NSL win would be sweetest yet says Lightning captain Nat Panagarry

Nat Panagarry’s wife Katie was diagnosed with stage four clear cell cancer last year

Nat Panagarry believes her side’s fight amidst adversity will stand them in good stead this season (NAOMI BAKER)

By James Reid, Sportsbeat

Loughborough Lightning captain Nat Panagarry admits lifting this year’s Netball Super League trophy would be the sweetest yet.

Panagarry’s wife Katie was diagnosed with stage four clear cell cancer last year, meaning the England centre’s pre-season was filled with hospital appointments rather than training sessions, with the couple also getting married in November.

The Blackpool native has since returned to the court for Lightning and is now relishing returning to a slice of normality ahead of Saturday’s season opener, spurred on by the courage of her partner.

“I think if we lift that trophy this year, I will be unconsolably crying with the amount of tears and energy that will have gone into it,” said Panagarry.

“Katie has been incredible. She is my idol and superhero.

“I always think, gosh when I play netball, I am tired and sore but that’s nothing compared to what her body is going through. For me, it makes it easier; watching her, I am in awe.

“It has put things into perspective. Netball is one of the most important things in my life, but not the most important thing.

“That actually takes away a bit of pressure which is quite nice. I feel a bit more chilled within netball now.

“I am more relaxed with my own game and I put less pressure on myself but that desire to win and hunger has actually intensified.

“It’s there even more, the amount we have all been through as individuals, that will is even more to get to the final and lift that trophy.

Lightning have unfinished business following last season’s Grand Final defeat to Manchester Thunder.

Vic Burgess’ side eventually went down 60-53 and Panagarry believes her side’s fight amidst adversity will stand them in good stead this season.

“That final wasn’t the fairytale we wanted it to be, we had a lot of injuries, Ella Clark going down in the first five minutes was something you can’t really prepare for,” she reflected.

“Me and Hannah Joseph came in at half-time and it just felt like we were drowning, I didn’t know how we were going to go out and play.

“I don’t even remember that game, it was just a whirlwind. We’re a bit more prepared for that now, things can happen, anything can be thrown up.

“At one point we were maybe 15-20 down and the game had gone but that fight back of losing by less than 10, I am so proud of that character.

“The culture that we have built, and the friendships we have, you can see that on the court. We get on so well.”

It is that culture that has helped Panagarry back on court and loving her netball again, with teammates and coaching staff providing support.

And with a new perspective on the game, Panagarry believes her more relaxed approach may even have made her a better player.

“I can’t thank the girls enough,” she added. “Especially Ella [Clark], Beth [Cobden], and Hannah [Joseph]. They have been a rock for me and constantly checking in.

“I was a little bit apprehensive at first as to whether I could handle it. I was quite honest with Loughborough and England that I just physically don’t know and they have been amazing to say they understand that.

“As a player I know I’m quite intense and I have my structure and my ways, I want the best all the time but you realise there is a lot going on with everyone behind the scenes and it has put that into perspective; there is more to life.

“In pre-season I felt like I have been playing better and I hope that I can take that into the season.

“I have felt more confident, more comfortable on my feed. If I do make an error, I don’t need to get frustrated. It’s just one and I move on, and there’s been more growth in my game.”

The 2023 Netball Super League season gets underway on Saturday 11 February, live on Sky Sports. Tickets to games across the season can be found at: //netballsl.com/tickets