Jill McIntosh Cardiff Dragons

DERBY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Jill McIntosh, Head Coach of Cardiff Dragons poses during the Netball Super League Media Day Portrait Session at the Radisson Blu Hotel, East Midlands Airport on February 02, 2024 in Derby, England. (Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images for England Netball)

Jill McIntosh Urges Cardiff Dragons To Get Back On Track At Bath

sportswales

By Graham Thomas

Cardiff Dragons head coach Jill McIntosh has urged her team not to let slip their positive start to the season when they face Bath on Friday night.

The Dragons had looked poised to break into the top four play-off places after winning three and drawing one of their opening six Super League matches.

But back-to-back defeats to London Pulse and Loughborough Lightning has stalled that momentum and the Dragons have slipped to sixth, with Leeds Rhinos and Surrey Storm only a point behind them.

“If we win on Friday, we maintain where we are in the table, but if we lose we will slip down a bit and we don’t want to be doing that,” said McIntosh, whose team travel to a Bath side who are one from bottom and who have only won once this season.

“One of our objectives for 2024 was not to be down near the bottom of the table, because the Dragons have often been down there before and we don’t want to be this year.

“We happened to strike two really tough teams in Pulse and Loughborough two weeks’ running and lost, so now it’s about making sure we are still fighting it out for those middle spots.

“It won’t be easy as although Bath haven’t had great results, they were slick when we played them in pre-season. We will need a really solid, four-quarter performance.”

The hugely experienced McIntosh – who led Australia to two world titles – has been credited for making a big impact at the Dragons since her arrival in the Welsh capital 12 months ago.

Dragons captain Nia Jones has pinpointed McIntosh as the key factor behind the team’s early season upsurge from perennial strugglers to the fringes of play-off contention.

The former Northern Ireland coach believes her rebuild of the squad, which followed substantial pre-season recruitment, is running to schedule.

“I was asked before the season started for a prediction,” added McIntosh. “I knew we were a relatively new group that would take a little time to fit together, so I thought we were looking at finishing somewhere in the middle of the table and we are currently sixth.

“So, I would say we are about where I expected – in a group of four teams in the middle of the table who may chop and change a bit from week to week.

“What has really impressed me is how cohesive this group is. They really support each well across the court, and from the bench, and it’s a real pleasure to coach them because they truly enjoy each other’s company.”

McIntosh says that unified spirit was evident in the 69-41 defeat to Lightning last week, when Dragons’ 22-year-old goal keeper Nansi Kuti made her Super League debut.

“She became Cardiff Dragons number 119, but as an inexperienced player she was very nervous before she went on. The scoreboard wasn’t good for us, but the level of support and backing for her when she went on was terrific to see.”

Welsh Feathers international Kuti represents an investment from Dragons in home-based talent, as she came through from the franchise’s training associate group last season.

That points to one further reason why McIntosh is so keen for the Dragons to cement themselves as a progessive force in Super League, rather than an outfit struggling to achieve results.

Next year, the Super League will undergo significant change with a re-launched competition that organisers intend to move towards full blown professionalism.

The franchises will all be up for grabs in a new tender process and McIntosh believes it is essential for the sport in Wales for the Dragons to remain part of the new set-up.

“There are lots of criteria involved, but you would like to think that current results on court will also play a part, going forward, so current success on court is important for all teams,” she added.

“It’s not going to be an easy process to navigate, but I would be very disappointed if Wales was not represented and the same goes for Scotland.

“Otherwise, it becomes just an English Super League and nothing more.”

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