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Nia Jones and Dragons are chasing a first win of the season (Image: Morgan Harlow)

Nia Jones is a gladiator on the netball court and is riling Leeds Rhinos up to fight.

The Wales captain has joined the Yorkshire-based club for the 2023 season and with a strong memory of the rallying Rhinos crowds, Jones is excited to get a taste of being part of the home side.

The defender previously played for Celtic Dragons but decided to leave Wales and push herself out of her comfort zone with a move to Rhinos.

“From a personal point of view, it was a challenge that I felt if I turned it down I would probably live to regret it,” the 30-year-old said.

“This is pretty much an unknown for me and I’m really going to have to go up there and prove myself to the coaching staff, to my teammates and to the fanbase.

“I’m kind of relishing that because I think it will be great for my game and to keep learning.

“I feel like with Leeds, that team and fanbase connection was there. It was never a partisan crowd. I’ve been seeing what the home crowds have looked like whilst we’ve played there.

“I love going to a venue and getting booed. I want that gladiator mindset that you know if you’re coming to our home venue then it’s going to be a really tough afternoon for you.

“We’ve got a great symbol with the Rhinos and hopefully we can give the people of Leeds a women’s team to really get behind.”

Rhinos have been using their fanbase to creatively announce their 2023 players during this signing window, with various grassroots clubs revealing a player over the course of a few weeks.

Jones was announced by members of Otley Netball Club and gushed over the energetic nature of those involved, excited to fight for them on court.

She said: “For us, we all started out as little girls probably without a dream that we would be playing professional netball. Growing up it just wasn’t really a thing.

“So, I think we can really relate to them as much as they look up to us.

“I felt that at the Celtic Dragons community and I’ve already felt it in the Rhinos community.

“They’re such passionate people when it comes to sport, really enthusiastic, really friendly and I can really resonate with that as well.

“It’s definitely an area of netball that’s full of talent.”

Part of the VNSL for several seasons at Dragons and Severn Stars, and a stalwart member of Wales, Jones has plenty of experience playing with distinguished netballers.

But her excitement for her new team is unmatched, with raw talent emerging overseas and at home.

And with players such as Caroline O’Hanlon and Elmere van der Berg joining the squad, Rhinos are sure to put some pressure on other teams in the VNSL.

Jones said: “I’ve enjoyed playing against Elmere van de Berg and Nicola Smith. We had a few test series between Wales and South Africa and we were fortunate enough to play them at the Commonwealth Games.

“I’ve seen them on the court and know that they’re fantastic players with so much potential, scary potential if I’m being honest.

“To know that they’re future teammates of mine is super exciting.

“I loved playing with Paige Reed as well at Severn Stars. I don’t think people are usually that laugh-out-loud hilarious but Paige is. And she will love me saying that!”

Silver Ferns star Liana Leota has joined as head coach this season and her arrival has sparked a buzz in the north.

Now with two seasons in the VNSL under their belt, Rhinos will be hoping Leota can push them to challenge for a spot in the top four.

Jones has been inspired by the motivational words of her new head coach and is excited to see how the Superleague unfolds this season.

“[Liana]’s obviously a fountain of knowledge from her time at the Silver Ferns and she’s won championships wherever she’s played and a magical player to watch,” Jones added.

“What she brings in knowledge, when she speaks in a room everybody listens and she just has that presence that you just want to hang off every word she says.

“It just looks like a totally different Superleague this year, there’s so much movement around which I think it’s fresh and it’s exciting.

“It’s pretty exciting for us as players as well because it’s pretty much as if everyone’s starting again and we’re not sure what teams are going to come out like.

“So, we need to establish our identity as a group and our style.”

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