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The Women's Sports Alliance


Natalie Metcalf on UK netball growth and Thunder’s historic target

Images courtesy of England Netball, Getty & Ben Lumley

The Vitality Netball Super League is “closing the gap” on Australia’s top-flight Suncorp Super Netball division and the UK is doing a “great job” of growing the sport.

Those are the views of Manchester Thunder captain Nat Metcalf (née Haythornthwaite), who returned to Britain for the 2022 season after three years playing down under.

On 7 May this year her team will take on rivals Leeds Rhinos at the AO Arena in Manchester – a sign of the huge increase in popularity netball is currently enjoying across the UK.

“Australia has the most professional league in the world, but we’re now selling out big arenas and it’s so awesome to see and hear how much our sport is developing,” she tells the WSA.

“The word is now out there about netball; so the more people are watching the sport the better and having the opportunity to play and sell-out large arenas is amazing.”

A Barely Recognisable Sport Now

The England international says she’s witnessed a “transformation” in the sport since she began playing for her first team – Yorkshire Jets – back in 2010.

“When I first started in the Super League we were in sports halls and I think my mum was one of the only people in the crowd and there’s thousands of people,” said Metcalf.

“You can see it on TV, across social media more frequently and I think for youngsters out there - girls and boys – seeing netballers as role models is great for the future.”

“It’s really important to have that visibility and show that they can play for clubs across the world as well as do it for a living!”

Image courtesy of England Netball / Ben Lumley

Metcalf played for Manchester Thunder for the 2016 season, before a short stint with WASPS and then heading to Australia for three seasons with New South Wales Swifts.

The 30-year-old, who can play as Wing Attack or Goal Attack helped Thunder secure the Netball Super League crown in her first year back with the team.

Only two teams in history – Wasps and Bath – have successfully defended the title in the history of the division and Metcalf states they have a “target on our backs” after an undefeated season in 2022.

“It's really hard to get to the top, but it's even harder to stay up there,” she tells the WSA.

“Coming off the back of 2022 and winning 22 games in that season was an incredible achievement for us and something that we're really proud of, but this 2023 season we've got some new faces in the squad and we're really looking forward to seeing them in action.”

New Season, New Look, New Players

The new-look to the squad represents quite a significant chance with just two of the starting seven from the Grand Final remaining.

Joyce Mvula, Eleanor Cardwell and Laura Malcolm have all departed to the Southern Hemisphere while Caroline O’Hanlon has transferred to Leeds Rhinos. Ella Bowen and Taylor McKevitt return in defence, while Ioan Christian and Amy Clinton join in attack.

“There’s so much to be excited about and there’s a great vibe about the group who have worked so hard in pre-season,” continues Nat Metcalf.

“I think every team going into the start of the season is looking to get into that top four and for us we've got an opportunity here to defend the title and go back-to-back.

“It’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves, to stay in the moment and work through a process, but raising that trophy at the end of the season would be incredible.”


How to Watch and Follow

To find out more about the new Netball Super League season which sees five fixtures take place on the same day (11 February) at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena…

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