I blame the girls at my primary school for the impression I used to have of netballers. I thought they were all “goodie-goodie princesses” (that was probably the phrase I used with my limited vocab as a child). It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s, after being convinced by my girlfriends to join their team in the social comp and play netball for the first time in my life, that I realised how tough it was. So tough, in fact, that I almost got into a few fights (it was probably a good thing I only did two seasons and ended up getting into boxing instead).
Anyway, I say all this, because I know some of you out there probably still mistakenly think that netball isn’t a tough sport. So I’d like to introduce you to Paige Hadley, vice captain of the NSW Swifts and a 2019 Australian Diamond. After a clash during a game that left her needing four stitches, she got back on the court the next day and played three more games.
If that happened in a boxing fight, we wouldn’t be allowed to have another fight for another 30 days!
Does that make netballers tougher than boxers? Quite possibly. So I had to ask Paige for more details.
What’s the story behind all that blood in that picture?!
It happened while playing a game against the Giants, during a three-day pre-season tournament in Brisbane called the Team Girls Cup. I remember it so clearly. I was at the line defending, getting ready for the centre pass and my teammate Kate [Eddy] said to me, “They’re going to throw it back on the centre pass, you gotta go for it.” She said it three times and I said, “Yes, yes, I’m gonna go for it.” So the whistle went and I charged down.
I had the ball in my hands and Helen [Housby], my own teammate, has come across the player from behind, trying to flick the ball and I ran straight into her elbow. I just remember falling to the ground and then there was blood everywhere. I didn’t know where it was coming from, I just knew there was a lot of blood. Originally I thought it was from an opponent and then I was realised it was me and that my own teammate did it. So much blood came out, I couldn’t believe it.
We hear that you needed to get four stitches, then went on to play three other games after that. Insane.
I was walked off court by the physio and paramedic and I was sitting at the end of the court to the side. I watched most of the rest of the game while they cleaned all the blood off and stopped the bleeding. They asked me if I wanted to get stitched there by the paramedic or at hospital and I said “No, I want to get it done, I just want it over with.” So while the game was still going, I think it was the fourth quarter, I walked to the first aid room and laid down on the bed; they put a sheet over my face with a cut-out so I couldn’t see what was happening. I could hear people singing and I was thinking, “Oh, I just want some peace and quiet”, and then I realised it was our team song so I knew we’d won the game.
I got four needles to numb the area which was the most painful part and then I got the four stitches. That wasn’t too bad because I couldn’t feel pain once the anaesthesia kicked in. I hate needles but it was all over in about 20 minutes.
After that I went back into the change room and all the girls wanted to see the stitches but they’d obviously covered it up. I went back to the hotel and had to do concussion tests with the physio and I passed all them. I had to stay up for at least three hours because obviously with a knock like that we had to lower the chance of a head injury by sitting up for three hours so I didn’t get to bed ‘til about 10.30 or 11pm. Then I got to go out and play the next day!
What was going on through your head while you were getting your stitches?
Initially when I got hit and I could see the blood I was like, “Don’t get it on my dress, don’t get it on my dress,” because I wanted to go back on and play. I just wanted them to put a Band-Aid on because I didn’t know it’d be so bad I needed stitches.
When I was getting the stitches, I just wanted them to hurry up but I knew straight away I was going to play the next day. I hadn’t had a headache and I knew where I was so I wasn’t worried. When I got the all-clear, I wasn’t sure if they were going to rest me in case I got another knock. But having Maddy [Proud] and Helen out with injuries as well, we didn’t have as many players so it worked in my favour that I was able to play.
How did you go in the three other games after the stitches?
I actually felt really good. Everyone was surprised to see me back out there the next day. I got so many messages on the Friday night. I was just so excited to be playing and for me, I think it was kind of a blessing. Because I had that, everyone was so focused on my head and I was able to just play; I didn’t overthink things. In the back of my head I knew I had something on my face so I think it took my mind off other things and I just focused on playing and getting through without any hits. I still went hard and wanted to win every game. It was a positive as well to be invited into the Australian squad from that.
Why do you think netball has the reputation of not being a tough sport?
It’s definitely changing. I guess when you tell people you play netball they make fun of how much whistle there is, that it’s a ‘non-contact’ sport. But I always say to people you’ve got to come to a live game. It is definitely a contact sport now. Obviously there is whistle to control it but the off-the-ball stuff, going for the ball, getting in the right position, there’s so much contact. The work that we’re doing in the gym and away from the court as well is making the sport faster and more physical. I think people are loving it. My friends come to games and they’re like, “Oh my god, it’s so fast.” It’s so different to traditional netball.
Why shouldn’t netballers be underestimated?
Well, we get stitches and keep playing. Netball is tough and we thrive on that physicality. We’ve had this massive change in women’s sport and they’ve really embraced the change in physicality and the demands that the sport is having. But also, we’re tough because we’ve had to work jobs, we’ve had to study at uni, we’ve had so many different things thrown at us. Obviously the pay is not the same as men so I think we’re not just tough physically. I think there’s so many things that women and netballers especially have been the forefront of leading. Women have kids and come back to the sport, that’s a credit to how tough those women really are. To be able to come back from having a baby is one thing but to come back and play at the highest level in this sport is incredible. We play it because we absolutely love it and that’s never going to change.
What’s your big goal for the upcoming netball season?
For me, this whole pre-season has been about personal growth. I’ve had the physical assets – the speed, the endurance - for a long time but it was the mental side to be able to love the game, love the challenge. For me, it’s having a growth mindset, being open to different things and different opinions. My biggest goal is to win the SSN trophy. That’s the pinnacle of our sport.
Catch Paige and the rest of the Swifts in action when the Super Netball season kicks off on April 28.