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Ian Harkin
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Jessica Halloran
Sydney Morning Herald

She has had teammates in tears. There is no doubting the determination of Liz Ellis. She spoke to Jessica Halloran ahead of tonight’s netball grand final.

SHE told of how she bribed a man (with small change) to kiss one of her Sydney teammates in a Perth nightclub recently. She told tales of tedious days as a construction lawyer and of how, when another solicitor rambled about the placement of a comma in a contract, she knew she had to quit. Liz Ellis, as always, was the centre of attention and entertained her table with her stories at the national league grand final breakfast yesterday.

But she didn’t have much to giggle about earlier this year. It is 10 months to the day that the Swifts captain was wheeled into an operating theatre and given a knee reconstruction. But if Sydney win the grand final tonight against the Adelaide Thunderbirds, there will be some redemption for all her pain. “It will go a long way to making up towards the stuff I had to go through to get here,” Ellis said. “If we were to win the grand final it would make me feel that things had turned around.”

That right knee caused Ellis the saddest period of her career when she missed the Commonwealth Games in March. She had desperately wanted to be part of the Melbourne Games. There were low times when all she wanted was to drink wine and quiz her close friends who had suffered similar injuries, including teammate Alison Broadbent.

Broadbent, who has endured two knee reconstructions, told her what to expect and the mental hurdles she’d have to overcome. “With Ally, she told more of what I should expect,” Ellis said. “She didn’t need to give me pep talks or anything because I’m capable of doing that for myself.”

The pair has been alongside each other on the court for 14 years and form the goal defensive combination for the Swifts. When Ellis was crushed by injury last year it was a sad moment, said Broadbent. “Lizzy couldn’t have picked a worst time for her to have an injury,” Broadbent said. “It took a lot of guts for her to sit in the crowd and watch the Commonwealth Games. I don’t know how she did it. My husband and a few friends commented that she looked down and that was probably the lowest time.”

Broadbent pointed out that Ellis has never been dropped. She was always in the state and Australian teams. Everything was perfect – until the knee. But, as Ellis has said before, it’s just what she needed. “It made me appreciate what I have,” Ellis said.

This year Ellis has played above her best to lead her team on an unbeaten run to the grand final. “She’s been playing her butt off all year just to show she hasn’t missed out too much,” Broadbent said. “She’s probably playing the best netball she’s played and that’s an honest comment. Every game she wants to make a big game of it because you never know when it’s going to stop. I think she’s been a really tough competitor this year.”

When the pair met, Ellis was a bolshie young woman. And Broadbent? “Alison would cry at anything,” Ellis said. “She’d cry because she was so nervous before games.” When Broadbent first met Ellis, she thought she was incredibly bossy, and often left the court in tears. “Lizzy likes to take over,” Broadbent said. “In some games I was near tears because she used to yell at me on the court. But now I yell back at her and I think she’s got a little bit of respect for me ever since I started yelling at her. I should have learnt that one earlier.”

There are no quivering lips these days, and Broadbent marvels at her friend’s skill. Ellis has a startling impact on the team, according to Broadbent. And when she’s not there? “It’s a little bit quieter,” Broadbent said. “She always giving lots of advice before the game and at half-time. She’s always thinking hard and stressing out about what she’s going to say before she takes the court. Everyone looks up to her. She takes that lead. She’s a very team-orientated person. She’s always for the team, she doesn’t care for herself.”

The defenders have won two Swifts premierships together. Broadbent and Ellis, along with wing defender Mo’onia Gerrard and centre Selina Gilsenan, form the most formidable defensive team in the competition, which they believe will drive them to victory over the Thunderbirds. Broadbent and Ellis, with all those years of playing alongside each other, are a slick unit. “We’ve worked really hard on our communication and we’ve never stopped learning together,” Broadbent said.

Ellis is proud of what they’ve achieved together. “I’m happy with my form, my team and I don’t get frustrated on court anymore,” Ellis said. “I had a very average 12 months, I missed the Commonwealth Games, we got our butt kicked in the grand final last year and this [another title] would really go a long way to making up for all of that.”