Rudi Ellis loves the competitive side of netball, the work and the training and the winning, of course. But she loves the people more.
‘The people are just amazing. The girls I’ve met along the way and been in teams with, honestly I could call most of them my best friends.’
Ellis had always dreamed of being a professional athlete and while she played plenty of sports growing up, it was netball and the people and environment that surrounded the sport that won her heart.
Late last year, after stints training with the NSW Swifts and Melbourne Vixens and a couple of seasons with the Australian Netball League’s Victorian Fury, Ellis was drafted by Suncorp Super Netball team, the Queensland Firebirds.
‘It was so exciting. I think these days it’s so hard to crack into the ten as a young netballer just because there are so many amazing international talents that are in the competition now.
‘I actually found out on our Vixens’ end of season celebration night. I got the call from the Firebirds that they wanted me to come up for a training session and to meet everyone.
‘Everyone was so lovely, they’re the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I don’t know if it’s just a Queensland thing or just a pretty cool group of people. But yeah, everyone was awesome. And then I got offered a contract that night, which [was] pretty cool.’
Heading to the sunshine state
After moving to the sunshine state at the end of 2019, Ellis was straight into pre-season training.
‘It’s been awesome. I haven’t felt out of it or not knowing the girls that well or anything, they’ve been so welcoming. And training has been really hard. We’ve got Brynley [Abad] who’s our new strength and conditioning coach for the year and he [was the strength and conditioning coach] when they won the two premierships in a row a few years ago. And he’s awesome… makes it hard for us, but in a really, really good way.
‘And we’ve got Katie Walker, our new assistant coach on board and she’s really cool as well, as well as Claire [Ferguson]. It’s a really cool team this year and support staff and everything’s just awesome. So hopefully, yeah, we get to get out there and show everyone what we’ve got.’
A defining moment
Ellis spent much of her early life travelling the world, an experience which has prepared her for her for the move north.
‘I was pretty much born and then we moved to Papua New Guinea and then back to Australia. We’ve lived in China, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore. I can’t remember all of them to be honest.
‘I think it’s definitely made me pretty comfortable in meeting new people and moving around and yeah, obviously awesome to be involved in different cultures growing up.’
Ellis’ father worked for a multinational company, hence the travel. But when she was 12, Ellis went to boarding school. It was a defining moment, as it was when she started playing netball.
‘[I] played a whole heap of different sports: athletics, basketball, swimming, cross country. But then when I moved to high school, I went to boarding school for high school [when] my parents moved overseas. So I started playing club netball… in Sydney.
‘It was just a really good group of girls that played club netball, a few girls from the boarding house. So yeah, that’s sort of why I chose netball.’
A fury flag
From there, Ellis played in the U17 and U19 NSW teams and was then offered a training partnership with the NSW Swifts. However, Ellis was looking for a change and so she moved to Melbourne for university. But netball was also on the agenda and Ellis spent two years as training partner with the Vixens and played for the Victorian Fury in the ANL. Ellis says playing with the Fury and winning the 2019 ANL Premiership has been one of her career highlights.
‘It was honestly my favourite year of netball. I think having Di Honey as our head coach because she was initially assistant coach of Vixens… but she’s just incredible and the support staff we had that year and then the girls. I think getting to know them over the two-and-a-half years, three years I was in Melbourne, I think we all just really gelled as a team. It was just such an awesome year and the grand final was like one point in it kind of thing at the end so definitely a nail biter.’
The Victorian Fury played the New South Wales Waratahs in the 2019 ANL grand final, with the result coming down to the final seconds.
‘It was just like goal for goal. Lauren Moore, during the game, popped her shoulder out, like so much happened. It was crazy. And then at the very end, I think we were down by two goals maybe and Emma Ryde turned the ball over. Then I turned the ball over and then yeah, we got a point, which is pretty cool.
‘Probably be nicer to not have a heart attack but at the same time it was pretty exciting!’
Hard work key to success
While it hasn’t been a straightforward path to the Firebirds, Ellis credits the hard work she’s put in as the key to her success.
‘The biggest thing is just hard work. I think hard work when no one’s watching, it’s just so important. Like if you know fitness isn’t your strength or if you’re a shooter and your accuracy isn’t great then it’s just doing that behind the scenes work to build those things
‘You’ve got to be resilient to an extent too. Because everyone’s faced with setbacks and it’s just how you react to those setbacks as to how far you get with netball. So if you use those negative setbacks as something positive to make you more hungry that definitely helps.’
That resilience and willingness to work is evident in a particularly interesting aspect of Ellis’ story. While Ellis played most of her junior career in attack as a shooter, at an Australian camp she was encouraged to consider switching to defence.
‘They told me that there’ll be lots of tall shooters in the future and they want to develop more tall defenders so [they] asked me to make the switch. So I made a switch to defence.
‘It was optional. They didn’t say you have to go to defence. But at the time there were so many tall shooters like Caitlin Bassett and then all these international tall shooters that have come in as well. And I guess because I can jump and run and I’m a bit more athletic than your standard tall holding shooter I thought, why not? Like if the opportunity is going to be there, then it’d be silly not to take it.’
Getting more of an opportunity
It’s a role that Ellis has taken to and one she now thoroughly enjoys.
‘I feel like my experience in being a shooter has really helped with my defence because, especially with tall holding shooters, I feel like I know where they want to hold, where their body positioning is going to be and how to then counteract that in defense. And I think in defence you’re able to run around a bit more and be a bit more of a mongrel which I like,’ she says, laughing.
While there are still no clear public details around when Ellis and her teammates will return to the court, the young defender is determined to remain positive. It’s a positivity that is reflected in how she views the current landscape of women’s sport.
‘I think it’s so awesome… I think it’s so cool that women are getting more of an opportunity and more exposure. Because I think, at the end of the day, it is something that people do want to watch. And something that’s going to inspire young girls to actually get out there, get fit, get active, join a team. I just think being a part of a team is such a special thing. Whether it be a professional [team] or not. I just think it’s so cool how women’s sport is getting bigger and better. I hope it continues to go like that.’