It’s one of those lessons you tend to learn with age – how to trust your gut. Former Silver Fern Leana de Bruin wishes she’d learnt it a little earlier in life, with the stunning netballer admitting there have been a few instances where a bit of trusting her first instincts would have come in handy.
“I’ve learnt a few lessons along the way,” Leana says with a wry smile. So when it came to making the decision to move across the Tasman for a one-year contract with the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Leana (40) knew what she had to do – and three months later, the star defender knows her gut was 100% spot on.
While it’s a big call to leave New Zealand – pulling her seven-year-old son Caleb out of his school and leaving her partner behind – Leana says she wasn’t quite ready to leave netball behind. Plus, she knew if she turned down this opportunity to play in Australia’s netball league, she’d always wonder, ‘what if?’.
“I was definitely at a bit of a crossroads,” says Leana, who last year captained new team the Northern Stars in New Zealand’s new ANZ Premiership.
“I was thinking, ‘Do I retire? Do I go one more year?’ And then, all of a sudden, this came up. So I figured if they thought I was still good enough to be there, then I’d give it one more year. Plus, I still have a lot of fire in my belly.”
She continues, “I did get a little overwhelmed making the decision. I did feel responsible for the Stars in some way – we didn’t do as well as we’d hoped this year and I know there’s huge potential.
“But, at the same time, I’d reached the stage in my career where, and it sounds so horrible, I had to be a little bit selfish and do what I wanted.”
So Leana and Caleb are preparing to make the move to Adelaide in the New Year, with the duo both very excited to experience a new city, culture and in Leana’s case, some of South Australia’s famous wine!
“Well, I won’t be able to enjoy it too much during the season, but after the season is a different story!” she laughs.
“But we are really looking forward to it. I asked Caleb about it, because this would mean spending less time with his dad [Leana’s ex-husband Quinton]. But, as Caleb pointed out, it’s not forever and he said to me, ‘Mum, we’ll just FaceTime him!’ I video call my parents every Sunday in South Africa, it’s a bit of a tradition, so Caleb said, ‘If you do that with your mum and dad, I’ll do it with mine.’ It was very cute.”
Leana, who describes herself as a farm girl who doesn’t have a lot of love for big cities, is adamant that this is a one-year move – home for both her and Caleb is their farmhouse in the Waikato.
“I definitely can’t see myself living in Australia,” she tells. “I have a partner here. He was very supportive as well. He said if I didn’t do it, I’d regret it one day. It’s better to know than wonder! And Adelaide is only a flight away.”
She acknowledges that playing for an Australian team for the first time in her career was a big decision. Leana, who has represented New Zealand 104 times and her native South Africa in 34 tests, feels a huge loyalty to Aotearoa and the people here who gave her the opportunities that have led her to this point.
However, crossing enemy lines, as it were, can only help her in the future – especially with her new business Leana de Bruin Netball, which offers coaching clinics to young and old players across the country.
While it was time to give something back to the netball community, her new venture also serves as a pathway to her ultimate goal – to become a franchise coach in New Zealand.
“When I retired from the Ferns last year, I knew I still wanted to be involved with netball – I love it. I want to share my knowledge and obviously pay the bills!”
But as she prepares to depart for her new chapter across the Tasman, Leana says she’s leaving her heart here in New Zealand.
“Thank you so much to New Zealand – I’m so grateful for everything,” she says with a wide smile. “I’ll be back – don’t you worry about that!”
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