ON COURT: Lightning player Jacqui Russell.
ON COURT: Lightning player Jacqui Russell. Warren Lynam

Midcourter a 'very different' player in return to top tier

NETBALL: Sunshine Coast midcourter Jacqui Russell feels like she's got a second chance at the elite level in Australia and she's attacking it as a different type of player.

A Queensland Firebirds player in 2010-2011, she made her first appearance for the Lightning on Sunday with a composed showing at wing defence during a 60-51 round five national league victory over Adelaide at USC Stadium.

The 29-year-old was pitched into the fray by assistant coach Kylee Byrne midway through the second quarter, when the score-line was close.

"Really excited and happy to get out on court," she said.

"I think that game was a really tight one so it's good to know they've got enough faith in me, in a situation like that, so it felt really good."

Russell's been on a journey in the sport.

She got some game time with the Firebirds in the trans-Tasman club league, has been captain of the Queensland Fusion in the second tier and has experience overseas, in English Super League.

But she got an opportunity to join the Lightning as a training partner during the off-season, before a surprise call-up to the roster proper.

"I did get called in to the squad pretty late and then Pheinna (Sarahpheinna Woulf) had her injury and I was called into the 10," she said.

"So it was a bit of a whirlwind then.

"I was living in Brisbane so had to organise to take some leave from work (teaching) and they were really good about that and I moved up to the Coast and had a big lifestyle change.

"But it's been really good to get back into this environment. I'm really loving it so far.

"I do feel like it's a second chance. It's something I guess I've been hoping for, for a few years now, but was never really sure if it would come to fruition.

"So I'm really grateful that the club was willing to invest in me and give me a crack at it again."

Russell has known Byrne since she was a teenager and she was with her at the Fusion.

"Getting to work with her again has been really awesome," she said.

And now that she has a second chance on the elite stage in Australia, she's approached it in a fresh way.

"I think I'm probably a very different player to when I was with Firebirds and when I was a bit younger," she said.

"I feel like I'm a lot smarter (and) probably (have) changed physically as well.

"Where I would have run and run and run, I'm sort of a bit stronger and smarter now.

"So I do feel like I've changed a little bit and picked up a few different skills here and there.

"And playing with people like Geva (Mentor) and Karla (Pretorius), just learning heaps in the defence end is really good."

And now that she's got some court time with the Lightning, she hopes she'll get some more.

"You never know. It just depends what combos the other teams put out and what works for us on the day," she said.

"It's good, in our squad of 10, I think they (the coaching staff) can pop anyone out there and we'll get the job done."

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