Saunders set to join exclusive club - April 7, 2022
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain Shannon Saunders is set to etch her name into netball’s history books.
The athletic midcourter is preparing to play her 150th elite national league game against the Te Wānaga o Raukawa Pulse in Wellington on Monday night, becoming just the 15th New Zealand player to achieve the milestone.
She joins illustrious company the calibre of Laura Langman, Leana de Bruin, Katrina Rore, Liana Leota, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Casey Kopua, Maria Folau, Irene van Dyk, Temepara Bailey, Joline Johansson, Wendy Frew, Cathrine Tuivaiti, Anna Kennedy, and Jodi Brown.
“I am quite chuffed about it. Playing 150 games is definitely something that I never dreamed of or set out to do. I feel blessed to be able to play one game, let alone 150 all for the Steel,” Saunders said.
Even more remarkable, she is just the third player to achieve it for the same club, joining former Splice Construction Magic captain Casey Kopua (187 games) and former Steel captain Wendy Frew (176 games).
“In this day and age players do move around so quickly so to be able to do all 150 for the one team is special and I couldn’t think of any other team I would rather have done it with,” she said.
“100 percent it’s the people. It’s the people who keep you there and I’ve been lucky to play with some amazing people throughout my time at the Steel. When people ask what I love about being down south, it’s the people and the community and how lovely everyone is and how they get behind their netball team. So that’s definitely the number one reason.”
A sporty youngster, Saunders admits she didn’t automatically excel on the court.
“It was a challenge and I feel it’s not something that came as naturally to me as other sports I’ve played,” she said.
“But it was just so much fun and, as I moved through the grades, it actually became a realistic career option when it turned semi-professional.
“I just love the competitiveness and the challenge of it because every game is different and you’re always having to learn and adapt.
“The way you approach it changes but the love for it has never faded whatsoever.”
Despite a plethora of achievements during her career, including 85 tests for the Silver Ferns, the role model tag isn’t one Saunders subscribes to easily.
“I never had many idols myself. I remember loving the Silver Ferns and we went to the World Cup when it was in Christchurch in 1999. I don’t remember being super attached to any particular player because I just thought everyone was super amazing,” she said.
“I don’t really see myself as a huge role model but my character is just to lead by example. I lead by my actions and I’ve always done that rather than talk a big game. I always try to be one of the hardest workers in the room and make sure that I’m always fit, ready and prepared whenever I’m needed.”
The Steel will be counting on that as a double header looms for round five of the ANZ Premiership. The Southerners take on Magic in Hamilton on Saturday before Monday’s assignment against the Pulse in Wellington – two new opponents in this season.
“It’s always exciting playing teams you haven’t come up against yet. You have that anticipation about how it’s going to go. They are two very physical teams so I think those similarities in the way that they play is a good thing for us in terms of preparation. We’re looking forward to some big matches,” Saunders said.
“Our ability to look after the ball and just really treasure possession is key. Defensively both teams are strong and on attack they will be hard to get ball off. We need to play our game and commit to it.
“It’s business as usual really. Obviously it has a little bit more meaning and hopefully I will have a couple of people in the crowd, but the focus is just that same in that I want to get out there and win.”
Caption: Shannon Saunders of the Steel looks for options during the ANZ Premiership game between the Steel and Stars at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill.
Photo credit: Michael Bradley Photography.