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Iona Christian of Wasps.

From one reigning champions to another, Iona Christian is ready to hit the ground running at the club where it all began.

Manchester Thunder’s new signing recently travelled to New Zealand’s capital Wellington to train with ANZ Premiership holders Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse.

The Scottish Thistle is now ready to contribute to Thunder’s own title defence and should fit in perfectly, having emerged from the North West club’s performance pathway before moving to Severn Stars while she studied for a degree in illustration.

“It was amazing. It was definitely a valuable experience and I think it’s helped challenge and grow my netball,” Christian said of her time in New Zealand.

“The Pulse players were all really friendly and welcoming, letting me get stuck in with all the court, gym and conditioning sessions and gave me great suggestions for things to do out in Wellington as well.

“Yvette [McCausland-Durie, Pulse head coach] was great. You could tell she really cared about the girls but also demanded quite a lot from everyone.

“Everyone was really hard-working in training and she introduced me to some new drills and setups that I hadn’t done before.

“The main difference was just the intensity.”

Returning to Belle Vue Sports Village six years after she left for Stars brings back a lot of memories for the 25-year-old, including side-splitting fancy dress and Christmas-themed sessions.

It also means a reunion with Amy Clinton, Amy Carter and Taylor McKevitt, as well as head coach Karen Greig who oversaw the quartet’s development at the club’s Performance Pathway.

She added: “I remember everyone turning up to training and as soon as Karen said, ‘Everyone on the baseline’, we knew we were running for the session.

“Being back in that sort of environment is quite funny because a lot has changed but there’s also a lot that’s exactly the same.

“I think I’ve developed as a player, so I feel like my netball has changed quite a lot. Karen and Tracey [Neville, Thunder’s Performance Operations Director] have obviously done a lot in six years too.”

The mid-courter spent three seasons at Wasps and is still searching for silverware to embellish her reputation as a seasoned and accomplished international, having captained Scotland against the Presidents XII during the Thistles’ recent visit to South Africa.

“A big difference at Thunder is they’re not just talking about being in the top four, they’re talking about being in the final,” said Christian.

“They’re absolutely in it to win it so we’re definitely working hard in training and in pre-season to put our best foot forward this year.”

Christian has a battle on her hands for a starting berth though, with Commonwealth Games gold medallist and England and Thunder captain Nat Metcalf the first name on the team sheet.

Christian said: “I love working with Nat. She’s a player I’ve watched for several years.

“She was at Wasps before I went there, and I watched her when she was at Swifts, she’s definitely one of the best wing attacks in the world at the moment.

“So she’s certainly a player I look up to and can learn a lot from.”

Up next in pre-season for the Cheshire-born star is the Iona Christian derby when Manchester Thunder take on Scotland on Saturday 4 February.

“I think I’m going to be playing a little bit of both,” she said. “At least I’ll be on the winning side!”

Manchester Thunder’s title defence begins at the Season Opener in Nottingham on 11 February when they take on Celtic Dragons.

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