Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls are chasing gold and Australia’s Super Netball competition is playing a key role in how they are preparing for the task.

There are eight players from Jamaica’s national squad contracted to clubs in Australia.

“This is where the best netball is being played, this is where you’re going to get the best training, this is where you’re going to work on your fitness, your netball skills, netball IQ,” said Jodi-Ann Ward, who is the Giants’ goal defender.

“This is the environment for that and if you are going to be successful internationally you have to be amongst the top players and get out as much as you can from this environment.”

Jodi-Ann Ward was named in the Super Netball team of the year in 2023.(Supplied: Giants Netball)

Ward’s journey to Australia’s premier competition started when she signed to play in England’s Super League in 2018.

A year later, she approached the new Super Netball franchise Collingwood, unsure if the Australian club would even be aware of her ability and availability.

“I sent them a letter, a bit of video footage from playing in England and a bit of international stuff as well,” Ward explained.

“I was lucky enough that I got a response.”

Super Netball beginnings ‘crazy’

She spent four years with the Magpies before the football club withdrew the team from the competition and she moved to the Giants.

Her introduction to the Australian system was memorable.

“In my first year it was definitely a shock, my body was not used to it at all, I was so sore,” she said.

“It was a different level, it was crazy.”

Ward says there has been a 60 per cent increase in her fitness.(Supplied: Giants Netball)

But she adapted pretty well.

“There’s been more than a 60 per cent increase in my fitness, my strength, my speed,” Ward said.

“To be able to be in this environment, you have to be able to take something from it and grow your game to the next level.”

Ward, 29, has clearly made it to the next level of her career, named in the Super Netball team of the year in 2023 alongside compatriots Latanya Wilson from Adelaide and Jhaniele Fowler-Nembhard from West Coast.

Goal shooter Fowler-Nembhard has been a dominant presence for the Australian competition, where she has scored more than 5,000 goals, and before that starred in the Trans-Tasman competition where she played with New Zealand’s Southern Steel.

She won the Super Netball player of the year title five times — from 2018 to 2022 — while another Jamaican, Adelaide goal keeper Shamera Sterling-Humphrey took the honour in 2023.

‘Anything I set my mind to I achieve’

Fowler-Nembhard’s next goal, one that all of her Jamaican colleagues share, is grabbing gold at the 2027 World Cup in Sydney.

“I’ve embraced the fact that I’m getting older,” Fowler-Nembhard, 34, conceded.

“But I believe I’m still able to go on and anything I set my mind to I achieve it.

“I know getting that gold medal is going to be based on everyone’s performance and what we do as a team not me alone as an individual so I’ve already set my mind on going to the next World Cup with my team.”

West Coast Fever’s Jhaniele Fowler-Nembhard wants to win gold at the 2027 World Cup.(Supplied: Clix by Mia)

While she concentrates on scoring, Shamera Sterling-Humphrey will be at the other end of the court shoring up the defence.

She considers the Australian experience has made “over a 50 per cent improvement in my game”.

Jamaica has used Super Netball as a finishing school for its elite players and that has in turn raised questions about whether there should be an import limit for the eight Australian teams.

“I really think we need to grow up,” former Australian coach Lisa Alexander said.

“If we’re being fair dinkum we can’t restrict the number of imports.

“We can’t do that if we want to be the best competition in the world.”

Gold is goal

Although she noted Australia needed to be careful to have programs and coaching in place to advance its own juniors.

From a Jamaican point of view, they are delighted the Sunshine Girls can take their experience in Super Netball and rise up the international rankings.

The Sunshine Girls are happy to take their experience and rise up the international rankings.(Supplied: Giants Netball)

Their improvement was shown at the 2022 Commonwealth Games where they featured in the final for the first time, losing to Australia.

The silver medal remains their best result in international tournaments.

The Commonwealth Games loom again in 2026 but it is the World Cup, where the Sunshine Girls have never reached a final, that is the ultimate gold goal.

Despite the success of Jamaicans in Australia’s Super Netball, there is one major issue as they build a world class squad of players.

Jamaican defenders and shooters are in demand, not only in Australia but in the English Super League while contracts are scarce for mid court players.

“There is some vulnerability in that area and we have recognised that over the years,” Ward said.

“The mid court girls have really tried, they’ve really put in the work but when it comes to the dying moments of a game, when it comes to pressure situations, they’re not used to that part of the game.”

Lack of funding won’t stop success

Fowler-Nembhard has a slightly different view.

“We have some amazing mid courters who are performing well at home,” she said of their readiness for the World Cup.

“They are definitely doing what the need to do to be prepared.

“But the league that we do offer in Jamaica is not as robust, it’s not a strong as what’s offered here in Australia.”

Netball Jamaica’s governing body started a GoFundMe page.(Supplied: Giants Netball)

Ward has the firm belief the mid court problem could be overcome by exposing the players to more international matches.

“We haven’t been playing a lot of games as a team so playing more international games is going to help,” she said.

The problem for Netball Jamaica is funding.

The governing body started a GoFundMe page to help with the expenses of getting the Sunshine Girls to the 2023 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nevertheless, desperation can breed success and there is no doubt this generation of Jamaican netballers believe they can at the very least reach the World Cup final in three years.

“It’s achievable but a lot of things need to go right to make it possible,” Sterling said.

The Sunshine Girls have brought a breath-taking level of skill and personality to the Super Netball competition.

They hope the takeaway will be the tactics, experience and fitness regimes that lead to a prized gold medal.