Netball: English Jade proving a Mystics rock

By Michael Burgess

Jade Clarke. Photo / Natalie Slade
Jade Clarke. Photo / Natalie Slade

She might not be the jewel in the crown, but English import Jade Clarke brings a crucial balance to the Mystics.

Amidst the magic and unpredictably all around her, Clarke offers solidity to the midcourt of the Auckland side.

After first appearing in the ANZ Championship in 2010 as an injury replacement at the Magic, the England captain has taken her game to another level at the Mystics.

"She is a steady influence on our team," says Mystics coach Debbie Fuller. "She is a well drilled player who executes basic skills very well. Being the England captain she also has an air of mana about her."

Usually a wing defence for her national side, Clarke has also been used at centre by Fuller. She has added steel to the side, who have plenty of attacking punch with Temepara George, Grace Rasmussen and Kayla Cullen, especially with her ability to anticipate danger on defence and read patterns of play.

Clarke also has a massive reservoir of experience, having played 100 international matches. Her value was reflected in an internal survey completed a few weeks ago, which spoke volumes. Asked to list strengths and weaknesses of their peers, Clarke was described as "reliable", "dogged", "a hustler" and someone "who never wants to give the ball away."

Apart from the faster pace in the ANZ Championship, Clarke has also struggled to adapt to spending regular time on the bench - for the first time in more than a decade. With the Mystics boasting a star-studded roster that many see as the best in the league, Clarke has spent a fair amount of time on the pine but accepts it is part of the deal.

"Back home I don't get benched very often," says Clarke, " I think the last time was when I was 18 so it was a new experience. But I was coming to a new team and had to prove myself; while I am never happy being subbed, it was a consolation to be put back on in close games against the Fever (round three) and Pulse (round five) and great to experience that pressure."

She describes the Mystics as a happy team, and there is no room to be grumpy. "You can save that negativity for home," she laughs.

She grew up in Manchester, a stone's throw from Old Trafford in a house definitely on the red half of the city ("we are not a happy family at the moment").

Clarke made her England debut in 2003 and has competed in two World Championships (2003 and 2007) as well as being part of the English side that claimed successive Commonwealth Games bronze medals in 2006 and 2010.

Despite this vast experience, Clarke says she is here to learn; to experience close games, tight finishes and high quality netball that just doesn't happen in the Netball Superleague in the United Kingdom.

With the finals series just around the corner and the Mystics all but assured of a place Clarke knows the recipe for ongoing success for her team.

"All of us need to be calm and controlled before we release the flair. Against the Tactix [in round nine] we tried to go for too much before we had established control of the game and that is why they stayed with us.I am amazed at the ball speed and skills on display at training but we have to use them at the right times.

"We were frivolous with the ball in that game and it is a coach's head rush," says Fuller. "I know we can be a great team to watch and popular with the fans but to be honest I want to win the championship; I don't care about being the most interesting or popular team."

The Mystics face the beleaguered Steel in Auckland tomorrow night, with the Magic facing the Pulse in Tauranga tonight.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 17 Apr 2014 10:21:37 Processing Time: 565ms