Nia Jones is no stranger to flying to Australia. Earlier this year she flew with her Welsh teammates to compete in the Netball competition at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. This time however, the ball will be a different shape, as she heads off to Melbourne to take part in the AFLW International Rookie Camp.
Alongside 17 other sportswomen from around the world, Jones was selected to take part in the Camp, which will be attended by several AFLW clubs.
It must seem like a long time since she was initially approached and had the CrossCoders scheme recommended to her by AFLW player Lauren Spark.
“I just thought they were being polite!” says Nia Jones remembering getting the message.. “They said that they’d been following my sporting ventures on social media and thought I’d be a good candidate for the programme! I read through the website, filled in the application and just thought nothing of it!”
Jones brings plenty of experience, although not from any oval-shaped ball-sports. Capped 28 times for the Welsh national soccer team, she scored on her senior Wales debut, something she ranks as her proudest sporting moment.
“It was an 8-1 victory in my hometown,” said Jones. “The feeling of coming on in the final few minutes and scored aged 18 was magic.”
Jones currently plays for the Celtic Dragons in the Vitality Netball Superleague and has represented Wales at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.
However, ahead of her trip to Melbourne, Jones has had to swap her netball shoes for football boots, confessing to giving them a good scrub with a toothbrush shortly before leaving for Melbourne.
“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had to clean my football boots, which is what I did before my flight, but I’m looking forward to sprinting around a big green pitch again.”
The 25-year-old says she will bring several skills from her netball and soccer background including a high work rate, spatial awareness, quick reactions and communication skills.
“My favourite think about netball is intercepts, and they’re pretty similar to marks so I’m hoping I can get my hands on the ball. My penalty count in netball is always top of the charts too, so I’m excited to be able to get into some physical contests.”
“In all seriousness, I love any team sport with a ball involved and my competitive personality will no doubt come out.”
Since announcing that she had made it through to the International Rookie Camp, Jones says that her friends, family and teammates are all pretty shocked, but not too surprised.
“They know I like a challenge. They’ve all been really supportive and I’ve had lots of lovely messages that have given me a great boost prior to the camp. They all mucked together to help me film clips, practice my handballing, packing kit and even buying and fitting my gum shield!
“I’ve had two international umpires wish me luck on twitter today so I think they’re hoping it’s the last they see of me as they won’t need to blow their whistles as much!”
Jones knows she will have some serious competition if she wants to grab herself a professional Australian rules contract, and has admitted to having a little Instagram stalk of the other CrossCoders.
“They all look like fantastic athletes who I’m sure will bring lots of different skills and personalities to the camp. Some have AFL experience and lots of them are Gaelic Footballers which is relatively similar to Aussie Rules, but as we know CrossCoders aren’t looking for a finished article so I’m sure all our various strengths will make for a great few training sessions.”
Jones admits that this is by far the most random moment of her life.
“I’m a complete novice at Aussie Rules,” she said. “But I know I can run, kick and catch so I’ll just see how I go. I’m sure whatever happens the experience in itself will make me a better athlete.”