitely been a challenge.

"It's kind of been a bit like Groundhog Day every Friday or Saturday or Sunday or whenever we went up there.

"The same little bus and leaving Rotorua or Whakatane in the early hours of the morning to get up there on game day."

Some respite had arrived, though, with the Magic hosting games on Sunday and Monday in Hamilton.

Winders said it was an understatement to say they were excited.

"There's nothing quite like playing at home.

"I'm so stoked that we do get to go home because our home crowds are just outstanding and we get that little bit extra support. It's like that eighth person on the court."

The feeling was even more special for the Tactix.

A packed schedule for Christchurch's Horncastle Arena over the next month meant Thursday night's match against the Northerns Stars was the only match the Mainland side hosted in the revamped competition.

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The Tactix get one home game this season due to various off-court issues but they plan to make the most of it.

Coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek said they were putting a positive spin on getting just one home game.

"We've actually flipped that because we're actually really happy to have that one home game.

"For us, that opportunity to connect in with our fans and our families and have everyone to a game was really of great priority."

Delaney-Hoshek said there were other factors which made it important, primarily the young netballers across the region.

"If they didn't get to see live netball this year it would be a huge disadvantage for the future of netball in this zone.

"That side of it is also really important. I feel like with having a game in Christchurch at least all the kids get to come and connect and see live netball and see how fantastic it is."

And it wasn't not just the kids.

The grandparents of Kelly Jury bought their season tickets nine months ago, and were part of an eight strong group of family coming from Taranaki to support the Pulse defender in Porirua on Sunday.

Jury said they wouldn't find it hard to dig out attire in the appropriate colours for the defending champions match against the Northern Mystics.

"Black and yellow. My dad's a very hardcore Taranaki rugby fan and so are my brothers, so they haven't had to search far for some yellow and black gear."

While excitement was high in the lower North Island, patience was required for those in the deep south.

Invercargill was hosting finals day of August 23, but Southern Steel captain Gina Crampton admitted it was tough having to wait until next week's penultimate round to play at home again.

Steel’s Gina Crampton against the Tactix Source: Photosport

"Yeah, it sucks a wee bit I guess. It's just one more week on the road when we've already had six trips up there.

"At least we're used to it, but I think it's just what they've done since we have the finals day in Invercargill. I guess they're just trying to keep it as fair as possible."

No such attempts at fairness would be made in Hamilton on Sunday, however.

Magic skipper Sam Winders wanted the home crowd to bring every ounce of their uniquely Waikato brand of support.

"Yeah, I hope they get really rowdy.

"Even up in Auckland we've had a few fans that travel up with the cow bells and I love that. Hopefully they bring all the cow bells out."