Family environment the key to Sigi Burger’s move to Leeds Rhinos Netball

It was the family environment and the team mentality that convinced Sigi Burger that Leeds Rhinos was the perfect club to continue her netballing journey with.

The 25-year-old goal-shooter from South Africa had come to the end of her contract with London Pulse having spent the last four years developing her game in the Vitality Superleague.

She was inundated with offers, as befitting a veteran international, but the chance to step out of her comfort zone and sample another culture was too hard to turn down.

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So in October, a girl who had played netball since the age of four and had got used to life in the fastlane of London, headed north.

ON THE ATTACK: Leeds Rhinos Netball's new signing Sigi Burger in action for her former club London Pulse. Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images.

“People have weird accidents, it’s a bit more rough and tumble, but I’m really enjoying it,” laughs Burger on her first impressions, who along with her new team-mates begins the Vitality Superleague season against Loughborough Lightning tomorrow.

“I’d been going out with a Harrow School rugby player down south, it was the perfect southern setting, so when I came up here it was a bit of a culture shock.

“But I’ve made some incredible friends up here already and I’m very happy.

“I grew up in Cape Town, I’m used to all the sun and the great weather and the beautiful food and wonderful views. But coming up north reminds me of home because the people here are so kind and friendly.

“And I love living in Headingley. It’s a fun and vibrant area.”

If Burger sounds larger than life, it’s because she is.

In conversation with her, even after a training session with the Rhinos, she is gregarious and full of stories.

“The big thing for me with Leeds was the girls looked like a family,” she tells the YEP on the reasons why she joined the club.

GEARING UP: Leeds Rhinos' new coach Tracey Robinson in training. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

“They might not have had massive names in the world of netball – apart from Jade Clarke who is a legend of the game – but otherwise it was like normal girls.

“They played so well together last year. It wasn’t a team of superstars but the way they played together made them a team of superstars.

“It looked a big family atmosphere, they played really exciting netball and it just looked a really good set-up.

“I could totally see myself getting involved in that.

“Even playing against them last season, we only lost to them by two goals, but even then I thought they were having so much fun. Then watching them again in finals week I was like ‘this looks like such a good team, on and off the court, I need to be there’.”

Her journey to Leeds was 21 years in the making.

Burger takes up the story.

“My mum played for South Africa Netball but at the age of 33 she fell pregnant with me and that ended her career,” she says. “After that she has lived her netball career through me.

“I started at age four, I’d get taken out of pre-school to go and train with the Under-7s, so basically started from a young age and have always played goal-shooter.

“I was coached by my mum at primary school, and then for high school I went two-and-a-half hours away to an all-girls boarding school, and then after that we had a 15-hour drive across country to university, and that’s where the coaches saw real potential in me.

“They put me into the South Africa netball programme, so every day at uni in the middle of the day in 35-degree heat they’d take me for individual skill sessions, shooting specialisation sessions etc.

“Within a year and a half I was one of the youngest players to ever debut for the South Africa team, I’ve been in the SA netball squad since I was 16.”

Representing the Proteas at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast of Australia in 2018 followed, as did the Netball World Cup in Liverpool a year later.

“I’ve obviously got my eye on the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer,” she adds.

As well as the netball and acclimatising to life ‘up north’, Burger juggles a full-time sporting career at Rhinos with a full-time job working in artificial intelligence.

Back in London she worked for an investment bank.

“I do attend every single netball session but I also do have another full-time job; for me it’s all about just juggling,” says Burger.

“We might have a two- or three-hour session in the morning which means I then have to work two or three hours later in the evening.”

The culture she has discovered at Leeds impresses her.

“It’s such a good standard, really high,” says Burger, capped 29 times by South Africa.

“We have objectives for each training session, everyone knows what to expect, what to do, so we set the standard.

“We know what’s going to happen in every session, we push it to the highest intensity we can, and it’s been absolutely awesome.

“So as well as them welcoming me in with open arms, we push each other every single session, because we want training to be as hard as it can be so when we come to a match nothing scares us because we’ve had harder opponents in training itself.

“The values are great – it’s a no bulls**t environment. If there’s a problem it gets addressed and sorted out as soon as it arises. Everyone is on the same page.”

And new coach Tracey Robinson, who only took over from Dan Ryan a month ago, has made a big impression.

“She’s awesome. The team had Dan Ryan beforehand, he left huge shoes to fill, so Tracey coming in and only starting in January could have been very nerve-racking for her but she has slotted in really well.

“The thing about Rhinos is they created such strong foundations and a blueprint that anybody who joins, whether you’re a coach or a player, it’s easy to slot in because everyone knows their objectives, goals etc. The Rhinos way is ingrained, and Tracey is bringing the Aussie flair and all her years of experience to help enhance us as a club and as a team. We have so much respect for her, it’s a great environment to work in.”

Rhinos finished fourth in their maiden season in the Vitality Superleague. What are the objectives for 2022 when they will play their home games across Yorkshire, starting in Sheffield a week on Monday?

“Definitely top four,” says Burger, emphatically. “We wouldn’t be competitive if we didn’t say our end goal wasn’t the big trophy.”

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