- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Competition for England places has never been tougher thanks to the Commonwealth Games, believes the Vitality Roses’ most-capped player, writes Rachel Steinberg.
Jade Clarke first sported the iconic red dress 17 years ago against New Zealand and has collected 179 caps for England since.
The 37-year-old earned her 150th in one of the most iconic matches in Roses’ history: the 52-51 Gold Coast thriller that saw England crowned 2018 Commonwealth Games champions over the Australian host favourites.
Helen Housby’s last-second winning shot propelled the squad to Team of the Year and Greatest Sporting Moment honours at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards, inspiring a new generation of netballers in the process.
Clarke, who was re-selected for a full-time Roses contract last month, said: “I think that momentum of actually winning the Commonwealth Games, we’ve had a lot of good youngsters who are now stepping up and saying ‘this is my time now.’
“And a lot of older players that have been able to stay in the game, like myself and Geva [Mentor] and Jo [Harten], because we’ve got these resources, we’re able to last a bit longer.
“So I think we’ve just got a bigger pool of talent.
“We’ve been able to get lots of girls consistently over to Australia and New Zealand to play, which has really helped.
“And at the same time, the standard of the Superleague has risen.
“It’s all trickle-down, you’ve got so many more people participating because they could naturally see it more.”
The Roses head into their first camp of the 2020-2021 season next month with a Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games title defence firmly in mind.
Clarke, Mentor, Harten and Housby are back in the mix alongside 23-year-old newcomers Halimat Adio and Rhea Dixon.
And on Saturday, Clarke and Dixon’s Leeds Rhinos Netball are set to contest their squad’s first Grand Finals weekend.
The Yorkshire side, who will face table-toppers Loughborough Lightning in the opening semi-final at 1:30pm, made a big splash in their inaugural Superleague season, finishing fourth following the last round of games.
They have yet to beat any of the remaining sides, who also include defending champions Manchester Thunder and five-time Superleague title-holders Team Bath.
Still co-captain Clarke—Rhinos’ first signing—likes her squad’s chances, especially with talented next-generation youngsters like Dixon onside.
She said: “She’s so focused, she’s so skilful.
“I’m actually learning a lot off her. We both give each other confidence.
“We’re always supporting each other, encouraging each other.
“I definitely sent her a few texts to make sure she was putting her hand up for the Roses programme which she already was.
“I knew she had something special, so I wanted to make sure that was on her radar.
“It definitely was because she’s a really focused girl, she’s made the move to Leeds, made that leap, and just made her own opportunity.
“She’s a fighter and I absolutely love that about her.”
The Roses mainstay is relishing the thought of playing a Commonwealth Games final on home turf after featuring in the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool—the highlight of her near two decades-long career.
She said: “I just didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t imagine how popular it would be and what an amazing event it would be.
“The fans made it the best thing I’ve ever experienced in netball.
“The support was outrageous, everything was sold out, you couldn’t walk to the shop without someone wanting to wish you well for the game or talk about the game.
“So it just gives you that next level, you know you’ve got that support in the crowd.
“We’re expecting even better in Birmingham.”
The 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season will come to a climactic end on 26 and 27 June at the Finals Weekend in London. Visit the Vitality Netball Superleague website. Fans can enjoy all matches live via the Sky Sports Mix and YouTube. Keep up to date by following @NetballSL on Twitter and Instagram.