Narelle Eather is by her own admission the ultimate competitor.
But the most experienced player in Newcastle netball's championship division is happy to be putting the focus on fun and development this year as she prepares to return to the court in a new-look and modified competition next week.
The 44-year-old former national league player will be back in action for Souths after a knee reconstruction which followed a season-ending ACL injury sustained while playing at the NSW open titles in June last year.
Newcastle Netball Association were set to launch a new three-tiered top-level series in April before sport was put on hold due to the coronavirus crisis. In its place will now be a 10-week club championship, starting July 25. There will be no finals but eight clubs will field teams in championship, open and under 23 divisions with points from each accumulating to determine an overall club champion.
"I really like the idea of the club championship," Eather said. "It's a good thing for clubs. It means it's not just about the top teams. It's about eight clubs now building together. The young ones in Newcastle can now see that there's eight strong clubs that have opportunities.
"This year is more about building that and promoting that three-tier competition."
Souths have consistently been one of the stronger clubs in Newcastle's top division in recent years but will take the court this year without championship-winning coach Trude Yen and a host of experience.
"We've got a fairly new team with really only three long-term players that have come back," Eather said.
"Having no finals means this is building time for our club. We've got the new three-tier structure and we've got lots of new young ones coming through. There's no pressure to make those young ones prove themselves and getting that court time without that added pressure might be a good thing."
As for herself, the evergreen midcourt dynamo has been thankful for the added break.
"I had planned to come back early but it has actually made me have the whole 12 months off and I feel strong and fit and ready to go," Eather said.
"I thought that if I come back and I don't have the right mindset when I'm playing, if I'm thinking about the injury or it didn't feel right, then I wouldn't play. But we had a game last week and I was fine.
"I don't think I've ever had a break from netball since I was five. I have enjoyed it and I'm actually coming back to netball because I enjoy it rather than me proving something about an injury."
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