Written by Bryce Heaton and edited for online by Toby Crockford

The Melbourne Storm has today confirmed its plans to partner with the University of the Sunshine Coast in a bid to enter another Queensland-based netball franchise to rival the Firebirds.

The announcement comes as Fairfax reported Channel 9 and Telstra were preparing to sign a broadcast deal for an Australian-only national competition, after poor TV ratings for games between Australian and New Zealand teams.

This would see eight teams compete minus the current New Zealand franchises, with spots for three new teams in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Source: Flickr
Brisbane Firebirds Netball Players. Source: Flickr/John

Netball Australia’s general manager of events Kate Patterson confirmed the Storm had expressed its interest in joining the competition but said a final decision on the new teams had not been made yet.

“We have been conducting an expression of interest process since late last year, looking for new teams to join the competition in Australia,” she said.

“We are coming towards the end of that process, but we are still not at a stage where we have selected preferred bidders.

“We are down to the final stages and the Storm are certainly in the mix along with a number of other strong proposals.”

Ms Patterson was however quick to stress the exclusion of New Zealand-based teams and forming a break-away Australian competition was only being discussed and a final decision had not been made.

“We currently have a trans-Tasman competition that we have run in partnership with Netball New Zealand for the last nine years and are currently reviewing what that competition might look like going forward,” she said.

“However, we are not able to confirm that excluding New Zealand teams might be the structure, but it is certainly an option on the table.”

University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill highlighted the neglect of the area as a destination for professional sporting teams.

“The Sunshine Coast is sports-mad of course and I think there is something like 6,000 registered netball players on the coast.”

Professor Hill also said the elite sports culture at USC could support a Storm backed netball franchise.

“We’ve got the sorts of facilities on the campus that the netballers would need to train at,” he said.

“We’ve got all that infrastructure to do it really well and I’m sure it would be a real hit and it’s something the community would get behind.

“While people are being elite athletes they can also complete their studies at the same place where they’re training.”

The Collingwood Magpies have also been in talks with Netball Australia with a view to backing a netball franchise, as well as looking to establish a team in the AFL’s national women’s competition in 2017.

The Melbourne Storm was contacted for comment at the time of publishing, but were not available.