Fijian interceptor Dee Bolakoro is one of seven signings revealed by Vitality Netball Superleague club Celtic Dragons.
British Army soldier Bolakoro, who prides herself on interceptions and spent the summer competing at the Vitality Netball World Cup, has signed for Dragons along with Chelsea Lewis, Abby Tyrrell, Leila Thomas, Amy Clinton, Paige Kindred and Sophie Morgan.
Dragons open the 2020 Superleague season against Surrey Storm at Arena Birmingham on Saturday, February 22 (12.30pm).
That is one of five fixtures being played in Birmingham that day.
Wales defender Thomas returns to the Cardiff-based Dragons after spending the 2019 season at Team Bath, while shooter Chelsea Lewis will be back in green for the new campaign.
Tyrrell, voted ‘Most Improved Player’ in 2019 has committed to Dragons, while former England under-21 shooter Clinton is making the move from Loughborough Lightning to South Wales.
Clinton, a former Oldham Sixth Form College and Loughborough University student, has also played for Manchester Thunder and has built a reputation for scoring high pressure shots.
She won a bronze medal at the Netball World Youth Cup in 2017, playing for England at under-17, under-19 and under-21 levels.
Clinton, who celebrated her 22nd birthday this week, says: “Celtic Dragons offer a new challenge for me and I’m looking forwards to seeing what we can do.
“It’s going to be a great team with some old teammates plus some experienced players, too.”
Joining Clinton in Cardiff will be another former Manchester Thunder player, defender Kindred, who says: “Cardiff already seems like a home away from home, everybody has been so welcoming and of course there are some familiar faces here too.”
“I’ve been really impressed with the facilities and it’s clear that we are a young, hard working bunch with the potential to do some great things this season.”
Kindred enjoyed a great season with 2019 Superleague champions Thunder and, like Clinton, brings experience beyond her years with time spent at former Superleague franchise Team Northumbria.
The 24-year-old from Greater Manchester plays wing-defence or goal-defence.
Welsh wing-attack Morgan, another player with strong connections to Manchester Thunder, is another newcomer to Dragons. The former Surrey Storm player from Brynford, Flintshire who has captained Wales at age-group level, took a year out from Superleague netball in 2019.
Thomas, from Abergavenny, said: “I’m extremely happy to be back home in green with Celtic Dragons where it all started for me and I can’t wait to be back on court in front of the Green Army.
“It’s a new-look team and I’m looking forward to building strong new connections. The franchise has progressed since my previous seasons and I’m excited to see what we can achieve.”
Tyrrell talked about the 2020 season, saying: “I am extremely happy to have this opportunity to be back with Dragons because over the last year I feel I have developed as a player and it’s important to keep developing.
“With support from all the staff at Dragons I know this will be possible.
“Celtic Dragons have really welcomed me to their team and I really felt part of the family. I cannot wait for another season with them.”
Head coach Tania Hoffman is delighted with the seven signings, saying: “I’m hugely excited.
“Amy (Clinton) is an outstanding player who dominated in the under-21 ranks playing for Manchester Thunder. She is somebody who will benefit from regular court time within our system and has plenty of potential to be a strong performer at this level.
“I love Paige’s tenacity and her drive to be better than before. She has a great work ethic and is hungry for game time, while she brings confidence and a willingness to contribute.”
“It’s great to have Sophie (Morgan) back in Dragons colours. She is a player who will contribute strongly to our mid-court connections and is a committed and confident player prepared to take the Superleague challenge head on.”
“Chelsea (Lewis) has been talismanic for Dragons and Wales throughout her career and everybody in the league knows how capable she is, not only in terms of shooting, but also her physicality and ability to impose herself on the game.
“Leila (Thomas) is one of Wales’ most exciting young netballers and she had a good summer series with Wales this year. Getting her back over the bridge for the coming season is fantastic for the franchise.
“Abby’s enthusiasm and passion for this team is really inspirational to see. She developed massively throughout 2019 and I can’t wait to see what she can do in 2020.
“Dee’s (Bolakoro) statistics were impressive last season and her ability to disrupt the opposition will be important to us in the coming campaign. She has played a lot of netball this year and that will stand her in good stead when we kick off our campaign in February.”
Vitality Netball Superleague is entering a 15th year and the opening round on February 22 will be in addition to the normal 18 rounds. This will make the regular season 19 rounds long.
The fixtures for this extra round are determined by where teams finished in the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague. Reigning champions Manchester Thunder will take on runners-up Wasps, third-placed Team Bath take on Loughborough Lightning and so on.
Dragons take on Surrey Storm, a team the Welsh club defeated home and away last season.
The additional round means that each team will play the season opener as well as nine home and nine away fixtures. In Celtic Dragons’ case that means another epic tussle with Surrey Storm, over who Dragons did the double last season.
With Vitality Netball Superleague television audiences up by 27% in 2019 compared to 2018, this new addition to the calendar contributes towards the growing demand for elite netball in the United Kingdom.
Vitality Netball Superleague opening day fixtures on Saturday, February 22 are:
11am: Strathclyde Sirens v London Pulse
12:30pm: Celtic Dragons v Surrey Storm
2pm: Saracens Mavericks v Severn Stars
3.30pm: Team Bath v Loughborough Lightning
5pm: Wasps v Manchester Thunder
Tickets for the season opener are on general sale from Englandnetball.co.uk/tickets
Celtic Dragons play home fixtures at the Wales National Sports Centre in Cardiff.