It would surprise few that little fanfare greeted news of Australian netball captain Liz Ellis’s success in claiming the Most Valuable Player award at the National Netball League awards last weekend.

Yet the win was notable in more ways than one – it was not only her third such success in this prestigious award, but it also capped off a remarkable comeback to elite netball for Ellis, who sustained a career-threatening knee injury while playing for Australia in New Zealand in October last year.

Knee reconstructions aren’t the best tonic for longevity at the best of times, but especially for 32-year-olds playing a game known for its stress on the leg joints.

“I was quite surprised I won the award because my first few games were quite ordinary, so I think there were some sympathy votes in there,” Ellis told Crikey.

“But the last six months have been close to the best six months of my netball career. Having an undefeated season with the Swifts, then captaining Australia to a series win over New Zealand in New Zealand and to top it off with the a player of the year award has been fantastic, so it’s been a year of pretty strong contrasts.”

Without doubt, the toughest time for Ellis was in March, when her teammates contested the Commonwealth Games without her.

“It was pretty average sitting there and watching what the girls were doing knowing I’d been a part of that team for 13 years. It was awful walking in and seeing them playing without me.

“It was tough and I hated every second of it but it gave me plenty of motivation to make sure that I could get back there as soon as I can.”

Ellis gave no hint to any retirement plans, preferring to eye off the World Championships in Fiji next year as he next goal. Repeating the recent series win over the current World and Commonwealth champions is an obvious spur.

“I was devastated when we lost the World Champs (to New Zealand) in 2003, so we’d like to get that back. I want that Number One ranking back,” Ellis said.

Looking ahead, Ellis can see that the sport will slowly but surely offer better pay and conditions for the next generation of Australian stars. But it’s a slow process – Ellis considers herself “one of the lucky ones” because she is able to earn as much as $25,000 from the sport each year.

“There are girls in our squad who might play for the whole year and end up earning about a thousand dollars, so that’s really tough.

“We were encouraged at our awards dinner when our president Noelene Dix, in her opening remarks, acknowledged that that’s one of their main focuses – to make netball full-time professional.

“So it’s not as if we are fighting an administration that doesn’t want to help us. They have had a big turnaround in thinking over the last 12 months, so the sport is definitely evolving.”

Peter Fray

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