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Karen Greig of Manchester Thunder.

Karen Greig has been part of the identity of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) since its inception, originally as a title-winning player and now as a title-winning Head Coach.

Having made her debut with Manchester Thunder 19 years ago, the former Vitality Rose played in the VNSL’s maiden season in 2006 and went onto have a stellar career captaining the club.

Greig led Thunder to their first Superleague success in 2012 – scoring 22 goals in the Grand Final – before retiring soon after.

She quickly returned to work for the champions in a coaching capacity, something she already had a firm understanding of having started at a young age.

“I started coaching when I was really young. I was probably 15 or 16 when I volunteered at the School Games after my PE teachers encouraged me to coach as I was too old to play in the competition anymore. That is where it all started for me,” she said.

“I got the opportunity when I was 25 to start working with the North West Performance Programme. That was with the likes of Dovey, Haythornthwaite and Gibson. It was great for me to be working with those young athletes when I still had a playing career myself.

“I then started working as a North West Pathway Coach in 2008 when I was still playing and that was it really. When I decided the time was right to retire, Tracey [Neville] offered me an olive branch to work alongside her as her Assistant. The rest is history.”

Now, Greig is one of the most revered netball coaches in the UK having guided her Manchester Thunder side to Grand Final glory in 2019.

She made the step up from Assistant to Head Coach in 2016 following Neville’s England appointment but it was always set to be a seamless transition.

Having coached throughout her playing days, Greig was constantly learning from her own coaches and then colleagues who have helped shape her into the coach she is today.

“I’ve had Mike Greenwood, Kath Edwards, Marion Lofthouse to name a few. Those coaches give you the passion for the game and make you want to give back to the sport,” she said.

“Being able to work alongside someone like Tracey for seven or eight years has been really eye-opening as well. She’s a really good person to have on your side and learn from every day. I’ve learnt a lot of skills from her and all of my coaches.

“I was a goal shooter so I would say I’m an attacking coach but I’m learning every day in terms of defence. We’ve got Tracey working with us defensively and Dan Ryan took on that role when he was with us. To have those people at hand to learn from is developing my understanding of the game.”

The former England U21 Head Coach has now entered another VNSL season in her current position at Thunder.

The squad remains relatively unchanged from the title-winning team of 2019 with those at Belle Vue opting to promote from within instead of signing talent from other clubs.

Of the current squad, 13 have come through their pathway with Joyce Mvula and Caroline O’Hanlon the only exceptions.

“Over the last four years, we’ve tried to retain as many players as possible and only make slight changes. The only people to have come in are Joyce and Caroline who we’ve had for three or four years,” she said.

“In terms of that stability, we’ve got a squad that understands how we want to play netball and they are all truly embedded into that Thunder style. Having players like our captain Emma Dovey help.

“She is a player that has always been underestimated. She comes across as a quiet character but she’s really inspirational in that group of athletes. She leads by example on and off the court. She has only played for Thunder so there is no better person than Emma to lead our team.”

The 2021 campaign is set to be the most different to any of Greig’s five seasons in charge so far and – with Zoom sessions now a built-in part of their routine and an extra emphasis on video analysis – coaches have had to adapt.

One of those changes has been an increase in communication from players, coaches and fans alike. While being approachable was a key part of Greig’s mantra prior to the pandemic, it has now taken on a new level of importance.

“You want to be approachable and have that relationship with the players where they see you as a person who they can have a conversation with. We’re there for them as people, not just as players,” she said.

“#RiseAsOne is so powerful because the 11 franchises are coming together and we want to make our sport the best we can in these times. It’s really important that we are visible and it’s now more powerful than ever.

“There’s been a lot of communication over the last few months. I’ve always found that I’ve had a really good relationship with the opposition coaches but more than ever those communication channels have been open between coaches.

“We talk about the #RiseAsOne campaign and I really do believe that the clubs are on board and connected more than they ever have been.”

Thunder have also been making a more concerted effort to engage with their fans online on social media and with their club membership.

With all games being shown live on Sky Sports for the first time, fans will be able to stay connected with their teams from home.

“All of our games on streamed with Sky Sports which is amazing. We are there and are playing for our fans, we haven’t forgotten them and never will,” she said.

“They are bonkers, the best fans in the league. We can’t wait to be back to play in front of you again but, until then, engage online as much as possible.”

Make sure that you get the news as it happens by following us on Twitter and Instagram. Find out more about the #RiseAsOne campaign here and read from the leaders of the league here.

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