Giants defender Sam Poolman counting the cost of Super Netball shutdown due to coronavirus

Sam Poolman is waiting to see how Super Netball will look this season. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Sam Poolman is waiting to see how Super Netball will look this season. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Sam Poolman is no stranger to sacrifice.

The Giants defender's elite sporting career was forged on it with countless years spent travelling between Newcastle and Sydney in pursuit of her dream while barely earning enough to cover petrol money.

In February, the 2018 Australian Fast Fives captain was counting her blessings knowing the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA) had just entered into an updated Collective Player Agreement with the Super Netball league that ensured they would remain the highest-paid female domestic club athletes in Australia.

But, in response to the coronavirus crisis, Super Netball's start was delayed from May 2 until at least June 30 then last week all contracted players took two weeks' leave from club duties to be followed by three weeks sacrificing 70 per cent in pay. The minimum wage for a Super League netballer is $30,000, set to rise to $33,000 from 2021. The potential average salary by then under the new agreement is expected to be $75,167.

"Daily it kept changing, from us thinking it was about when we were going to play and then it turned into if we were going to play, pay cuts, contracting then proper lockdown," Poolman said.

"Female sport isn't paid a whole heap to start with, so a lot of people are putting their time into their sport and living off not a great deal of money because that's our choice and that's OK. But then take that element away and it can become quite stressful."

Poolman, 29, splits her time between Sydney and Newcastle but for now is back at the East Maitland home she shares with partner and professional footballer Ben Kennedy.

She said not paying rent and a mortgage for the interim "has taken some of the pressure off" financially.

But what happens after the three weeks of pay cuts remains to be seen and, as a player delegate for the ANPA, Poolman has concerns over the impacts an ongoing standstill of sport will have.

"Players like Liz Ellis started our players association and spent a lot of time building and fighting for what we had a right for and our product and our worth," Poolman said.

"We're not even near professional level yet ... we've just renegotiated our new CPA and as a female sport we're really pushing in the right direction. Now we're having conversations about pay cuts. That's the hardest thing. We're fortunate that we have great people in our sport that are all working through this but, like everyone, it's unknown."

The unknowns are numerous and include when they will be able to start training with others again. Current social distancing restrictions are expected to remain in place in NSW for at least 90 days.

There are no guarantees the competition will start in July and if it does whether games will be played behind closed doors. The long-term financial ramifications for the sport and its players at the elite level are also uncertain.

"It's an interesting time and I guess it depends on where the sport's money comes from," she said.

"I know NRL has been quite heavily in the media about if they don't play they're going to go broke, whereas netball, yes, we need to be playing a game on TV and getting people to our games and that's how we make money, but for Netball Australia, grassroots sports brings them in money as well, so I think it just depends on as a sport where you are financially.

"I found it really interesting with the A-League that clubs were doing certain things in terms of money and contracts, however, it wasn't across the board ruling. Our CEO and executive straight away came out and said what pay cuts they were taking and us players were like, 'OK, this is really going to hurt a lot of us, however, if we can assist the sport long-term, because no one wants to see it go under' ... the best thing that has been hammered home with us at the moment is netball will be back again.

"It will always return and that's a really nice thing to know. Some businesses will shut their doors and never be able to reopen again after this, whereas netball will go on again and they obviously need players. I think that was a reassuring thing for us to hear; that netball as a sport and a business, if you want to look at it in that way, I think will continue, which is a positive light in the whole situation."

Poolman's netball development program Aspire for 11 to 17-year-olds is also on hold at the moment and having little to do for someone constantly on the go is taking some adjusting.

"Some days I look at it as a positive, like I'm going to try to have a sense of accomplishment, because that's the hardest thing; that we've gone from real structure, routine, being around people all of the time, that sense of achievement and pushing yourself and now it's like, 'OK, I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow, let alone next week'," she said.

"For me, personally, I've learnt a lot about myself in terms of what's important to me and how I'm wired. I knew a little bit about it before but I think it certainly hits home what you're like now. I'm quite driven in terms of something to get to, so deadlines, a goal, by being around other people ... that's where I guess I get the best out of myself.

"Every day is different. One day I was painting and doing bits and pieces and I felt better because I felt like I'd accomplished things, whereas the day before I felt like I was wasting time.

This story Giants netballer Sam Poolman counts the cost of shutdown first appeared on Newcastle Herald.