Brie Grierson’s swift career progression embodies rapid rise of Leeds Rhinos Netball
The rapid rise of Leeds Rhinos Netball can be neatly embodied in the career progression of Brie Grierson.
Last autumn, Leeds Rhinos were still putting together their first squad for a maiden campaign in Vitality Superleague, waiting and wondering if the Covid pandemic would relent enough to allow them to begin their adventure.
Grierson was one of the 12 senior players enticed from other Superleague clubs – in her case it was Loughborough Lightning – and from the powerhouse Australia New Zealand league, to help build a programme, a culture, a team and a pathway for elite netball for young girls in Yorkshire.
Grierson was a part-time player taking her first steps into an ambitious full-time operation.
Nine months on, Leeds Rhinos will next week take part in the end-of-season play-offs after finishing fourth of 11 teams in Netball Superleague and next month, Grierson will link up with the best players in the country as part of the England Futures programme.
The progress of the two goes hand-in-hand.
“I can’t quite believe it, it was so unexpected,” says the 23-year-old from Leeds who grew up in Roundhay and now lives in Bramhope.
“You put your name forward to say you’re interested in being a member of the Future programme and they select from there, so I hoped I would get in but you just never know.
“The day we were expecting an email my inbox was refreshed several times that day.”
Grierson is one of seven names on the England Futures programme, including Rhinos team-mate Sienna Rushton, while there are 24 fully-fledged members of the England Roses squad, led by the Rhinos’ own co-captain Jade Clarke.
All 31 will link up in Loughborough next month with the senior squad spending all week together and the Futures players two days a week.
Futures and first-team players train together and have meetings together as they build towards next summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, giving Grierson ample opportunity to grow her game further.
“I’m hoping my game develops while I’m there,” she says.
“I spoke to Dan Ryan (Rhinos head coach) when the squad got announced because I’ve loved every single minute of the Rhinos environment, it has progressed my game so much.
“I’m really fortunate in that I’ll be able to train half the week with the Roses and the calibre of players that are there, and then be able to come back to Rhinos – an environment that I love and have been thriving in – to train with them. We’ve got (Australia international) Madi Brown coming in next year with Rhinos, and (former player) Liana Leota has been announced as a technical coach for the Roses, who for me is the best wing-attack in the world; so to be half a week with one and half a week with the other is just going to be awesome.”
It is the professional environment that Ryan has fostered since coming up to Leeds from Australia that has so accelerated Grierson’s career arc.
“Dan has been really helpful, he’s impacted a lot of Rhinos in giving us the full-time environment,” says Grierson, whose previous experience came with London Pulse, Loughborough and Yorkshire Jets.
“We’re the only franchise that has that, being in contact every day. That has helped. I do feel like I’m getting up and going to work every morning because it’s seen as a job, it’s not something we do on an evening for a couple of hours.
“He’s made every single thing from physio, to video review, to the way we train as high-performance as he can. That’s a massive credit to him and where he wants to see the sport go and where we all want to see the sport go.”
Ryan has been exactly what any fledgling programme needs; an unflinching driving force with a professional mindset.
He has helped steer Rhinos to a play-off berth in their first season by fostering an unselfish environment.
“Dan is awesome,” says Grierson. “I cannot speak highly enough of him. He’s phenomenal as a coach, he’s technical and tactically knowledgeable. He could get on court and do an amazing job now, he could get on court and train with us.
“He is genuinely bothered about us as individuals. In other environments it’s the team mentality and everything else doesn’t really matter, but he’s such an advocate for us being mentally and physically strong.
“You can see that in the way we play. It’s nice to come off a court and get technical and tactical feedback of something to work on, rather than just being shouted at for being rubbish.
“If we’ve not played our best we feel bad for disappointing him. Whereas in some environments there’s been animosity.
“As a team we want to play the best for him.”
Such a professional environment is a far cry from the sport she knew the last time she plied her trade in her home county, playing in front of friends and family for Leeds Carnegie and then small crowds for the Yorkshire Jets, as they made their ill-fated sojourn into Superleague.
Not that she minded.
Netball has always been Grierson’s passion. She began at the age of eight at Alcuin School.
“I loved it straight away,” she said. “I remember being really upset leaving primary school for high school because I thought I wouldn’t be able to play netball any more.”
She need not have worried as her netball education continued at Harrogate Ladies School.
“I’ve always loved netball and would always have loved it to be my career, but not so long ago this sport was never seen as a professional career,” she continues.
“I remember being at Yorkshire Jets at 15, 16, none of the players were paid, we were playing in front of a few dozen people; so it’s come on leaps and bounds.
“I felt I could do it for the rest of my life but it needed the sport getting the recognition it deserved.
“The advance of professionalism helped me make my mind up, that this could be my career.”
And Leeds Rhinos’ role at the vanguard of the march towards professionalism has helped Grierson go from homegrown talent to England Futures player.