Code breaker Nia Jones believes her summer stint in Australia has been perfect preparation for the most competitive season yet in netball’s Vitality Superleague.
Already a double Wales international in both football and netball, the Celtic Dragons defender spent time in Melbourne in August playing Aussie Rules.
Jones was Down Under at the invitation of the AFL women’s league on a scheme designed to bring in talent from around the world to unearth potential new recruits for the sport.
Two contracts were eventually offered to players from an Irish Gaelic football background, although Jones might have had difficulty making any dramatic switch to a third professional sport as the 26-year-old was already under contract with the Dragons for this season.
Now – as the Dragons begin their season against Team Bath – Jones is feeling inspired to help the Welsh side turn around their recent record of struggle.
“It was a fantastic trip to Australia for me,” says the former Reading and Yeovil Ladies footballer.
“There were a lot of impressive female athletes there and we are still assigned so if we ever want to go back over they will help us find teams.
“The sport of Aussie Rules is great but what was a really valuable experience and an eye-opener was to see how professionally they treat women’s sport over there. It was a completely different ball game.
“It was also only the second time I had been to Australia after being there at the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games. If you like sport and coffee – and I love both – then Melbourne is a fantastic city.
“There was talk about what might happen if we were offered professional contracts, but I had already signed for the Celtic Dragons for another season.”
With another potential string to her sporting bow safely stored, Jones is now concentrating on the new campaign with the Dragons, under new head coach Tania Hoffman.
Jones is now one of the Dragons’ old guard compared to more recent recruits as Hoffman tried to blend experienced Welsh stars such as Jones, Chelsea Lewis and Suzy Drane with new imports from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
The development is one Jones approves of as the Dragons try to stay in touch with the pace-setters in the sport such as Wasps and Loughborough Lightning.
Jones adds: “I played professional football for a couple years at Reading and now semi-professionalism has been stepped up in netball – not just in finance, but also with access to facilities and so on.
“There is pressure on the franchise to produce results that we haven’t produced in recent seasons, but we have a brand new coach, a new team, and people travelling from all over the UK to train.
“Contact time within the squad may have decreased a little, but the strength in depth has increased. It’s about finding the right end of that balance. We have better players, but we are maybe not together so much.
“There is pressure on us, but we are in a privileged position to still be part of the Vitality Superleague.
“Netball is no longer this sport that everyone just plays at school to make sure everyone does some sport. It’s a professional, competitive, well-organised sport and although the franchise system brings pressure to succeed, we are enjoying that pressure.”