A COMMONWEALTH Games gold medal, a second Superleague triumph and two prizes at the 2018 Sports Personality of the Year Awards – no wonder former Leeds Carnegie netballer Natalie Haythornthwaite says 2018 has been her best year.
After sharing a stage with the likes of England football captain Harry Kane at SPOTY 2018, Haythornthwaite is focused on ‘bringing it home’ ahead of the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool next July.
Netball is ‘coming home’ and so is Haythornthwaite, whose rapid rise is taking her to the Australian league next year.
Haythornthwaite’s 2018 began with the former Yorkshire Jets star selected to represent England at her first Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia in April.
Hayhthornthwaite’s England Roses then claimed gold by beating tournament favourites Australia in their own backyard thanks to Helen Housby scoring in the final second.
Less than three months later, Haythornthwaite was celebrating again as her Wasps side defeated Loughborough Lightning 55-51 in the Grand Final to retain netball’s Superleague title.
Winning gold at the Commonwealth Games against Australia in Australia was probably the hardest thing we’ve had to do and we did it.Natalie Haythornthwaite
Within one week, Hayhthornthwaite’s upwardly mobile career reached new heights in a very different direction with the 26-year-old boarding the plane to Australia to play the remaining months of the season in Australia’s Suncorp Super Netball league for New South Wales Swifts, replacing the injured Claire O’Brien.
The Swifts were so impressed with Haythornthwaite that they offered the attacker a permanent move for 2019, one which ambitious Haythornthwaite has grasped with both hands.
England’s netballers have also been boosted by the news that their sport has secured crucial funding from Sport England, safeguarding their future as full-time athletes until at least 2021. Years can barely get better than the 2018 she has just experienced, but Keighley-born Haythornthwaite is going to try and better it.
Upon receiving awards for both the team of the year and sporting moment of the year at the 2018 Sports Personality Of The Year awards, Haythornthwaite and her team-mates were asked on stage about the prospect of now ‘bringing it home’ ahead of their bid for global domination at next year’s Netball World Cup.
“Imagine next year if the netball World Cup trophy is at SPOTY,” said Haythornthwaite. “How cool would that be?
“We are going to do everything we can. We are going to train harder than we did for the Commonwealth Games, we are going to tick all the boxes and we are going to make sure we have turned every stone to try and back it up.
“Winning gold at the Commonwealth Games against Australia in Australia was probably the hardest thing we’ve had to do and we did it.
“It’s pretty much the reverse now so everyone is coming to England and everyone wants to beat England right now.
“We are definitely going for gold. It’s going to be difficult but we are up for the challenge.”
That challenge will begin in earnest on Friday, July 12, when England take on Uganda in their Group D opener at the Echo Arena in Liverpool.
After flying over to England, fierce rivals Australia will begin their bid the same day against Northern Ireland and the flight from Down Under will also be made by Haythornthwaite, selection permitting, following her switch to the Swifts.
The transfer has meant a huge commitment for Haythornthwaite, who bought her first property with boyfriend Josh in Doncaster earlier this year.
Whilst he and her family stay back home in England, Haythornthwaite will be based Down Under for around three-quarters of the year.
Going for World Cup glory and switching to New South Wales Swifts will be the latest chapters in an incredibly successful career for the former Yorkshire Jets star now jet-setting for her country.
Few will sport wider smiles than Haythornthwaite when she reflects on 2018 come New Year’s Eve.
The netballer beamed: “I turned 26 and I put on my Instagram about this year and I think it is definitely up there with the best year of my life. In fact, it actually is the best year of my life.
“Who gets to go to their first ever Commonwealth Games, wins a gold medal and then gets nominated for all of these awards as part of a team and then goes on and wins them? You can’t write it.”