It’s been 15 years since Jo Harten made her domestic debut in the UK.
At 17 years old, it was almost the perfect start to her professional career, helping the Mavericks reach the Superleague grand final, but falling short to Team Bath.
Now the English shooter is one of the biggest names in the sport, as a Commonwealth Games gold medallist and three-time Netball World Cup player with more than 100 caps for her country.
Domestically, she has represented five different clubs across England, New Zealand and Australia, expanding her fan base and cementing her position as a genuine marquee player.
But in the many years since that very first professional contract, Harten has never been able to lift a national league trophy.
Beyond the Mavericks, she has come close a couple more times, finishing a runner-up with the Loughborough Lightning in 2007-8 and Giants Netball in 2017.
The opportunity to play in this weekend’s Super Netball grand final is therefore very important to the 32-year-old Giants captain, who now knows grand final appearances are hard to come by.
“Firstly, you’ve got to be part of the right organisation, and as an import player you don’t always get a lot of choice about where you play,” Harten told the ABC.
“Ever since coming to the Giants, I’ve found a sense of home and belonging in my netball, so I’d love to get my first victory here and it would be very special to do it with this group in such a crazy year.”
Harten is one of the three foundation players still with the Western Sydney-based club and she has become the heart and soul of the playing group over that five-year period.
As a leader, she has grown exponentially from a vice-captain supporting former Diamonds legend Kim Green to a head captain that has found a way to play with her heart on her sleeve while still showing composure in the crucial moments.
Last season was a particularly tough year to step into that leading role, with Super Netball forced to move the competition to Queensland due to COVID-19.
There were also a number of other challenges that kept a negative spotlight on the team over the course of the season, leading to criticism of the club culture.
“You’re always trying to ignore that outside noise, but it is hard when questions are being asked,” Harten said.
“Coming into this year, we had a long look at ourselves and spoke about the team we wanted to be, and although we knew we had the makings of a strong team with good culture, it was about fine tuning that and we’ve done a lot better this year.”
One of the highlights of this season has been the young Australian talent that has stood out from the pack, despite being less experienced and facing the best of netball’s elite.
Harten herself is one of the 20 imports in the league this year, but has actually been helping to develop local players.
Nine of the 10 senior contracted players at the Giants have come through the NSW pathways and the average age of the team’s players is 25.
Harten has had a big impact in the young stars’ development, especially that of shooting partner Sophie Dwyer.
When the team lost Kiera Austin in the second quarter of their opening game to an ACL injury, 19-year-old Dwyer’s role very quickly switched from being an impact player to a starting goal attack.
Since that moment, Harten has guided Dwyer through the competition, and together the pair have formed a formidable partnership, sharing the load as a moving circle and making things difficult for opposing teams as the leading super shot scorers in the league.
Perhaps the greatest example of Harten’s strides in the leadership space came in the last five minutes of last weekend’s preliminary final, where the West Coast Fever were coming back in a big way, behind by 10 then suddenly within two points with 30 seconds to play.
The old Jo Harten may have panicked and reverted to trying to shoot super shot after super shot to keep the team in front.
Instead, she kept the Fever defenders busy, weaving around the goal third and taking charge of the Giants’ young attacking line, setting up the play and shooting safe and steady singles.
If the Giants are to lift the trophy this year, they will need another big showing from Harten in the same controlled fashion, and if they can pull it off, it will truly be one of the defining moments of Harten’s career.
“I’ve learned to put myself in every player’s shoes, especially the younger players where I have to kind of recall what I was like when I was their age,” she said.
“It is also important to understand that as a team you’re not always going to have a perfect game, but at the same time I’m a captain that tries to lead by example and perfect my craft. And that’s probably my biggest strength — I never give up until the final whistle is blown.
“So when it comes to the finals, I’ve made a promise to myself to take hold of those crucial moments because I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve been on the wrong side of a one-goal defeat.”
You can tune in to the ABC’s Super Netball grand final call this Saturday from 2:30pm AEST on the ABC Listen app.