On The Rise . . . Cardiff Dragons Bid To Go Fourth In Netball Super League

DERBY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Nia Jones, Jill McIntosh, Jacqui Newton and Khanyisa Chawane of Cardiff Dragons pose 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)

On The Rise . . . Cardiff Dragons Bid To Go Fourth In Netball Super League

sportswales

By Graham Thomas

Cardiff Dragons captain Nia Jones has praised the impact of Australian coach Jill McIntosh as they bid to climb into the top four of Netball’s Super League this weekend.

Jones, the Wales skipper, believes McIntosh has transformed the Dragons since her arrival 11 months ago.

A measure of that progress could be apparent in the Super League standings this weekend if the Dragons – who are currently in sixth place – can win their home match against London Pulse, who are fourth.

A victory for the Dragons would lift them into the top four – a significant high water mark for a franchise that has struggled down in the depths in recent seasons and finished bottom last year.

“I feel like a kid in a candy shop again,” said Jones.

“I come away from every session with Jill having learned something new.”

McIntosh is a former head coach of Australia, who led the Diamonds to two world titles and back-to-back Commonwealth Games gold medals.

“Her sessions are super simple, but when you know that they won the Aussies World Cups and Commonwealth Games, you hang on every word she says,” added Jones.

“She is so professional and well-respected, but at the same time she is super-approachable and absolutely lovely.

“We are so lucky she is here. The culture she has created and the quality of player she has signed is coming to fruition. We are putting in good performances and getting results.”

Those results have so far been a marked improvement on last season, when McIntosh joined midway through the Super League campaign.

After extensive recruitment – that included the return of Jones from Leeds Rhinos and the capture of South African international Khanyisa Chawane, plus experienced Australian Jacqui Newton – the Dragons have only lost two matches out of six so far this season.

Their three victories – one game was drawn – is already one more win than they managed in the whole of last season.

“There has definitely been a change,” added Jones.

“It was easy enough to just say that the Dragons needed more belief, but the quality of squad this year has made a world of difference.

“You can only go so far with the ingredients you have. We have strength in depth in so many positions now and that’s a massive credit to the recruitment team.

“We have targeted certain matches and so far we have either got really close, or we have ticked them off already.

“We are playing a top four team in Pulse and I genuinely think this group is full of confidence for that game – especially here at home in Cardiff. At home in Cardiff, we can beat anybody.”

Pulse are currently level on points with third-place Seven Stars, with both teams two points ahead of Saracens Mavericks and the Dragons, with four teams separated by just two points.

For McIntosh, occupying one of the play-off places with only one third of the season gone, would be work completed ahead of schedule.

But the former Australia international – who has also coached in her homeland, as well as in New Zealand, Jamaica and Northern Ireland – has been impressed by how quickly her new recruits have combined with those who remained in the squad following nine departures at the end of last season.

“The whole squad is very cohesive,” said McIntosh.

“They are a very united group who work well together, who get on well together, and whether or not they were here last year, they have gelled very nicely.”

Goal shooter Georgia Rowe was one of those who were retained from last season. She believes the return of her Wales teammate Jones has proved to be just as significant as the hiring of McIntosh.

“The energy that Nia brings to every single session, every strength and conditioning session, and every game is huge,” said Rowe.

“She is constantly messaging all of us and tracking how we are doing.

“I have had the pleasure of playing with Nia for many years now and when we have been apart at different franchises, I haven’t felt as comfortable.

“I love having her in this team. The whole team would say exactly the same. She brings so much encouragement to all of us.”

After hosting last season’s runners-up Pulse this weekend, the Dragons then visit second-placed Loughborough Lightning on April 5.

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