The Vitality Roses coaching team of Jess Thirlby, Sonia Mkoloma, Olivia Murphy and Liana Leota

The Vitality Roses coaching team (from L to R): Jess Thirlby, Sonia Mkoloma, Olivia Murphy and Liana Leota

Vitality Roses Head Coach Jess Thirlby believes there is a “really good balance“ within her coaching team following the announcement of three exciting, new additions.

England centurion Sonia Mkoloma joins as a full-time Assistant Coach, while former captain Olivia Murphy and current Severn Stars skipper Liana Leota have been appointed as Technical Coaches.

And Thirlby expressed her delight at welcoming such a talented trio on to her staff: “I think the playing reputations go long before them, I think everybody will be well aware of the world-class players that we’ve got as part of this coaching team,” she began.

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“But since then I think they’ve all in their own right carved out a brilliant coaching career in lots of different ways across lots of different countries, which is just perfect in terms of the insight and impact they’re going to have.”

For Mkoloma and Murphy, their appointments reflect the positive contributions they have both already made to the England setup.

Mkoloma served as Assistant Coach for a development tour in October 2019 to Australia and New Zealand, while she was also part of the coaching team for the 2020 Vitality Netball Nations Cup.

And when the opportunity to work with the squad full-time came up, the Netball World Cup bronze medallist couldn’t turn it down.

“I’ve been coaching for over seven years now over here in Australia and through their pathways and then the last two years I got the opportunity to touch base with the England girls and actually work with them and the team and their passion,” she said enthusiastically.

“And the fact that that’s my roots, I just couldn’t say no, so moving forward it’s an exciting time for me and for the team. And all the knowledge that I’ve gained through both playing and coaching, I’m just going to give back to the girls and create an awesome team.”

The Vitality Roses will also benefit from Murphy’s impressive body of work as she has been instrumental in developing players as England Netball Technical Coach for the U17 age group since 2014.

In addition to her work in the national setup, Murphy has been a part of numerous Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) clubs including Loughborough Lightning where she is their current Assistant Coach.

“I think that the girls are exceptional, they’re desperate to learn and they’re desperate to engage with coaches.” – Olivia Murphy

And having represented her country with distinction on the court, the England Netball Hall of Fame inductee is relishing her work off the court with the senior side.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with the Roses over the last year or so alongside Jess in a Technical Coach role there, so I’ve experienced it first hand,” she said.

“I’ve loved it, I think that the girls are exceptional, they’re desperate to learn and they’re desperate to engage with coaches, and I think that comes with the real privileged position that we find ourselves in.

“Again, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Jess over a period of time now, both through England age groups and England, so I kind of know what I’m getting myself into working alongside Jess, but I can’t wait to work with Sonia and Liana as well.”

Completing the lineup is one of the finest midcourters in the VNSL in Leota, who won the Grand Final with Manchester Thunder in 2019.

And she recently showed her skills for the VNSL All Stars against the Roses in January’s Vitality Netball Legends Series.

But the former New Zealand international is on England’s side now and she’s excited to make the move into coaching.

“I’m very honoured and privileged to get this opportunity, to also still be playing but have my foot in the door of coaching is something that I’m really looking forward to, that transition after I’ve stopped playing into that coaching role,” she explained.

“So, I’m excited, I’ve got lots to learn on the run but I’m very excited to be with these bunch of girls in this group and seeing what we can do together as a team.”

A netball legend who has learned her trade in Australia, a former England captain with over 20 years of coaching experience, and a current elite athlete stepping into a new role; Thirlby has assembled quite a team.

And the Head Coach is keen to successfully blend all the different qualities offered within the group.

“I think what’s nice is we’ve got a really good balance here in the sense of I have worked in this context with Sonia and Liv (Olivia) over the last 18 months since I came into the role,” she said.

“And I think it’s actually really great and quite fresh that Liana is quite new to the coaching team and this environment, I think the players will absolutely lap that up.

“So, I think we’ve got the balance about right in terms of prior workings with one another both in recent times and prior to that as well, like Liv said, I’ve worked with her both in a VNSL space as well as an England development space.

“We’re not starting from scratch is what I’m saying, but I think as a collective we will certainly – and I know I will – be carving out a lot of time and investing over the next two months, in particular before we hit the ground with the player group, in us as a team.”

It’s vital that the coaches settle in quickly with the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham a little over a year away and preparations have already started.

The Vitality Roses will arrive at the Games as defending champions for the first time in the nation’s history and Mkoloma discussed whether that’s a hindrance or an added incentive to perform to the highest standard once again.

“It’s definitely going to be a mix of both, I think the girls know there’s a target on their back, which is exciting,” she said.

“I think as coaches for us it’s very exciting as well because we know what they can do, what they’re capable of and we know we have to get them even a step above that.

“Leading into Commonwealth Games and working as a team and as a unit, I guess as a coaching staff it’s that whole base of getting to know each other, getting to know the styles and how we get messages across to the girls is going to be so important in this whole build-up.”

And Murphy hopes to impart the knowledge she gained from competing at a Commonwealth Games in front of a home crowd.

She said: “We played in Manchester in 2002, it was a home Games, it was probably the first one that we’d had more pressure and more presence around the Games, we can definitely show our experiences of that and what it meant.

“But also, we’ll be open and it’ll be a two-way dialogue with the athletes about how we go forward and look to regain that title in Birmingham.”

With her coaching team in place, attention turns to the players and Thirlby is thrilled with the state of her squad ahead of the upcoming year.

“I think we’re in a great place, I’ve said it a number of times now, but I think we’ve got the best depth of quality and competition for places that we’ve had in a long time, which I know these three are really looking forward to getting stuck in to help to continue to create that competition.”

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