Nia Jones

Cardiff Dragons captain Nial Jones. Pic: Huw Evans Agency.

Patience Pays Off For Nia Jones As Cardiff Dragons Prepare To Take Flight

sportswales

By Graham Thomas

Nia Jones believes netball’s move towards becoming a full-blown professional sport proves she made the right call when she switched from football.

The Cardiff Dragons captain will lead her team for the remainder of the Netball Super League campaign, safe in the knowledge they have secured a place in the new, revamped structure that will replace the existing one next year.

The news that Cardiff had secured one of the available franchises inspired Dragons to one of their best results of the season at the weekend – a 63-43 away win at Saracens Mavericks.

Cardiff Dragons Predict Decade Of Transformation For Professional Netball

Like Welsh boxing world champion Lauren Price, Jones is a double international, having won 30 caps for Wales as a footballer before her decision to concentrate on netball.

It was seven years ago that Jones, 32, opted to place the indoor round ball ahead of the outdoor one, putting aside her career with Reading in the Women’s Super League in order to play for the Cardiff Dragons, who were then known as the Celtic Dragons.

She may have captained Welsh Feathers and become her country’s best known netballer, but she might have been forgiven for wondering if she made the right call as the WSL has exploded into the stratosphere – at least in terms of crowd figures and TV coverage, if not quite in the area of players’ wages.

“I watch Arsenal women play in front of sell-out 60,000 crowds at the Emirates Stadium and I’ll admit it, I’m jealous,” says Jones.

“That’s the first emotion that comes, but good luck to them. I’m really happy for them. They fully deserve it.”

This week’s announcement that the Dragons will be part of an elite eight-team Netball Super League next season is intended to be the next step towards the kind of professional framework that has taken shape in the WSL.

The big difference, as Jones points out, is that there is no blueprint or roadmap for professional netball in the UK as there has been for women’s football.

“Unlike football, where there is a long established pro men’s game, we are creating our own blueprint in football,” she says.

“We are the stalwarts and the influencers in the sport as a whole and I think that’s hugely inspiring for young girls coming through.

“The fact that netball is readily accessible for every girl in school – and football is still sometimes not quite like that – that’s something we need to capitalise on.”

Netball’s authorities have opted to revamp their Super League with a ruthless commercial outlook.

Some of the traditional clubs who have earned respect, success and affection – such as Team Bath and Severn Stars, who are based in Worcester – have been jettisoned.

In their place have come brash, big-city based franchises, including one in Nottingham, who are owned by and titled, Nottingham Forest.

“It’s been pretty cut-throat,” admits Jones, who combines playing for the Dragons with coaching at Cardiff University.

“So, there have been mixed emotions for me because I’ve got some close friends and former teammates at franchises who are not going to be part of the future.

“But this was necessary. The reduction in numbers is going to bring in real competition for places. That will drive up standards and be the basis for an elite, professional sport.”

The sport has set a 10-year time frame in which to achieve full-time, well-paid full professional squads, although the pace may be far quicker and wages are set to increase considerably as early as next season.

Players could be earning part-time deals around the £15,000 mark next season, with the idea that full-time contracts worth anything up to 40K or 50K may follow.

Those financial rewards for her sacrifices – in terms of time and career goals outside of sport – have convinced Jones she made the right choice to leave football behind.

“I have the benefit of experience. I was at Reading when we gained promotion into that top division and it was a difficult process trying to manage players going from part-time to near-on full time.

“Netball can learn from other sports. It’s difficult to switch for players who have full-time jobs outside of netball, or mortgages to pay.

“I’m still Peter Pan so I haven’t really got those ties, for the very reason that I was hoping this day would come.

“It will be tough filling big arenas, but my belief is that pretty soon girls, women, boys and men, will want to come to places like the Cardiff Arena and watch the likes of the Cardiff Dragons play professional netball.

“I am 32 now, but I still feel full of beans. I take good care of myself physically and I want to be part of this future.

“I don’t think I am slowing down, I have a certain level of experience and leadership, but it’s not me that this is about.

“It’s the general message it sends out to young girls. I have seen women’s rugby and women’s football move down the professional track and now it’s time for netball.

“There is a huge carrot at the end of the stick.”

sportswales

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