19 December 2020

Leeds Rhinos Netball boss Dan Ryan says ‘expectations are minimal’ as side prepare to make court debut with just ‘11 weeks’ history

Leeds Rhinos Netball head coach Dan Ryan has said his ‘expectations are minimal’ as the side prepare for their debut at this weekend’s Rise Again Festival in Manchester. 

It will be the first visible matchplay of elite netball in nearly ten months due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The event will act as a warm-up ahead of next year’s Vitality Netball Superleague season that is due to begin in February, and will see Loughborough Lightning, Surrey Storm, Strathclyde Sirens, Manchester Thunder, Saracens Mavericks and Rhinos compete.

But Ryan, who’s team has just ‘11 weeks of history,' is more excited than nervous.

Ryan, who has had experience coaching in the Suncorp Super Netball and the ANZ Premiership, said: "It’s just good to get out on court and play against an opposition that isn’t ourselves. 

"We are very realistic around expectations, around the quality of our performance considering our history is 11 weeks old as a squad.

“We will be embracing all of the opportunities the return to elite netball will give us, the visibility bit, the chance to play against another team, the chance to simply to get on court and practice what we have been working on.

"I’m not nervous by any stretch of the imagination, I’m enjoying seeing them everyday in a training capacity and look forward to seeing them compete as a team.

“I think the reality for me that my expectation for this group is session on session and the reality we have zero history, we have never played together, we are building a team and a franchise from scratch.”

With the year coming to an end all ten teams in the VNSL have confirmed their squads for the new season, and Leeds Rhinos have made some world-class signings. 

Former Australian Diamond star Madi Browne, who arrives in the UK in the New Year, and England’s Jade Clarke are both locked in for the 2021 season. 

Despite having these high calibre of players, Ryan is aware that having these ‘big names’ does not necessarily bring success.

“We want to utilise the skillsets and weapons of the athletes that we have. We have a vision of how we want the game to be played and the brand of netball we want to be,” he added.

“Externally there might be expectations on us because we have a couple of big names but it doesn’t guarantee us to be successful.”

Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder played last week behind-closed-doors

(Twitter: Leeds Rhinos Netball)

However, the 14-player squad has an average age of 23, which could be seen as a disadvantage, but Ryan thinks otherwise. 

He said: "Part of the recruitment strategy is we wanted a core group of players that could grow year upon year so the club has the opportunity to be sustainable which is really important for a brand new franchise.

“It’s pretty young but a lot of these players have had a taste of Superleague experience before and they know what it’s all about, and now it’s about really breaking through the glass ceiling and taking the next step.

"And obviously, the best way to develop and nurture the emerging talent is to play with some experienced players around them, giving them that support and that guidance. 

"While we have a sprinkling of senior athletes at the top of our list, the majority of our group are really in that young, emerging, developmental phase.”

And even though the ultimate aim is to be a ‘competitive’ side next season, the athletes and Ryan himself are not getting ‘fixated’ on placings or scorelines. 

He said: “We certainly want to be a competitive franchise and I think if we perform to the potential some of the athletes within our group have demonstrated so far in the training block that we’ve had, we can certainly be a competitive team. 

"However, we have no right to really set any expectations or demand where we want to finish because we have nothing to back that up.

“The results at the end of the day will take care of themselves, I’m not getting fixated on the results and neither are the athletes, we really just want to make sure we are gradually evolving as a group.”

The Rise Again Festival will take place on Saturday, December 19 when Leeds Rhinos face Loughborough Lightning at 12pm. 

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