Rebecca Bulley has had one of the more unique journeys to the Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final. As a player, and as a coach, she holds a place in so much of the history of each side.
Bulley is the only person who can say she has coached and played at both the NSW Swifts, and the Giants. And even though she’ll be standing on the Swifts sideline this weekend, there is plenty of respect for the opposition head coach
Bulley can provide some unique insight into that, as one of the players from the Giants 2017 side, who played in a grand final in their first season. It isn’t the only time she played in a grand final under Julie Fitzgerald.
Bulley also had the privilege in 2008, as a NSW Swift in their first year of the ANZ Championship. The split history means that there is plenty of emotion this weekend, Bulley told The Inner Sanctum.
“It’s obviously a grand final, so it’s a big game regardless, but there is probably a little bit more emotion for me, having played for both clubs and played alongside both some of the Giants,” the Swifts’ assistant coach explained.
So many of the Giants’ players, including key players like Jo Harten, Sam Poolman, Jamie-Lee Price and Kristiana Manu’a were part of the squad with Bulley, and emerging stars like Maddie Hay and Amy Parmenter were training partners on that team.
That Giants team fell achingly short on Grand Final day, despite Bulley’s best efforts. She knows, however, how Fitzgerald will approach the big game.
“Julie, for me, was a coach that instilled a lot of confidence in her players, she’s just letting them go out there and play their game,” Bulley said.
“Julie was probably my favourite coach coming through my netball career, so there’s certainly going to be a lot of emotion, but it’s a grand final, so it’s going to be big anyway, and you’ve just got to deal with that I guess.”
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Bulley was a development coach at the Giants in 2019 and 2020, and while the team didn’t make finals in her time there, her impact on players who were developing cannot be understated.
Sophie Dwyer, is one that stands out, who was playing at a different level last year, and Bulley was one of the coaches charged with overseeing her development last year.
“They’ve got a lot of potential to make Diamonds in the future,” Bulley said, speaking of her former charges at the Giants. “I’ll certainly be hoping they don’t pull out a good performance this weekend,” she joked, with her Swifts hat firmly on.
Bulley’s move in 2021 has exposed her to Briony Akle’s coaching. Akle was a Swift for five seasons under Fitzgerald and has clearly learned some lessons from that experience.
“For Briony, it’s kind of a similar approach [to Fitzgerald],” Bulley said. “She wants them to read the game and adapt as things change.”
Bulley sees it as an important part of the coaching philosophy, to empower players, the way her mentors, Fitzgerald, and now Akle have.
“As coaches, you’ve just got to stay calm, because the players feed off that,” she explained. “You’ve just got to try and provide some insight and some advice to get them to bring their attention back to what they’re doing, rather than thinking about the result.”
Bulley got to have a taste of putting her coaching philosophy into practice this season after Briony Akle missed Round 12 of the season, and Bulley was thrown into the hot seat.
Akle was forced to remain behind in Adelaide due to the quarantine requirements, and a visit to an exposure site in Adelaide. As a result, Queensland’s health restrictions meant she had to remain in Adelaide for 14 days from the exposure.
“Briony was still very engaged, and we had the advantage of new technology such as Zoom,” the assistant coach explained. “She was zooming into our training sessions, watching what they were doing and giving feedback, and we even had her doing the pre-game address in the change room.”
Despite Akle’s connectivity, Bulley was still the one in charge on match day.
“It was just during the game that I was the one that had to make the decisions about changing players in the moment. That’s actually pretty hard, you worry about whether you’re doing the right thing, but it was what it was, and unfortunately, we lost,” she recalled.
“It definitely gave me an insight into what it would be like as a head coach, trying to prepare training sessions and manage the players and things like that.”
As we head into Grand Final day, Bulley is somewhat of a symbol. As the Swifts and Giants do battle, there is so much history. Two brilliant coaches and plenty of Super Netball milestones between them, and there’s a common thread.
She’ll be sitting on the sidelines for the Swifts, waiting in reserve. Despite the history with both clubs and plenty of players, Bulley knows exactly how she feels going into the game.
“I’m definitely going to have my Swifts hat on in the game and will be hoping that they [her Giants prodigies] don’t play very well.
The Suncorp Super Netball Grand Final gets underway at 2:30 pm on Saturday.
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