Rising star Donnell Wallam is a former state basketballer who has joined Leeds Rhinos Netball under the leadership of Dan Ryan on a two-year contract. The Vitality Netball Superleague is due to start again in February 2021.
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 23/11/20 11:40am
Donnell Wallam only started played netball competitively two years ago, but now she has signed for Leeds Rhinos Netball and is ready to take her game to the next level in the Vitality Netball Superleague.
When the competition’s signing window opened, the focus of many people turned to Leeds Rhinos Netball to see who Dan Ryan would trust to be part of his inaugural squad for the 2021 season.
England’s most capped player, Jade Clarke, set the tone for their announcements. Alongside other well-known names like Madi Browne, Vicki Oyesola and Fi Toner, there was a less familiar one; Donnell Wallam.
Ever since he stepped into the role of high performance director and Superleague head coach, Ryan has been open about his ambition to put a full-time high-performance programme in place and what it will entail.
“When building this programme for the athletes, the most important thing was to make sure that the programme truly represents what a high-performance environment should look like and to do that we needed to provide more and demand more,” Ryan said to Sky Sports.
Having a daily training environment for the athletes was a non-negotiable for me because I’m very passionate about my vision to professionalise what we do at Rhinos and hopefully help drive Superleague standards forward.
“During recruitment, I wanted to find a group of athletes who were willing to make that level of investment into the programme but more importantly had the hunger and drive to do so,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what each of them can do in a full-time programme and how much it can help develop them; technically, tactically, physically and mentally.”
In Wallam, Ryan has someone whose growth curve could be the steepest of anyone in the Vitality Netball Superleague next season. The 6ft 2in shooter is a former state basketball player and someone who arrived at netball late in her sporting career.
“I only started playing netball competitively two years ago, Wallam said to Sky Sports. “I was playing locally [in Australia] and one of my coaches played in the state league for the men’s team.
“He said to me that I should try out for a women’s side because I was good enough. I replied that I didn’t think I was, but ended up going to the try-outs and fell in love with the game. It’s been an amazing two years.”
Her rapid introduction to the sport has seen her win back-to-back titles with the West Coast Warriors in the Gold Industry Group West Australian league and be crowned the Jill McIntosh Medallist for two successive years.
Wallam finished the 2020 season with a league-high 1013 goals, which equated to 430 more goals than any other player.
To score over 1000 goals in a season is no easy feat and to achieve that in only her second season in the competition is truly amazing. This award is a testament to Donnell’s hard work and passion for the game and her club.
Liz Booth – Netball WA General Manager of Community Netball
After having a prolific scoring-rate and influence in the West Australian league, Wallam defied her limited time in the sport by thriving on an even greater stage, as the WA All-Stars mixed team faced West Coast Fever in an exhibition match.
She remembers the encounter in mid-July clearly and admitted that she didn’t have any idea about just how well she would play.
“I just remember thinking that it was going to be a good experience to play against Fever at a big arena [the 15,000 capacity RAC Arena], in front of a big crowd. I just thought to myself that I needed to enjoy it.
“I was so nervous in the warm-up, my coach saw that so she started me on the bench. We had rolling subs, thank goodness, so I was subbed on within five minutes and then I got out there and did what I had to do!
“I was pretty intimidated by Courtney Bruce, she’s an Australian Diamond and a great defender. She has that ability to really stop the shooters, so I thought if I could just get one goal, I would be happy!”
In fact, Wallam finished the match having scored 50 of her side’s 60 goals as they edged Fever 60-59. The experience helped to shape her goals for the future and gained her a training partner contract with Fever the following day.
I felt comfortable out there and it was when I realised that this is what I want to be doing, playing on that big court against the stars.
Despite having that training partner contract, game time wasn’t readily available during 2020 due to the restrictions surrounding Suncorp Super Netball and their hub in Queensland. Now, having signed a two-year contract with Leeds Rhinos Netball, playing time should be plentiful under Ryan.
“She’s an almighty target, deadly accurate and her ability to pluck the ball out of the air is a sight to be seen,” Ryan said of his new shooter.
“What is so exciting though is she’s still very raw and has so much development ahead of her.
“She is so determined to learn and grow and has her sights set on some big dreams. I truly believe she has the potential to be a world-beater and we are just so thrilled she has chosen Leeds Rhinos as her new netball home.”
These days it’s rare to find a gem but DR did just that with Donnell Wallam. @RhinosNetballSL are thrilled to welcome Nell to the UK & Leeds & can’t wait to introduce her to you all. Tall, athletic, strong, high 90’s shot & difficult to disrupt (ask Courtney Bruce) #🦏💛💙 https://t.co/n0urDYK23T
— Maggie-B (@maggie5208) October 30, 2020
Life in Australia is “pretty normal” right now according to Wallam, however, the restrictions England with regard to COVID-19, aren’t worrying her at all.
Instead, she’s keen to come over as soon as possible in order to get to know her new team-mates and become part of Leeds Rhinos Netball’s first season.
As her new head coach says, Wallam has so much development ahead of her. As a shooter himself, Ryan knows what it takes to excel in a team’s attack-end and he has ensured Wallam will have the right team-mates around her too.
In Clarke and Madi Browne, the Australian shooter has some of the world’s best feeding her and acting as mentors, while younger members of Rhinos’ squad like Sienna Rushton and Rhea Dixon will play key roles in her development too.
When the Superleague starts in February, keep an eye out for a lay-up shot or two from Wallam and be prepared for her to find her feet just as quickly as she did against Bruce inside the RAC Arena back in July.