Netball fans around the world are keeping a close eye on the first round of the Vitality Netball Superleague with new kids on the block, Leeds Rhinos, will take on the Celtic Dragons to kick the whole season.
Former Adelaide Thunderbirds and Manchester Thunder coach and current Northern Ireland and Leeds Rhinos Head Coach Dan Ryan heads up the new franchise with one of the most exciting rosters in the entire competition.
The Yorkshire-based side has already had a fair few challenges ahead of its inaugural season, not only dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, where England have been hit hard but also recruitment issues, with most recently Madi Browne deferring her move overseas to 2022 after knee rehab.
Coach Ryan said it has tested his mettle ahead of the first centre pass.
‘’A pandemic is tough, not having access to all athletes throughout preseason is also tough. Last week was the first time having 14 athletes all in a training session.,” he told The Inner Sanctum.
‘’The Madi [Browne] decision had been going on in the background for a while now, and with everything going on with her rebab and the current pandemic position over here it was decided better for Madi to get on court comfortable and come over here when she can enjoy that overseas experience a lot more.
‘’Unfortunately, the timing just was not what we hoped, but it is totally understandable to defer and we support her in that decision, we have strength and depth in that front line with experience and new talent and I am very pleased with the progress players are making.’’
With the delay to the Australian international, the club moved quickly to announce replacement player Tuaine Keenan, a specialist circle defender.
‘’During recruitment, we did struggle in recruiting a specialist GK as we had to recruit a few weeks later than the other teams so we have been trying different players in that GK position,” Ryan continued.
“Now, this was a great opportunity to generate better overall balance across the whole squad and that balance is working for us so far, which is an obvious silver lining.’’
He cites the recruitment drive of signing a whole new squad to buy into his full time, high performance programme as one the main challenges in creating his vision.
‘’Recruitment was a big challenge as we started out on this journey, a lot have adapted to the full-time training programme but it is a challenge for some athletes, just because it is not what they were used to, but we are starting to see them thrive now and the passion from them all is so pleasing and rewarding.”
There is also no question that every netball fan is going to be watching with eagle eyes as a new team always brings interest, but Ryan states that the expectations from outside is nothing to bother the team as he has his owns progress priorities for this season.
‘’There is a lot of interest in us because we are a new team, but our expectations are internal, not about external expectations based on names or whatever it might be. Our measure of success in our first season is about where we are game after game and the progress of our team and individuals,” he said.
‘’Where we sit on the ladder is irrelevant to me, I want to know more about our processes, but I want to look at our players as a team and how the team is progressing and improving and what will be will be.’’
But 2021 is no usual season
The 2021 season will look very different to years gone by as the competition heads to two centralised venues in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and then at the Copper Box in London.
A new broadcast deal was also inked and every game will be played live on Sky and YouTube, free of charge (for UK viewers), making the tournament more accessible than ever. This is a move that Ryan undoubtedly sees as a major positive to come out of the terrible situation facing England.
‘’It is amazing, it is unprecedented coverage of Superleague and this is what is what has been needing. Through the Covid pandemic this opportunity has come, to commercialise the Superleague as a product in all England netball operations. This is the week-to-week platform which can showcase netball to the audiences,” he continued.
‘’The league I think needs to consider this centralised venues style going forward, selling out major arenas week in week out, having 5 games back-to-back, split everything between clubs and have every game live, that is what our product can become to drive netball forward and be progressive in our wonderful game.’’