A new outlook across the Ditch

Former Southern Steel player Sam Winders in action for the Giants in Australia. PHOTO: NETBALL...
Former Southern Steel player Sam Winders in action for the Giants in Australia. PHOTO: NETBALL AUSTRALIA
Sam Winders was ready to take a step back from her netball career until she inked a new contract with the Giants. She tells netball writer Kayla Hodge how the move has refreshed her career, and why she is at peace walking away from the black dress.
Sam Winders has a new lease on life.

Ten years of playing elite netball left the midcourter at a crossroads after she finished the ANZ Premiership winless in her debut Southern Steel season last year.

It was a tough pill to swallow for everyone, and one Winders looked back on with sadness about what could have been.

"I did not actually want to leave after a year like that," Winders said.

"I was actually really considering not playing again last year until the call from the Giants came, so it was a funny old situation I was in.

"But there’s a plan out there for me, and I made sure I followed it, so I’m just really grateful for that call and to be back in the mix."

That call came from her former Waikato-Bay of Plenty and now Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald and Winders — never one to back down from a challenge — welcomed the chance to play Suncorp Super Netball with open arms.

Winders, who also reconnected with former Magic team-mates Jo Harten and Jamie-Lee Price at the Giants, felt refreshed at the Giants and was thriving with a new perspective.

As Winders, 28, entered the possible twilight of her career — "I don’t know when that will be but it’s a reality that it’s closer than it is further away" — she found herself more philosophical and questioning her impact on the game.

"Have I just come and pulled on a dress and then walked out the door again? I think the easiest thing would be to just do that.

"But I’ve figured that the way I can have the most meaningful impact on the game is in the one-on-ones with my team-mates ... passing on the knowledge.

"Yes, the environment is super competitive, we’re all fighting for a spot on the court, but we’re all on this one mission to win the championship, and the only way we can get there is if we take everybody with us."

She got her first taste of what is to come during the recent Team Girls Cup preseason, and felt the level across the court was a step-up.

But it had grown her game, as had playing across all three midcourt positions.

"I’m probably our team’s most versatile player, which I will happily say — I’m very proud of that, actually," she said.

Playing in Australia came with a catch, as it made her ineligible for the Silver Ferns under the current rules.

Yet it was a decision the 47-cap Silver Fern was very much at peace with.

"To be honest, I was probably on my way out of the Ferns anyway, especially in this era.

"I still feel like I have so much to give, but there comes a time you’re just not the right fit for the team ... and no matter how desperately you want to be in the team, that doesn’t change a selection — and that’s OK.

"I’m a big enough person to be able to deal with that and it’s actually so much nicer for me not to have to worry about that any more."

Limitless import spots in Australia have meant the league has been dubbed the best in the world, and Winders recognised it helped close the gap internationally.

But she felt the former transtasman ANZ Championship made her international leap less daunting.

"That set me up so well to go on to Silver Fern level, because I’d played against these Aussie players before.

"Nowadays ... the first time you play against Australia, or any Australian player, is in your debut game."

She would love to see some form of crossover competition, and believed the neighbouring nations needed to work together.

"We kind of have to help each other stay ahead of everybody in merging again.

"I know there’s differences across the board. I think they’ve got to come to some sort of agreement for the betterment of the sport.

"I just think it’ll grow netball itself. We’ve got to start creating a big product that people can get behind and get excited for again."

Winders has certainly found her excitement for the game again, and will play her opening game against the West Coast Fever tomorrow.