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Interview: England netball star Sara Bayman

Sports Mole chats to England and Manchester Thunder netball captain Sara Bayman about the upcoming season and where Tracey Neville can take the national side.

Captaining both club and country is a great honour for any sportsperson, and that is exactly what Sara Bayman will be doing this month when she leads England in a three-match Test series against Australia before trying to guide Manchester Thunder to a second Superleague title in three years.

England Netball has entered a new era under coach Tracey Neville - the sister of ex-Manchester United footballers Phil and Gary - as she took the job permanently in September after guiding the team to bronze at the World Cup last year.

As netball's profile continues to grow in the UK, all eight Superleague teams will compete in Sky Sports' 'Super Saturday', which involves back-to-back matches to kick off the domestic season on January 30 in Birmingham, just six days after England complete their contest against the Diamonds.

Sports Mole recently caught up with Bayman to discuss her hopes for the season, how netball can attract more interest from sports fans and if England can become the best in the world.

Sara Bayman in action on August 14, 2015© Getty Images

Let's start with 'Super Saturday' - it must be exciting for the players and it's a big indication that interest is growing in netball, isn't it?

"Yeah, it's amazing. To have sold 7,000 tickets already is phenomenal and I think the players are really excited because we don't normally get to see all the teams together even as players, so it's good to keep an eye on everyone and see what the teams are up to. For the fans, it's going to be a lot of fun because you get all the teams there and I think people are going to dress up. It's going to be a bit of a party atmosphere so it should be a really good day."

Does the disappointment of missing out on the Grand Final with Thunder last season give you added incentive to go that one step further this time around?

"Yeah, I think so. I think from our point of view we feel like there's a bit of unfinished business. We were devastated to go out at the semi-final and we didn't really play well enough, so there's some wrongs to be righted this year and hopefully we can do that, but I think it's going to be a tough season for all the teams and it's going to be close for who makes the playoffs, let alone the final."

You mention how tight you think it will be, I suppose it will be a big ask for Thunder to go unbeaten in the regular season again like you did in 2015?

"I can't see any team doing that this season. I think teams will all take points off each other. I think it will be a bit of a topsy-turvy season because all the squads look closely matched. So I don't think there will be one dominant team - I'll probably be proven wrong now! That was phenomenal last season, but ultimately you've got to win when it matters so I think that is going to be the focus for this season."

Internationally and domestically netball in this country is in a good place at the moment, but what more do you think needs to be done to attract more interest and participation?

"I think 'Super Saturday' is a really good idea and a step forward. Sky having 'netball month' in January is huge for us where we can get that exposure and not just to netball fans. We really need to try to hit those audiences that aren't necessarily watching netball now and get them hooked on the sport and get really strong fan bases for all the franchises so that everyone's got a following and we can make it like football where everyone has their own team. That's the aim and hopefully if the Superleague provides top competition and great matches on TV, that will start to develop."

Sara Bayman in action in October 2013© Getty Images

What interested you in the sport?

"I think because it's a team sport. The thing that kept me in netball and made me enjoy it is the fact that you get so many friends from it, you can make such good friendships - not just from your team but the girls in other teams. There's a real family feel to it, especially within a squad, you're all working for each other. No-one can win a netball game single-handedly - it's true team sport and everyone has to take responsibility and do their own job and that's why I enjoy it."

In the summer, England Women's footballers got a lot of press attention at the World Cup in Canada. Do you look at that and hope that the England netball team can create the same level of interest?

"Yeah, there was so much excitement around the footballers. We were in camp at the time and we had it playing on big screens in our hotel, so it really did capture the public's imagination and that's what we're looking to do. They are now building on that and going from strength to strength and that's great to see in women's sport. So I think that's kind of a blueprint that netball can follow. There's room for that in women's sport and people are genuinely interested and will get on board if you put good performances and a great product out there."

You said earlier that you want to attract interest from sports fans in general. At the moment, women's sport as a whole is doing really well. Do you think now is the best time to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak?

"I think so. I think women's sport is thriving and sport in general is on people's minds so a lot of people aren't just watching one sport - that's what we need to get hold of. People who just generally enjoy sport will probably enjoy watching netball, so it's about making sure that they see it and that they're aware of it so that they can find out if they enjoy it or not."

What are your thoughts on netball not being an Olympic sport?

"It's a real shame. The Commonwealth Games are our big multi-sport event, but I think netball has got everything that you'd want in an Olympic sport - it would be the pinnacle of the sport and it's a team game that can capture people's imagination. Like I say, it's a real shame that it's not an Olympic sport and it looks like it's a long way off from making the Olympics so if that's not going to happen, you have to focus on making the league stronger and trying to get more money and more professionalism into the league."

Sara Bayman in action on August 2, 2014© Getty Images

You worked under Tracey Neville at club level. Do you think your previous time together will help the relationship between captain and coach on the international stage?

"I'd like to think so. We obviously know each other well and we communicate easily with each other so hopefully that will make the relationship easy and it will reflect in a harmonious relationship between the management and the players."

Neville has said that she wants to help make England become the best in the world. Do you think that she is capable of doing that?

"It's hard to say because this is such a new team - we lost so many players after the World Cup and we've got so many new faces in it. I think the series against Australia will be a really good benchmark of where we're at and how realistic that aim is. If you can put out good performances against the world number one then you know you're doing something right. We really need to focus on this series and see what we're starting from in terms of trying to get to number one."

Is that the main aim for this series then, to see how you work as a new team?

"Yeah I think so. We've not played a competitive match together yet, which is very different to the team that went to the World Cup having played for years and years together. So it's about finding our feet as a squad and seeing where we're at and testing ourselves against the best in the world, trying to put out good performances."

Sky Sports' biggest ever season of netball begins with live coverage of all three international matches between England and Australia followed by every round of the Vitality Netball Superleague.

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England coach Tracey Neville speaks to players during the 2015 Netball World Cup Semi Final 1 match between New Zealand and England at Allphones Arena on August 15, 2015 in Sydney, Australia.
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