In the middle of her last Vitality Netball Superleague season in the UK with the Surrey Storm, Jade Forbes-Wattley decided to take a long-distance working holiday with a sporting twist.
“I wanted to travel, and I’d feel strange if I wasn’t playing netball at a decent level, so that was the initial pull to Australia,’’ says the English defender.
“I came out here and I had the netball team sorted before I had a job, so that’s very ‘me’.’’
That team is Boroondara Express in the Bupa Victorian Netball League (VNL), where Forbes-Wattley has been reunited with her former Loughborough University coach Kaylea McQuade. She is sharing a house with an old uni friend and living a new life for at least 12 months.
“I dropped Kaylea a message and said ‘I’m coming to Australia, I’m thinking of coming to Melbourne, this is where I could probably set up camp for a while. Do you need a netballer, or do you know anybody that does?’’’ Forbes-Wattley recalls.
“She said ‘Jade, as soon as you get here, come to a couple of training sessions with us, but, absolutely. We’d love to have you if you want to play’.’’
Her December arrival date was on the day of the final trials for the Deakin University Australian Netball League (ANL), Suncorp Super Netball’s feeder competition, which she had considered, until the timing proved to be unhelpful for her weary, jet-lagged self. But it was not only that.
“ANL is a massive commitment and I would almost be going back to my former days of netball being my whole life,’’ Forbes-Wattley says.
“Seeing as I’m starting a new chapter in Australia, netball has to feature, but I wanted it to take a bit more of a back seat while still playing at a good level”.
“I have teammates that play ANL and I think ‘hmmm, maybe I could have done it’, but I’m happy with the decision I made, and I love the club that I’m in.’’
Having spent seven seasons at three Superleague clubs, and now with experience of the Australian state league system, Forbes-Wattley has not found a “huge gulf” in standard between the two. Superleague players tend to be older, with more netball and life experience, she notes, while the amount and diversity of internationals means it is also home to various styles, skills and influences.
“There’s also another layer of professionalism, in Superleague,’’ she says.
“You’ve got all of the fans, a bigger support team, and the training is a lot more intense and all-encompassing. But in terms of the standard, there are some girls that I’ve seen in VNL that I wouldn’t say are that far off potentially being Superleague players.’’
As for traffic coming in this direction, Forbes-Wattley is the only English player currently in the league – “I think so, well, I haven’t seen anyone else!’’ – but would encourage others to make the move as a vehicle for personal growth as well as the netball experience.
Her own story is one of junior excellence, having been selected at the age of just 14 in an England 17/U team that also featured the likes of current Roses captain Serena Guthrie and Giants’ star Jo Harten. Forbes-Wattley continued through the international ranks until she was slightly too young for 2009 World Youth Cup selection and then, by 2013, already too old to be eligible.
But her love for the sport has remained, despite a break after completing her degree in International Relations. She was scheduled to be in Liverpool on the weekend of July 20-21 with her Clan teammates, with tickets to the semis and final of the Netball World Cup purchased long ago.
Instead, Forbes-Wattley will be watching on TV in the middle of the night during a cold winter far, far away, and preparing to play the final VNL round against City West Falcons with Boroondara Express.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces with ANL players coming in and out too, but it’s great,’’ she says of the 2019 season so far.
“They’re a lovely bunch of girls and we’re really starting to hit the ground running, so it’s exciting.’’
Written by Linda Pearce
Jade Forbes-Wattley at Bupa VNL