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The drive powering breakout star Cassie Howard

Credit: Dean Williams

When you think of the typical interests of a 21-year-old netball player, social justice might not come to mind.

But for Cassie Howard of Leeds Rhinos, it is a major driver in her life, informing her decision to study Liberal Arts at the University of Leeds.

The mid-courter has been one of the breakout players in the Netball Super League this season, and she is hoping to have just as big an impact off it in years to come.

“I’m not sure where my interest came from,” the Croydon native said. “I saw a really good film called Just Mercy and that was about someone in America who was wrongly accused of a crime and given the death penalty

“And it was about a lawyer being able to exonerate them because they knew he was innocent. I think that was incredibly moving because it was a true story and having been to America and experienced what it has been like in England after George Floyd’s death.

“That coupled with a lot of the documentaries I have watched, and I have always found history really interesting, looking at the history of race across England and in America and then seeing more current movements as well.

“That has been a big driver of my wanting to make a change and wanting to contribute to improving the system.”

Family is incredibly important to Howard, and she was cheered on by 20 members of her family when Rhinos made the trip down to London Pulse, the team with whom she came through as a junior

And it is the matriarch of the family who has in part inspired her, with her grandmother coming over from Guyana as part of the Windrush generation.

She added: “I am really proud of my heritage and my mum has always instilled that in me and my granny’s Guyanese culture has always been a big part of our family because she was the head of the family.

“She was the one bringing all our family together and family is hugely important to me.

“Against Pulse, they were there with their pom poms and all my younger cousins were there screaming for me. I couldn’t be where I am in netball without my whole family, my parents especially and both my sisters are netballers as well.

“My heritage from my granny is something I am really proud of and so that has been something that I have been really interested to learn about and I’ve been really passionate about race in Britain and the way that people should be treated and the way the system needs to change to stop marginalising certain communities.”

Howard made two appearances for Rhinos in her debut NSL season last year as a training partner before being brought into the main squad this season.

As a centre, she has had valuable opportunities to learn from the stellar spine of defender Geva Mentor, mid-courter Caroline O’Hanlon and shooter Joyce Mvula who between them have decades of big game experience.

She was recognised as Leeds Rhinos’ fans’ player of the season, also winning the Champion award which was handed out by the coaches for her commitment to her netball.

Howard is combining her burgeoning career with her degree and intends to go into law to help improve the justice system.

“My granny married my granddad who was white,” Howard explains.

“And inter-racial marriages were looked down upon at the time and seeing some of the struggles that my granny had that generations after have also had in integrating into England and also race relations in America as well.

“It has really stemmed my interest aside from my own personal identity in terms of how race relations have changed across history and how that links to the criminal justice system.

“I definitely want to have an impact to use the education I have received to make a positive impact across my communities and in Croydon as well.”

Credit: Dean Williams

Leeds Rhinos in many ways is the perfect club for Howard, who has also been grateful for the impact head coach Liana Leota has had on her.

The young star previously combined her age-group netball with rugby union and has relished sometimes training alongside Rhinos’ rugby league team.

She said: “I still love rugby and I would love to play it sometime in the future because I do miss it, but netball had a really solid pathway and I was really close to the girls in my teams and we did it in school as well as in the pathways.

“Liana has that rugby background as well, so we sometimes play rugby in the sessions.

“We went to train with the Leeds Rhinos rugby team and I was enjoying smashing those pads because you don’t get to take the same aggression out on the netball court.

“But I also think it has made me who I am as a netball player because of my doggedness and my tenacious style of play means I am the first on to every ball and jumping off court to keep every ball on.

“Because with rugby if you don’t commit to something that is when you get hurt so I apply the same thing to netball.”

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