Netball World Cup 2019: Tracey Neville & Jo Harten seek professional league in England

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Housby doesn't miss a shot as England take bronze

England Netball needs to "head in the direction" of a professional league if it is to capitalise on its World Cup legacy, says shooter Jo Harten.

The 30-year-old, who scored 216 goals in the tournament as the Roses won bronze, believes it could happen within "the next five years".

New Zealand and Australia have contested every World Cup final since 1999 and have professional leagues.

"Let's get onwards and upwards now," Harten told BBC Sport.

Outgoing head coach Tracey Neville - who led England to Commonwealth gold in 2018 - said it would have been one of her "ambitions" to get a Netball Superleague franchise to 90% professionalism within four to eight years if she had not taken the decision to step down.

Here, Neville and Harten answer BBC Sport's questions on World Cup legacy, turning professional and closing the gap on Australia and New Zealand.

What has this World Cup meant to you?

TN: I look back at the first ever major competition I went to in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, and I remember sitting in the stadium and - as it has been throughout the 20 years since - it being filled with the yellow and green of Australia or the black and silver of New Zealand.

What I saw over this tournament was my dream. We had a stadium full of red and white and that was true emotion, true passion.

To know that we can fill a stadium, to have all our tickets sold out a long time before the competition, people begging to come and watch England play, was just absolutely incredible, considering we played in the same stadium four years ago and had probably 1,000 people there. Netball is changing and it's so exciting.

JH: It was madness. I played my first cap when I was 18 in 2007 and I was in a stadium in New Zealand in front of 4,000. That seemed huge and as good as it would get, but the sport has sky-rocketed to the point it's at now where I've probably never played in front of such an electric crowd.

But it's not just the people there for the 60 minutes, it's the people stopping you in the street, the people wishing you well on social media. It's awesome to be a part of this generation, to be a part of this time where we've been lucky to have the World Cup in England. I could never have seen this all those years ago when I first started out.

Netball is professional in Australia and NZ; does England need a professional league?

JH: I think so. I haven't played in England for eight or nine years. I know it is improving and it is on the up, but professional leagues don't just come overnight.

Netball is the leading women's sport in this country but nothing is handed to you on a plate, so if England Netball can work hard to get a decent television deal for our sport, it gives more people the chance to view it, and then in comes the revenue and the sponsorship and that's when you see real growth.

Money talks, and if we want to be professional, that's the direction in which we need to head.

TN: I think it will take time. It takes huge investment and you've got to have people willing to front up that money. That doesn't happen overnight, so I think we're progressing, but we need to progress it a lot further and really start challenging ourselves as a governing body to get to that point.

You look at Australia and New Zealand, they've got totally professional leagues now. That's the model we need to start progressing to if we want to constantly keep challenging.

Tracey Neville
Tracey Neville is stepping down as head coach in order to start a family

How soon can it happen?

JH: I think it can happen in the next five years. Obviously I'm not as involved with that and I don't know where they want to head with the Superleague, but having seen the potential and the interest from the public during the World Cup, you should be able to get fans through the doors and you should be attracting TV audiences every week.

You need the interest in it because it's a product, and that is definitely what has happened in Australia - it's no longer a pathway for the Australia Diamonds, it's now a TV product and it's cut-throat. If that's where you want to take the sport and the growth to professionalism, you have to make it that and put it on a pedestal.

It's hard to do because there is a lot of history attached to keeping the sport natural and not selling it short, but at the end of the day, if you want to grow, money talks. Revenue talks. You have to put it in the spotlight.

TN: If I was still head coach, one of the ambitions over the next four to eight years would have been to try to get a Superleague franchise progressing to 90% professionalism.

It takes a massive financial strain off the Roses programme by players going to Australia, because we are then able to invest in other athletes around the country.

But Serena Guthrie, one of the best centres in the world, made a huge decision this year to come and play domestic netball in this country - and she's still one of the world's best.

I think eventually athletes will start migrating back to England.

Can you see a day when Australia and NZ players play in England?

JH: I think the international calendar needs to be looked at because I think there is potentially room for a bit of both. At the moment, the leagues run simultaneously, which doesn't help athletes make choices.

It needs to be made a jigsaw puzzle rather than putting all the leagues on top of each other. I think there is room for negotiation there, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

It would be a good day if athletes are left seriously questioning which country to play their club netball in. That would be a proud moment.

England celebrate World Cup bronze on the podium
England have won bronze at the last three World Cups

Have England narrowed the gap to Australia and NZ?

TN: 100%. We broke the glass ceiling at the Commonwealth Games and we went into this tournament as a threat to a lot of the top nations.

There are going to be times when other countries are going to take a game off you, but at this particular tournament, the brutality and the physicality day-in, day-out, really starts to push to the forefront the fittest, the best and the world-class athletes.

I felt there were three teams that showed that - Australia, New Zealand and England.

JH: I was reflecting on this on Sunday after our bronze medal, because I've got three World Cup bronze medals now and it's getting boring.

You look at the contest we had with New Zealand and we lost by two goals. They beat Australia in the final by one goal. That's a three-goal fine-line margin between the top three teams in the world.

We're not just praying to beat one of these teams now, we're actually doing it in major competitions. I no longer fear those nations, I go out there and I'm excited to play them.

I don't fear them beating us by 30 goals, which was a reality about six or seven years ago. That would happen every couple of months.

It's not like that any more - we take it to them, they have to do their homework on us, they worry about us, they don't like us, which is always a good thing.

You know when they don't want to talk to you in the hotel that you are under their skin, and that's a really good place for England to be.

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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