Jade Clarke boosted by new challenge at Leeds Rhinos Netball

Jade Clarke is one of the most respected netballers in the world. She made her England debut 17 years ago but has no plans on calling it a day any time soon.

Instead, Clarke has just put pen to paper on a new contract with a new franchise: Leeds Rhinos Netball.

The 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season will be the franchise’s first in the competition and the announcement of Clarke as their first squad member, turned heads around the world.

The mid-court player is strong enough to step into any Southern Hemisphere side and her decision to join the full-time programme at Leeds Rhinos, signalled the intent of leader Dan Ryan.

“When you’re building a team from scratch you really need to identify those athletes who are going to bring a lot to the environment, not just on the court but off the court,” Ryan, the high-performance director and head coach, said.

“Jade is an incredibly influential person in a team environment and she’s going to be a great mentor and support for our younger athletes who are coming through the ranks and emerging in Superleague.”

Not only will Clarke support the younger athletes, she will deliver world-class performances in Rhinos’ mid-court. Her work rate sets the tone within the Vitality Roses programme and her natural feel for the game means that she effortless switches between WD and C at the drop of a hat.

“Jade’s longevity really is inspiring,” Ryan added. “She’s an absolute workhorse, her dedication and drive is unrivalled and her professionalism is always first class.”

Unwavering belief in all of your athletes, I have loved being coached you Mel!! Thankyou for everything you’ve done for me ❤️ https://t.co/uYOXBcs2UU

Clarke, who has just left the UK for England’s tour of New Zealand, has spent the last couple of years with Wasps Netball. It’s a club that she loves dearly but one that also meant a huge amount of work for her during the season.

“I’ve got nothing but great things to say about Wasps. They’re like my family, I absolutely love the club and the culture there was absolutely amazing,” Clarke said of her former team.

“The thing for me was the travel, I live in Manchester and was travelling down to Coventry. I felt like I wanted more time to be able to train and be with the team.

“So, that’s what Leeds will provide with their programme. I was looking for all of the qualities I had – the family culture, great coaching and great team-mates – and I can see all of them at Leeds Rhinos as well.”

Thankyou to everyone at @waspsnetball for giving me the opportunity to be part of such a special club for the last 3 years. @tamsingreenway @mel.mansfield coaches, management & players you created an environment where I could totally be myself & gave me all the tools I needed to thrive & be happy on and off the court. So much to celebrate, @netballsl title & @tamsingreenway’s last game as player coach. 2 wasp babies 💕 @mydunnstagram’s 200th game & our captain @haitchare’s outstanding career. The best times appreciating being together as a team. THANKYOU to all of the amazing supporters who were so welcoming to me, I’ll miss our chats!! #onceawasp

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At 36-years-old and having made her England debut in 2002, one might think that retirement could be something that Clarke is thinking about. However, that’s absolutely not the case.

“Oh no [I’m not doing that]. Other people might be thinking it but I’m definitely not thinking about it,” she said.

“Since I was little, I’ve always wanted to make the most of any opportunity and I’m really enjoying my netball. I still think that I’ve got a lot to learn and my body feels good, so that’s not happening! I’ve got a few more seasons in me.”

Lots of hard work behind the scenes at @RhinosNetballSL HQ to make this all happen. Looking forward to announcing our inaugural team and finally getting started 👊🦏 https://t.co/cUlKzoWMAq

For Clarke, the draw of Leeds Rhinos Netball was more than just one of convenience. She’s worked with Ryan before at the Adelaide Thunderbirds and loves the idea of helping to develop and shape the franchise.

“It’s a chance to start something with a new team, create our own environment and a culture. We are going to be the first players to have ever played for the franchise and that’s so exciting.

“I think with the year that we’ve had… the build-up has been so long, it will be nice to be all together and working towards the season.

“I’m so looking forward to being able to work from scratch and stamp our own style on the league,” she added. “Hopefully we can bring something a bit different and something that will really be exciting to watch.

“When we can get crowds in, we want them to really enjoy watching us play.”

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For everyone, not just elite sportsmen and women, 2020 has been a year like no other. In the case of England’s elite netballers, it has marked the longest period without netball and training since they entered the sport many years ago.

From an athletic perspective, Clarke has looked at the positives. She’s used the time away from the ever-moving treadmill of competition to restore her body and has focused on other aspects of her life.

“For a lot of us, it’s given us time to look after our bodies, rest and give attention to a lot of the things that you don’t normally have time for.

“It’s nice to take stock and also make some life decisions. Also, I think for me, it’s good practice for when I do retire. When the lights go out on my netball career, you can’t rely on that game every week to get your high,” she said openly.

“You’ve got to pay attention to your life, your relationships and feel good about yourself.”

Athletes often speak about their sporting achievements defining who they are, and for Clarke this period has reminded her to continue to define herself as Jade the person, and not just Jade the netballer.

“It’s about saying to yourself, ‘I’m Jade and I’m a valuable person’, rather than placing your value on your netball achievements. It’s remembering that you have a lot to offer when netball is long behind you.

“Friends and family are so important to help with that because they don’t care if you win or lose your match, they just love you for being you.”

The Vitality Roses are back 👊 Departing: England 🛫 Destination: New Zealand 🛬

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Before Clarke joins Leeds Rhinos Netball and starts to shape their culture and future, she has the small task of taking on the world champions New Zealand, in their own backyard.

The 36-year-old joins Serena Guthrie and Kadeen Corbin as England’s more experienced players in their 16-strong squad for the series.

“It will be a big boost for everyone in this country to be able to watch the Roses,” Clarke said about the series, which will be live on Sky Sports.

“We’ve got to get back out there and test ourselves, how better to do that than against the World Champions?

“It will really tell us where we’re at, if we play well it will be brilliant and the start of our journey back to international netball. We’ve got a point to prove that we may have missed some time, but we want to keep pushing on.”

With her exceptional attitude and fitness, Clarke will be someone who pushes England in New Zealand and then when she returns, she’ll transfer her focus back to Leeds Rhinos Netball and prepare for their inaugural Superleague season in 2021.

Live netball returns to Sky Sports with the Vitality Roses taking on the Silver Ferns in a three-Test series at the end of October. Join us for the first Test on October 28.

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