Rhea Dixon interview; How Leeds Rhinos Netball accelerated my England Roses career

A little over a year ago, Rhea Dixon was backpacking around Australia having taken a year out from her fledgling netball career.

Rhea Dixon of Leeds Rhinos in action during the match between Leeds Rhinos and Wasps on day four of round 14 of the Vitality Netball Superleague at Copper Box Arena on May 03, 2021 in London, England. (Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

Fast forward to this week, she was named as one of 24 players in the England Roses squad for the year-long build-up to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Two words can be attributed to the positive transformation of Dixon’s career: Leeds Rhinos.

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Her decision on returning from Australia to make Rhinos the team to revive her club career has been vindicated by how quickly they have provided her with an international pathway. Dixon’s story also validates the professionalism and the growing respect Rhinos are earning in what is still only their first season as a Vitality Superleague operation.

Rhea Dixon of Leeds Rhinos in action during the match between Leeds Rhinos and Wasps on day four of round 14 of the Vitality Netball Superleague at Copper Box Arena on May 03, 2021 in London, England. (Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

Indeed, if one of the pillars of Leeds’ application to bring top-flight netball back to the county was to help produce a pathway to the very top, then consider Dixon’s elevation as a huge tick in that box.

“How much have Leeds Rhinos made this possible?” she asks rhetorically. “I wouldn’t say everything but they’ve definitely been a huge, huge help.

“The people I’m surrounded by, the coaching, the environment, day to day, being able to learn from people like Jade (Clarke) and push myself against the team we’ve got, has been amazing.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to Rhinos for getting me to where I am.”

Rhea Dixon of Leeds Rhinos has been called up to the England Roses squad. (Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

The first phase of Dixon’s Superleague story began with her home town Surrey Storm.

She spent three years there before taking a new direction.

“I took a year out to take a trip to Australia,” she says. “I wanted to get away and see that part of the world.

“I found a state league team in Victoria; through friends I found a coach who was looking for a goal attack so I just jumped on board with that.

Rhea Dixon joined Leeds Rhinos ahead of their debut season in Superleague. (Picture: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)

“I was planning to stay for a year and see more of the country but then Covid hit, so I was only there for six months.

“I’m a big believer in everything happening for a reason, and it meant I could come to Rhinos and start the next stage of my career.”

At just 22 she wasn’t so much at a crossroads in her life, but certainly she needed a new direction.

The foundation of the programme being built by Dan Ryan at Leeds Rhinos was the nudge she needed.

“I was excited to be part of something new, with the calibre of players around me as well,” she says.

“Speaking to Dan and having faith in him and what he was trying to build, and the growth opportunity he could offer me was everything I was looking for.”

And even just a year out of Superleague led her to realise the leap in professionalism from an established team like Surrey to one with huge ambitions in Leeds.

“Every team is going to be different, but this is the next level of professionalism,” she adds. “At Surrey we trained twice a week, whereas here at Rhinos we train five, six times a week. It’s a massive step up. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely what I needed to push me onto the next level.”

That next level is an opportunity with England in Commonwealth Games year. There is no higher goal in netball than being a Commonwealth Games champion, as the England Roses squad of 2018 found.

Jade Clarke, Rhinos’ co-captain, was part of that team and again is in the 24-strong cohort that will convene in Loughborough at the end of the Vitality Superleague season at the end of June.

A third member of the Rhinos’ England trio is Vicky Oyesola, while Sienna Rushton and Brie Grierson have been named on the Roses Futures programme – further validation of the Rhinos programme.

“It’s a massive step up for me,” continues Dixon, who will spend four days a week in camp with the England squad, while trying to continue to work as part of the Rhinos team on their netball operation; a role she began this year.

“Just the opportunity to be in that professional environment with the names that have been named, things can only get better.

“It will be intensive but that’s what we love to do and that’s what we sign up for.

“I honestly can’t wait, to see the names that are listed, to be selected among those names is crazy.

“It’s daunting, I’m not going to lie, to step in there among those names, but it can only help me get better and it will be great to push myself.”