Lightning players and high-performance staff returned from Fiji on Sunday where they participated in the SSN Fiji Tour — a program funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in partnership with Netball Australia.

Five Lightning players along with Lightning General Manager Performance, Brian Hopley and Physiotherapist, Greg Craig joined players and staff from Adelaide Thunderbirds to deliver school and community clinics, high performance workshops and training with the Fijian Pearls and Fiji U21s.

On the final day of the tour, athletes participated in a Fast5 exhibition match, where the Lightning and Thunderbirds players were each joined by five Fijian Pearls members to make up their squads.

Brian Hopley said the players thoroughly enjoyed the experience and interacting with the locals, who welcomed them with open arms and smiles.

“Some of the key takeaways from this was the humility of the Fijian players. Even though they don’t have the facilities that we have, their general love of sport and the enjoyment of participating with their friends shone through,” he said.

“The visit to a village and running a netball clinic on a rugby field in the Village Green was a great experience for all — for the players to see that with ingenuity anything can be done. The village made goalposts out of PVC pipe and branches so the Village people had the opportunity to play Netball. This was a great learning experience for our players as it showed that even though they had very little they still made it happen.

Brian said he hopes the inaugural tour will be done again and gave a special mention to the Pearls players.

“Netball Australia and PacificAus Sport did a great job putting this together. It was a learning experience for all involved and we hope this program can be continued to assist the locals in developing their netball program,” he said.

“The Fast5 exhibition match was a lot of fun as we integrated the Fijian Pearls players into the two teams. With only two training sessions together, the Pearls performed exceptionally well and showed their athleticism.”

The Lightning players expressed their gratitude for the program and what they took away from the experience.

“What I thought would be a trip all about sharing my love for the game, has been a trip where I have learned so much more about the shared connection that netball can bring to our communities. We have been welcomed with open arms, big smiles and have shared many laughs as we have delivered clinics and training sessions to the Fijian locals. It has truly been an unforgettable experience.” — Maddie Hinchliffe

“This has been such an incredible trip! I thought we were coming here to teach Fijians about our game, but they are the ones that have taught me so much! The impact a smile and a laugh can have, the simple joys of spending time with other people and their genuine connection with their friends and family is unreal.” — Tara Hinchliffe

“It’s not very often that we go on a tour that isn’t based on a result. This experience has been purely about sharing our passion and love for our game.

Sport brings people together and this tour has been a perfect example of that. It is experiences like this that make me proud and grateful to be a part of the netball community!” — Laura Scherian

“I have never been on a netball trip that didn’t focus on a competition or winning so this immersion tour has been amazing. I loved training with and getting to know the Fiji Pearls. It’s incredible how netball can bring two groups of people together to provoke understanding and friendship even when speaking different languages.” — Annie Miller

PacificAus Sports aims to create new opportunities for athletes, coaches and administrators to train, play and grow together. Through collaborative and ambitious partnerships, the PacficiAus Sports Program will drive success for the Pacific sports community, unlocking the potential of a new generation of sporting champions.

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