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Nicola Smith

Image: Megan Ewens

Nicola Smith is more than making up for lost time after finally arriving in the Netball Super League.

The South African was due to play for Leeds Rhinos last season alongside compatriot and best friend Elmerè van der Berg, only for injury to disrupt those plans.

But Smith would not be denied a second time and was quickly snapped up by Loughborough Lightning, where the defender has slotted in seamlessly.

The 23-year-old has quickly formed an impressive partnership with teammate and housemate Alice Harvey in the circle, and Smith admitted she already feels part of the furniture at the defending champions.

“Since I came here, it’s felt like home,” she said. “They have been really welcoming and since the first day I joined training, it feels like I have been playing with these players for years.

“I haven’t been missing home yet because this is family and I am really happy here.

“Alice is my housemate so that is helping a lot, getting used to her voice in the house and recognising her voice on court when there are a lot of other players shouting and screaming.

“I couldn’t be happier playing with her. We are getting stronger every game. We gelled from the first moment we played together.

“There is obviously still room for improvement but as the games go on we get stronger together.”

Nicola Smith and Alice Harvey

Smith and Alice Harvey have formed a close connection on court

Smith arrived in the East Midlands with big shoes to fill following the departure of Fran Williams to West Coast Fever in Australia, but she has quickly made the goal defence bib her own, with an impressive 34 deflections and 27 gains to her name already.

And Smith is insistent she is free to make her own stamp on the Super League, instead of being worried about who she is following.

“It’s a big move, it’s my first move overseas and it’s totally different to what I am used to,” she added.

“The league, the level of play. I don’t regret playing at home, I learned a lot with all my coaches at home but having a change in my netball is really good.

“It is big shoes to fill because Fran is playing for England but to be honest I haven’t thought about being her replacement.

“I don’t put that pressure on myself, I just play my own game and my own South African style. Lightning haven’t mentioned her before when we’re training, they have only been focused on me.”

Smith’s smooth adaptation to the Netball Super League is perhaps no surprise given her impressive displays at the Netball World Cup last summer in her hometown of Cape Town.

It was a bucket list experience for the young defender, who is hopeful it is the start of continued growth for the Proteas.

“My biggest dream was playing at the Netball World Cup in Cape Town so my friends and family could all watch,” she said. “That is what I trained towards and then it became a reality.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted but each game having our friends and families there was really special because I don’t think the Netball World Cup will come to South Africa in my career again.”

Elmerè van der Berg shoots against Loughborough Lightning

Best friends Nicola Smith and Elmerè van der Berg are opponents on the court. Image: @touchlinepics

Much of the Proteas’ success may lie in the Netball Super League, with nine South Africans playing on British shores this season.

One of those is Manchester Thunder’s Elmerè van der Berg, who almost played alongside Smith last season, but the pair are now up against each other as both sides vie for the title.

“Elmerè is actually my best friend so playing against her is something different for our friendship,” she added. “We are on-court enemies but off-court friends!

“We only met in 2018 when we played our first trials against each other and then we were selected for the same team and she was my roommate on our first tour together.

“There are a lot of South Africans in the league and I really enjoy seeing a different South African every weekend and playing against them. It is really good for Netball South Africa with the players being exposed to this league.

“It is nice seeing someone you know from home every week, home feels a bit closer.”

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