Elle McDonald has had quite a journey through the SSN which has lead her to the SuperLeague. (Picture: Melbourne Vixens, Elle McDonald/Twitter, Adelaide Thunderbirds, Design by Madeline Irwin)

Despite not receiving a SSN contract for 2023, Elle Mcdonald was determined to continue to pursue a career in netball. She did this by taking a chance across the world at the Leeds Rhinos in the Netball SuperLeague, where she has also taken the role of vice-captain.

Through the 2022 Suncorp Super Netball season playing for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Elle Mcdonald received little court-time behind the clubs’ captain and vice captain in Hannah Petty and Maisie Nankivell respectively. Along with the development of Georgie Horjus who played in wing attack as well as local talent Tayla Williams, Mcdonald was left without a contract offer from the club for this upcoming season.

Taking the opportunity that was presented by the Leeds Rhinos head coach Liana Leota, Mcdonald has packed up her life to play in the SuperLeague.

She spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about the last few months, including both a SuperLeague debut and an international debut for the England Roses. She also explains why Leeds was a ‘perfect fit’ for her new chapter.

“Leeds Rhinos is a relatively new club in the SuperLeague so I think being part of something that’s obviously building sounded really exciting,” Mcdonald told The Inner Sanctum.

“[To play for] Liana Leota, as the coach [was appealing to me]. It was really amazing to get a phone call from her and hear her say she wants me to come and play for her team, because she was just such a legend of our game.

“As a middie (midcourter) [herself], I had so much to learn from her and I think just the team that she brought together, I was really excited by [it].”

Having taken the reins as vice-captain under Nia Jones who was made captain, Mcdonald will be learning from a great wealth of knowledge throughout the year. Also moving to the Rhinos in the off-season, Jones has come from the Celtic Dragons in the SuperLeague.

Having made her 53th international test cap for Wales in the Commonwealth Games, she will have the experience to lead the Rhinos through the 2023 season. Mcdonald explained her role in the team and how she sees leadership being distributed in the team.

“Being a team sport and having some really experienced players in that group, we’ve got a lot of natural leaders,” she said.

“You can’t really look past people like Vicki [Oyesola] and Caroline [O’Hanlon], who have played so many SuperLeague games and are so experienced in that sense but I’m really happy to step into that role and work under Nia [Jones] as captain.

“I think everyone in the team has those leadership qualities so I think it’s just us being the heads at the top and bringing everyone together in that sense on and off the court and I think we are doing pretty well so far.”

Having now played in what is considered two of the best netball leagues in the world in the SSN and the SuperLeague, Mcdonald spoke about how they compare to each other in terms of the standard of talent coming through.

“It’s obviously still relatively new [to me] having played a handful of games here, but the intensity of the matches is really tough, it’s physical and just hard netball [and] that’s what I love playing. I’m really enjoying the physicality of it.”

“I think we are getting more players coming across [to the SuperLeague] and that’s just really strengthening the league itself but that’s not to say that England or the UK don’t have the talent coming through their pathways as well.

“Just being part of the England Roses program, I’ve been able to see those up and coming players there as well as the England A or the Future Roses. I think having those girls getting that experience at SuperLeague level is only strengthening the competition and already we’ve seen some really close games.”

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Coming into a new team and building connections with her goalers is Mcdonald’s goal individually this season, she explained how she can build on this and help her team gain consistency.

“For me, coming over here I just wanted to just get back to playing netball, that’s what I love doing and I’m really grateful so far to be able to be in starting line-ups and getting court time so that’s a huge win for me,” Mcdonald said.

“I’m looking to be brave and let those balls go into my goalers and if they don’t come off, we learn from that together. We are able to put together some really good netball, and then we have also seen those lapses where we know that certain things aren’t good enough.

“We’ve just got to build on that consistency because we know that when we are at the top of our game that we can take it to any opposition but we’ve got to make sure we are doing that consistently to give ourselves a chance and get some wins on the board.”

Getting her start in domestic netball for the Melbourne Vixens in the Suncorp Super Netball League, Mcdonald was offered her first contract in 2020. Being involved in the squad that won the premiership in that year, she recalls her time at Melbourne.

“I think it was such an amazing experience for me, growing up in Australia and looking up to all those players playing in the Suncorp Super Netball League so it was pretty surreal to get that first training partnership with the Melbourne Vixens,” she said.

“[The Vixens were] my team being from Melbourne and I think a few of the girls even grew up around my area and played at similar junior clubs and things like that so they were definitely role models and it was amazing to get to train and play alongside some of those girls.

“[I] had an amazing 2020 with them and obviously being part of that premiership win was so special and something I’ll remember for a very, very long time. It was amazing to be offered a full-time contract with the Adelaide Thunderbirds for the 2021 and 2022 seasons and I just think it was an amazing experience to get to live out my dream and do what I love doing every single day.”

Having played with and against some legends of the game within the SSN, Mcdonald described the impression left on her by some Melbourne Vixens premiership players.

“[One mentor to me would be] Kate Moloney who was captain of the 2020 team, she grew up in Diamond Creek which was close to me and we played at the same junior club,” she said.

“I’d sort of watched her journey through the Victorian netball pathway and she’s now in the Aussie Diamonds squad so I think to play against her in training because we were often matched up as centres, was just really cool. She is such a great leader.

“In that [premiership] team as well they had the likes of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip, they both had amazing journeys as well and it was such an amazing experience to get to play with them and see them as goalers. To be honest, I was just amazed to be sitting on the sidelines watching them throughout that season as well so that was a great experience.”

Former Melbourne Vixens Tegan Philip (left) and Caitlin Thwaites (right) with current Vixen Mwai Kumwenda (centre) (Picture: Melbourne Vixens/Website)

After two seasons at the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Mcdonald was not offered a contract for the 2023 season. She opened up about how the stint with Adelaide ended and what motivated her to move abroad.

“Towards the end of last season with the Adelaide Thunderbirds I guess I probably wasn’t getting as much court time as what I would have liked and the club decided to look elsewhere for that opportunity,” Mcdonald recalled.

“Unfortunately I missed out on getting myself a contract for the next year but I think very shortly after that happened and after the disappointment of that, I decided to look ahead and look at this new adventure which was possibly on the cards for me here in the UK.

“After talking with Liana Leota at Leeds Rhinos, I was really happy and excited to make the move across and obviously with my English heritage, I thought why not take a chance, who knows what could happen and [it’s] really awesome that I’ve come over here and already made my debut for the England Roses.”

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