Netball coach Tallisa Haynes reveals how her Knights get better day-by-day
With the Women’s 2020 Netball Superleague season starting this weekend, it means Knights, the UK’s most established men’s netball team, have just finished theirs.
The former Superleague star, who played for several top-flight clubs including Loughborough Lightning, Surrey Storm and Saracens Mavericks, before taking on her first coaching role at Storm in 2014, took over Knights in October last year.
It's a strange, almost nocturnal existence, but one head coach Tallisa Haynes is comfortable with, as her charges continue to grow their profile within the game.
“We've come to the end of the season now because the Superleague starts up and so all the pre-season finishes for the NSL teams,” she said.
When NewsChain's first interviewed Haynes, the team were starting to play more games against the Superleague women's teams. They were formed three years ago and have seen a huge step-up following the arrival of their new coach.
She said: “We had a fantastic time down at Bath at the Big Showdown, we actually set our presence and ‘wow they can actually play netball.’ To come away and almost make the final in a tournament where you’ve got at least two of the top teams that are going to compete this year in the NSL is fantastic.
Haynes feels Team Bath’s ‘Big Showdown’ netball event in December was the turning point.
“For us, we could not have been happier with how that tournament went and the boys listened, they stuck to our game plan and for us confidence-wise, moving forward it was fantastic.
“It was live, it was streamed and actually people got to witness it and see it for themselves.
“At the Showdown, we exposed one of our youngsters coming through, a young lad called Jamal Nicholson. He got the biggest reception during that weekend, he was fantastic. He captured the hearts of all the fans regardless of whether they were there for Knights or any of the Superleague teams.
“There has been a huge amount of response both on social media and with press, we could not have asked for more.”
But in a traditional “women’s” sport, what is it that appealed to the men to take part in netball in the first place?
“Quite a lot of the males are Australian and Kiwis, so actually for them playing netball isn’t out of the norm. But you know they’ve been brought up doing it back at home and I think the fact they’ve come over and they’ve not necessarily had the opportunities until now.
“They are playing against the top teams in the country so that also inspires them to want to come and play and get involved.”
Not only do the men get inspired because they can be a part of an English team, but also by the NSL and international players themselves.
Some of Haynes’ men look up to the likes of New Zealand centre-court star Liana Leota who plays for Severn Stars. Her ‘vision on the court’ and her ‘sheer court craft’ inspires a lot of the men.
Similarly, with Silver Ferns shooter Laura Langman who plays in the Australian Suncorp Super League and who is also a role model to the men.
“It’s huge and them being so open about it and actually knowing that it’s not a bad thing but it’s a good thing. And it just goes to show that it is a female-dominated sport but actually with the women that we’ve got they are more accepting to it as well,” she continued.
And even though the men have these role models, they also find the games extremely competitive against the NSL women.
“There are definitely players in the squad that they are like ‘oh god I just don’t know what to do against her'. I mean I guess where I come in is I know the style of play and the NSL players and what the teams come up with.
“Individually if you have got someone like a (England international) George Fisher and (Wales international) Nia Jones, it’s physical and that’s where the boys go back into being themselves a little bit more but structurally, it’s just coming to terms with how each Superleague team plays. So actually we know what to expect and this is how we are going to counteract it and that’s the exciting part.”
The Roses used to instruct Knights about the ‘style of netball’ they wanted to play because of a particular type of game they had coming up. But now Knights' netball is more ‘structured’ it makes both teams ‘try a little bit harder'.
And the men will face even bigger challenges in the coming months when they compete for England in the Netball World Cup in October in Australia, which they have already qualified for.
They will face what is a ‘gruelling’ competition that sees England, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia play each other twice.
But before the side can set their sights on the World Cup, they have a game against the new English men’s netball team, Northern Titans on March 14, something Haynes is looking forward to.
“It really is (exciting) the opportunities and the potential we have got is huge. Obviously it just involves a lot to get a team off the ground and Knights have kind of got ahead of everyone else and it’s established.
“I love it, I want players to want to play for Knights. I don’t want them to think ‘ah well Knights is the only team around'. For me the potential there is massive but it’s going to take some time but it’s going in the right direction.”
But despite these exciting times, the sport for the men is still very much self-funded, with them having to pay matchday fees and for their kit.
The Knights also face the prospect of lining up against their coach when they take on an 'old girls' team from Saracens Mavericks on March 21.
“Again it’s an opportunity for them to expose their talents and their skills on the court and against us oldies as well, I actually can’t wait," she said.