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Netball 2022: Giants sign Chelsea Pitman after being forced to play despite Covid outbreak

The Giants’ Covid crisis has become the catalyst to relaunch Chelsea Pitman’s Super Netball career, with the West Coast Fever training partner set to make a surprise comeback in Adelaide tomorrow.

With six Giants players unavailable due to Covid, two others returning from bouts of the virus and others unavailable due to injury, Pitman has been called up from the available pool of club training partners to play her first Super Netball match since 2020.

The Giants had two requests to postpone their match rejected by the league and have been forced to draw from their own Covid and injury-affected pool of training partners but, under new protocols are also able to draw from other clubs’ training partner lists.

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That is set to make England international Pitman one of the most in-demand women in the league.

The 33-year-old will make her return against the club that cut her at the end of the 2020 season in a move that seemed set to end her Super Netball career.

But the England international was thrown a lifeline by Fever coach Dan Ryan in the pre-season, offered a position as a training partner and is set to become the most popular option for Covid-affected clubs this season.

Pitman’s availability was not confirmed until Saturday, with the Fever needing to ensure their own pool of players heading to Melbourne for Sunday’s clash against Collingwood was healthy.

West Coast Fever General Manager Performance & Pathway Sue Gaudion said they supported the move.

“We’ve given Chelsea Pitman our support to step in as a temporary replacement player for the Giants this weekend so that their game can go ahead against the Thunderbirds,” Gaudion said.

“We know it’s going to be another challenging year for all clubs and we are committed to doing whatever we can to help the season continue.”

“It’s also a great chance for Chelsea to get some SSN court time and of course we look forward to seeing her back in green at Fever for the remainder of the season.”

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Camera IconChelsea Pitman will line up for the Giants this weekend against her former club the Thunderbirds. MATT LOXTON Credit: News Corp Australia

Under the new protocols a team significantly impacted by the virus can selected a nominated athlete or training partner from another team if they have exhausted their own list of training partners and nominated players able to play the position of the infected player/s.

In order to take to the court Pitman had to sign a temporary replacement player contract with the Giants for Round 2.

Victorian teams the Melbourne Vixens and Collingwood Magpies may look to their state league for a replacement if Covid hits, with former Diamonds midcourter Renae Ingles on court in the Victorian Netball League.

Ingles’ husband, Injured NBA star Joe Ingles, retweeted a post from the Casey Demons netball club welcoming Renae to the club’s VNL side.

Ingles retired in 2019 but such is the 35-year-old’s standing in the game, she would likely be picked up in a heartbeat by either club if they were hit badly by Covid.

The Thunderbirds and Giants clash is due to start at 3.30pm (Adelaide) at John Cain Arena.

GIANTS MATCH TO GO AHEAD DESPITE COVID MESS

Emma Greenwood

The Giants’ Super Netball clash against the Adelaide Thunderbirds seems set to go ahead on Sunday, with the current Covid immunity of several players ironically a curse for the team.

Six Giants players tested positive to Covid this week but pleas to the league to postpone their clash against the Thunderbirds were rejected and the club will be forced to cobble together a squad of injured players, others returning from the virus and training partners from other clubs just to get on the court.

The league’s Covid protocols, released just last week in the lead-up to the season, outline grounds for the postponement of a match, which include having five or more players affected by the virus, or three from any one section of the court (defenders, midcourters or goalers).

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But Netball Australia chief executive Kelly Ryan clarified that those numbers must come from a club’s list of full-time contracted players and while the Giants have six players currently battling Covid, only three of them are from the main group.

Another two — Lauren Moore and Amy Sligar — missed last week’s season-opener against the NSW Swifts with Covid and are yet to receive medical clearances to play this week.

The five remaining members of the full-time contracted list have had Covid in the past few months and almost certainly retain current immunity, meaning it is all but impossible for the club to meet the grounds for postponement of the match.

R1 NSW Swifts vs GIANTS Netball March 26, 2022
Camera IconThe Giants have several players sidelined because of Covid complications but don’t fit the criteria for their contest to be called off. Credit: Supplied

Both Sligar — whose twin, training partner Nat tested positive this week — and Moore will travel to Adelaide on Saturday morning and train in the afternoon and are expected to be cleared to play if they make it through the session unscathed.

While Ryan said the league’s mantra this season was “the game must go on” — an understandable position given the post-season Commonwealth Games means there is no wiggle room to accommodate a backlog of rescheduled matches — the Giants’ situation seems extreme.

Captain Jo Harten, who contracted the virus in January, forcing her to drop out of England’s squad for the Quad Series, said a benchmark had now been set for the season.

“Our playing group (what we have left) are ready and raring to give it our best shot on Sunday … but the precedent has now been set for the entire season,” Harten posted on social media on Thursday.

Ryan is adamant the call will not affect the integrity of the competition.

“I think everybody is holding the sport with high integrity and that has absolutely been the basis of all these decisions,” Ryan said.

R1 NSW Swifts vs GIANTS Netball March 26, 2022
Camera IconNetball Australia chief executive Kelly Ryan says the league’s mantra this season was “the game must go on”. Credit: Supplied

“The fact that we’re still standing up players (for selection) within each of the teams lists, which means they are the best that we have across our country, it takes away from the integrity situation.

“We are not at this particular point talking about getting someone from a state-based league, we’re still talking about those two are legitimately good enough to sit on an SSN (Super Netball) list and that does not give us issues or raise the concern around the integrity of the competition.

“It is less than ideal and I completely appreciate everybody wants to feel their best athletes for every single game but that is ultimately impacted by injury on any given weekend anyway, so there is no ideal scenario when it comes to sport.”

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