Leeds Rhinos’ Jade Clarke wants the Netball Superleague’s newest team to start their debut season “with a bang”.
Clarke, England Roses’ most-capped player, has joined Leeds from Coventry-based Wasps, where she won the Superleague in 2018.
With no domestic netball having taken place since last March, mid-courter Clarke wants to “capture the imagination of fans” – despite matches being played behind closed doors.
“It’s been a long time – so when you finally get to the point where you’re going to be stepping on court soon, it’s really rewarding,” said Clarke, 37.
“We’re looking forward to putting our style of netball out into the league and we want to be that really aggressive team who never give up and also have a bit of flair in attack as well.
“We’re really excited.”
The Rhinos, who are affiliated with their namesakes in rugby league, were founded in 2017 and gained entry to the Superleague last year. Clarke was the first player to sign for the team, joining head coach Dan Ryan.
They start their campaign against Celtic Dragons on Friday – the first match of the season.
“At Wasps, we were so successful and I still love the club so much, but I live in Manchester so I wanted to find a team that’s closer to me,” said Clarke.
“I wanted to find the things I enjoyed at Wasps – a family culture, great training, great coaches, great players to play with, and I think I have found that in Leeds.”
‘We’re getting tested every few days’
The announcement of Superleague’s return was made less than two weeks ago, with Covid-19 restrictions having complicated the process of getting the season under way.
Matches will be played at two venues – Studio 001 in Wakefield, and the Copperbox Arena in London – with the season culminating in the Grand Final on Sunday, 27 June.
Players and staff will be tested for coronavirus on a regular basis, and will adhere to social-distancing guidelines.
“We’re getting tested every few days,” said Clarke.
“We’ve had a lot of Zoom calls and education so we know what we’re doing when we get to the venues. It will only be on court that we’ll be without masks and not socially distant.
“It’s really important that we follow all the rules to keep things safe if we want our league to go ahead, and that we’re good role models for people that are watching at home.”
As part of a new broadcast deal with Sky Sports, all matches are set to be broadcast live – a first for the league.
Manchester Thunder are the defending champions after lifting the trophy in 2019 – with the 2020 season having been terminated in May because of the pandemic.
Who else will we see on court?
There has been a good deal of movement in the close season, with new players arriving and some familiar faces returning after spells in Australia and New Zealand.
Beth Cobden returns to her former club Loughborough Lightning after spending time with Adelaide Thunderbirds, while Roses defender Layla Guscoth is back at Team Bath, along with international team-mate Serena Guthrie.
Clarke wants the Superleague to “match up to the Australia and New Zealand leagues” after concerns last season’s cancellation would mean the loss of momentum built during the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup.
“Traditionally we’ve all wanted to go and play over there but we’ve had more quality players coming over to the league this year than ever,” she said.
“I do think it’s really important that netball is visible so that people aren’t forgetting about all the progress we made.
“Last year was a real worry for women’s sport in general – we’ve made such good strides, not just in netball but football, hockey, cricket, all women’s sport is really excelling so we want to keep that momentum going.”
Rules and format tweaked
Among new playing conditions for 2021 are:
- The introduction of 12-minute quarters
- Draws are now permitted, with three points for a win, one for a draw, and none for a loss
- Franchises’ matchday squads will have 12 players
- Some weekends will feature bumper rounds, with teams playing two matches