The Robinhood Stars will take a trip down memory lane to where it all began for Counties Manukau region when they face the Splice Construction Magic tomorrow night to celebrate heritage round.
The Stars will wear a special edition heritage dress inspired by the Counties Manukau Cometz who were the first South Auckland franchise to play in the national competition between 1998 and 2003.
Robinhood Stars General Manager Dianne Lasenby says a lot of planning has gone into this special day.
“It is a real privilege for our team to be able to honour the Cometz by wearing this dress. Lasenby said.
“The Cometz supporters back in 1998 were no different to our 2022 fans: extremely passionate about netball, with immense pride in the South Auckland area and 100% behind their local team.”
Maree Bernasconi was with the Cometz from the outset and held many roles, being the primary contact for the franchise and board member and says the formation of the Cometz was a fantastic boost for the Counties Manukau region.
“It was a real boost for netball in our area and the competition was a new one for netball in New Zealand as a whole. Netball hadn’t gone to that level of game before. Everybody was enthused and very keen to see the competition go ahead.” Bernasconi said.
In their first season the Cometz played under the Counties Manukau and Thames Valley banner and this excerpt from the 1998 Coca-Cola Cup season preview sheds light on what the team were all about.
“The comet captures their strength as a team. They are a mass of energy coming from nowhere, just waiting to release their force and blaze a trail across the Coca-Cola Cup. The Cometz use a “z” because the style lends itself to being zany and zapy and should soon be easy to identify as belonging to netball.”
Bernasconi was on hand to present the dresses to the Stars players ahead of Sunday in a special moment for the team.
Stars captain Maia Wilson says it's a privilege to wear the dress.
"The Cometz were trailblazers for
“Shoot for the stars and come Comet watching” was the slogan used by the team and they managed attract some future stars on and off the court. Former Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken was the inaugural Cometz coach, while legendary Silver Ferns mid-courter Temepara Bailey represented the Cometz in 1999.
Bailey looks back fondly on her time with the Cometz.
“It was a huge honour representing South Auckland as it is my home and where I was born and grew up, I have so many good memories and have made some lifelong friends.” Bailey said.
“We were role models in our region and there was a visible pathway for all South Auckland netballers, whether it was players, management or officials. I loved every minute as it felt like a massive family who were united for one goal.”
Current ANZ Premiership coaches Yvette McCausland-Durie and Mary-Jane Araroa also played for the Cometz.
Bernasconi is proud of the quality netball people the team produced during their tenure.
“We took on board Ruth Aitken to coach the Cometz and the she went on to coach the Silver Ferns for quite a few years. We produced some really good people. Judy Goulden was the Cometz doctor and went on to be the Silver Ferns doctor for 10 years. We produced some really good people for netball in New Zealand.” Bernasconi reminisces.
The Cometz were removed from the National Bank Cup in 2003, a decision which broke the hearts of fans and netball identities around the region. Bernasconi says seeing the Stars playing in the Cometz dress this weekend will be incredibly special for all who were part of the team’s journey.
“It’ll be absolutely wonderful to see that uniform back out there. I thought it was the best uniform we ever had, it’s got that big red star on it and it’ll be just amazing.” Bernasconi added.
“It’s history. It’s great and sometimes the girls need to see the water under the bridge and the work that was put in way back in those years.”
The Comets name still lives on within the Stars franchise, with the Comets playing in the National Netball League and both teams still provide a key pathway for local players in the Counties Manukau region.