Leeds Rhinos star Vicki Oyesola has a point to prove

There is something infectious about watching a player with a point to prove.

By Nick Westby
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 6:15 am
Updated Saturday, 7th May 2022, 9:00 am

The netball fans of Leeds – those who have followed the sports from afar for years and those people new to the sport, bewitched by the atmosphere at home games and application of the team – will see it first hand at first direct Arena tomorrow.

That is because Vicki Oyesola of the Rhinos is such a player, one who is itching to prove people wrong.

The people in this case are the England Netball selectors who a few weeks ago informed Oyesola she would not be awarded a central contract to play with the Roses in 2022-23.

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MISSION: Leeds Rhinos' Vicki Oyesola in action against Team Bath. Picture: Ben Lumley.

A gut punch to the career of any professional but in Commonwealth Games year, the biggest event in the international netball calendar, it felt like a slap in the face for Oyesola.

“It’s been very tough over the last couple of weeks,” Rhinos’ goal defence/wing defence player admitted to the YEP.

“I’ve been getting used to the fact that I won’t be within the England set-up for the next year and trying to figure out what I’m going to be doing to get back into the programme.

“In the meantime I’ll still try and put out my best performances. It definitely gives me that motivation to play my best every week I’m out there.

PACKED HOUSE: Another bumper crowd is expected at Leeds Arena tomorrow when Leeds Rhinos take on Manchester Thunder. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

“I always do anyway, but it’s one of those things, I was very disappointed with the news but you’ve got to take it on the chin and move forward.”

The versatile defender won her first England cap in 2017 and was selected by England Netball for the Vitality Roses programme for the 2021-22 international season, forming part of the squad for last autumn’s tour to New Zealand.

But she was not one of the 24 players selected for this next 12-month period, meaning she will miss the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

“Personally I feel like I’ve been hard done by with the decision,” she said, “so I want to show that I deserve to be in the programme, just by playing my best netball.

“Let my actions and performances speak for themselves.”

That is good news for Leeds Rhinos who still have an outside chance of qualifying for the Vitality Superleague play-offs for the second successive season, especially after last night’s 49-48 victory over Surrey Storm in Hull.

Oyesola, one of the star signings for Leeds’ maiden season in Superleague last term, was instrumental in steering them to the play-offs. This year, while the club has grown off the court by playing in front of sellout crowds in Sheffield, Hull and for the second time at first direct Arena in Leeds tomorrow, results have been patchy.

“It’s been a bit of a transitional period,” admits Oyesola. “We had a new coach [Tracey Robinson] come in and that was very last minute, so it was difficult to get ourselves established early on in the season.

“We also lost Rhea Dixon early on and she’s a crucial part for us at goal attack, then we lost Emily Hollingworth at goal attack who had that ACL injury.

“So with the personnel changes it’s always going to take a while for things to gel together. Given the squad we had last year we always felt we were capable. With the injuries we suffered last year we still did really well to make the play-offs.

“We’re still targeting play-offs this season; despite the personnel changes and injuries we still believe we can make it.

“It certainly won’t be easy but it’s what we’re aiming for. Having that home crowd advantage will be big for us.”

And that is where the Leeds crowd can play a part against high-flying Manchester Thunder tomorrow (4pm), just as they did against Wasps back in March when they won by a point.

“Leeds Arena was a huge experience for us, it was amazing playing in front of such a big crowd, having that atmosphere.

“It’s among the best crowds I’ve played in front of, the fact it was our first game in Leeds and everyone was there supporting us, cheering for us, we had the drums and the songs, the way the arena is set up was amazing to be a part of.

“They gave us a huge lift. It was a really close game and it went down to the last few seconds, so having the crowd behind us definitely got us over the line.

“Hopefully they can replicate that this Sunday.”

For tickets visit tickets.rhinosnetball.co.uk