Home Australia Australian Kelpie Josh Byron is thriving in men’s netball, after a brief sabbatical trying to make it in the AFL.

Australian Kelpie Josh Byron is thriving in men’s netball, after a brief sabbatical trying to make it in the AFL.

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Players wearing dark blue t-shirts and shorts run together and jump over each other as they celebrate.

We almost lost him to the AFL, but it turns out a few years away from netball was just what Australian Kelpie player Josh Byron needed to reach the best form of his career.

Crowned MVP of this year’s Australian Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (AMMNA) Championship Grand Final at the weekend, the defender played a key role in Victoria’s 44-37 victory against New South Wales in the men’s open competition.

It was just one of four divisions the state claimed in the tournament, and also won the men’s reserve, U23 and U17 categories.

Victoria celebrates winning the AMMNA Men’s Open grand final.(Clusterpix Photography: May Bailey)

Although Byron wore a darker shade of blue than in previous years, he said the decider felt more like a healthy rivalry than a grudge match against his former team.

Especially considering there were 10 domestic players in that grand final on both sides, and the Australian unit tends to be a fairly close-knit group.

The performance puts him in an excellent position ahead of the Kelpies’ selection for the Australian tours scheduled for later in the year, and cements the 27-year-old’s decision to venture back into the game in 2023, after moving out of state and taking a three-year sabbatical. .

Australian rules or netball?

Byron’s netball career began on the NSW U17 track and saw her burst onto the open scene quite early. By the time he finished the 2019 AMMNA Championships, playing seven years in a row had left him exhausted and looking for a new challenge.

Byron is lifted by a teammate into the air as the ball sails toward his raised hand just in front of the net.

Byron flies high as he and his teammate successfully complete the famous ‘Harrison Hoist’ move to recover the ball.(Clusterpix Photography: May Bailey)

The original plan was to take a year off, move to Victoria and follow Aussie Rules, but then the COVID pandemic hit and those opportunities started to dry up. By 2022, the nationals had returned and the Kelpies were invited on a groundbreaking tour with the Diamonds, while Byron watched from afar.

The doubleheaders played during this trans-Tasman tour saw the men’s national team televised for the first time. It was the push the dynamic goalkeeper needed to return to his old sport and he hasn’t looked back.

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“I followed the path of introducing myself to AFL pathways as an alternative sport athlete, this was just before COVID and they had some great cross-code pathways at the time so I was grateful enough to be part of the wider Essendon. VFL team,” Byron told ABC Sport.

“But watching those nationals in 2022 in Adelaide, I really missed not being there and when I saw the Australian team later that year at that historic international event, it showed me that there was clear progress in netball that I wanted to be a part of.

“Since returning to the environment I have never felt more invigorated or motivated to continue improving as an individual and there are now many opportunities to contribute to the bigger picture, which becomes something you can strive for and hopefully have a positive influence on.

“We really want to maximize the visibility we are getting in men’s netball now and make sure we give young people role models and a path to look forward to so they can play the sport they love, and not feel like there is an end.” date or deadline on when they can play.

Align management

Byron is just one of the interesting characters in men’s netball who often fail to get the recognition and media coverage they deserve, but as netball looks to push for a debut at the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, things have started to improve slowly.

Men’s and women’s football is still run separately at national level, but in many of the states and territories there is a push to unite them under one flag.

Currently, member organizations run several M-Leagues and men’s categories have been added to several state junior titles.

Netball Queensland is believed to have become the first to establish a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with its senior men’s team, the Queensland Suns, while Netball NSW and Netball Victoria are in early talks to do the same.

“If the ambition is really to grow our footprint nationally and internationally, particularly with aspirations of becoming an Olympic sport, then these deals will help,” Byron said.

“There is an untapped market in men’s netball and knowing that work is being done to move towards more aligned support is exciting.

Players wearing dark navy jerseys huddle with one finger up to show they are number one.

Victoria was the most successful state at the recent AMMNA Championships, eliminating four divisions.(Clusterpix Photography: May Bailey)

“These MoUs are the right step towards creating a more collaborative set-up, but we are also realistic in knowing that these things don’t happen overnight and we are not here demanding a men’s Super Netball league next year or anything similar. that.

“We just hope that, at some point in the future, there will be visible opportunities for men to take up the sport and potentially make it their job, because right now, whenever someone posts about men’s netball, there are always a ton of comments saying They say, ‘I didn’t even know that existed.’

“There is definitely branding work to be done around men’s football and at this point the MoUs are a significant sign of progress to get us there.”

Super Netball Recognition

Two men pose for a photo in their navy and yellow Lightning blouses, the one on the left has his arms crossed.

Sunshine Coast Lightning training partners Jordon Webb and Lachlan Carter play for the AMMNA Queensland Suns, while Webb also starred for the Kelpies in the last Fast 5 tournament.(Supplied: Sunshine Coast Lightning)

At Super Netball level, this season Sunshine Coast Lightning have named official men’s training partners as part of their expanded squad: Jordon Webb and Lachlan Carter.

West Coast Fever have also signed four training partners to a club contract: Dylan McPherson, Dan Cools, Jerome Gillbard and Dravyn Lee-Tauroa.

Training against male netball players is common practice for each of the eight Super Netball teams, but generally for the men it is done as a somewhat thankless task, behind closed doors.

Although most miss out on any formal recognition, Byron says it’s not all easy and that men tend to learn a lot from these experiences in high-performance environments.

Jerome Gillbard turns his body while taking the ball with a New Zealand defender on his back

Australian marksman Jerome Gillbard is one of Fever’s training partners.(Getty: Daniel Pockett)

“Before Lightning this year, the West Coast and [the now defunct] Collingwood have probably been the two that have involved a large group of men consistently in their clubs,” Byron said.

“The Giants have had Taylor Glassie as an individual training partner in the past and I know the South Australian boys train quite a bit against the Thunderbirds.

“In Melbourne, the Vixens and the Mavericks were very accommodating and helped us prepare for our national campaign, then we also had the public game against the Mavericks in February which was an incredible experience.

“Those two clubs have offered players from all of our state divisions the opportunity to join training, so I have no doubt that those types of formal agreements will continue to grow and be seen more as time goes on.”

Should a Men’s World Cup be on the cards?

In addition to the doubleheaders played between Australia and New Zealand in recent years in the international window, men’s netball also made its Fast 5 debut.

England and South Africa have joined old trans-Tasman rivals in these events and there are many more countries with men’s national teams seeking competitive exposure, such as Singapore, who participated as a guest team in the AMMNA Championships last week.

Then there’s the 2027 Netball World Cup in Sydney, a couple of years before the Brisbane 2032 organizing committee decides which local Australian sports will enter the Olympics.

The Australian men's team dressed in green and gold pose together as the captain places the trophy aloft.

The Australian team holds the Trans-Tasman Trophy high in New Zealand in 2023.(Getty: Fiona Goodall)

So could the 2027 netball event be an opportunity to host a smaller-scale men’s World Cup parallel to the women’s? Maybe that would catch the attention of the Olympic organizing committee?

“There is an appetite on the part of all the male players to see something like this happen and we have organized our own world events in the past, I think back in 2013 was the last one, but we are looking at what the future will be like, if they decided to align the men’s and women’s cycles or having them on opposite cycles to have a major tournament every two years, who knows,” Byron said.

“It seems like a goal that is very far away and if it would take three years or more, like another World Cup cycle or two… Never say never… There is a large cohort of countries that play and if the post-COVID growth of the men’s netball If there is anything to go by, the opportunities are truly endless.

“At the moment we use all our annual leave on our full-time jobs for the national champions and our commitments to the Kelpies, and we’re still paying to be able to play, so there’s a lot of sacrifice there.

“We understand that we may not be part of the generation that gets to bear the fruits of that, but in 10 years, if we can sit back and be happy about the state of the game, then we will be proud.”

AMMNA Championship 2024 Results

Men’s Open -Victory

Male reserves -Victory

Mixed Open – New south Wales

Mixed Reserves -Queensland

23/Under -Victory

20/Under – West Coast

17/Under -Victory

International Athlete of the Year Award: Liam Forcadilla (New South Wales)

Emerging International Athlete of the Year Award: Daniel Statton (QLD U17)

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