NS EXCLUSIVE: Fran Williams – leaning in to the challenge

NS EXCLUSIVE: Fran Williams – leaning in to the challenge

Fran Williams has arguably the toughest job in netball – a newcomer to Suncorp Super Netball, and on a steep curve learning to defend the super shot.

One of six newly contracted West Coast Fever athletes for 2024, Williams said, “That’s been the biggest adjustment in game plan and my style of play. I’m enjoying the challenge and learning what tactics the club already have around it.

“It is so different and it’s not instinctual. Normally you want to be pushing people as far away as you can from the one point. You’re not meant to be happy with them scoring a goal, but now if they just bank a one you can be happy with that, so it’s a different mindset to get yourself into. I’ve enjoyed it.”

But for the player who current coach Dan Ryan describes as one of the smartest he’s ever worked with, it’s a challenge that she’s relishing. Williams explained, “I lap up coaching, I want to absorb and learn as much as possible. What I love about netball is the tactical side, trying to create structures and game plans that will combat certain units or styles of play. So I really enjoy that side of the sport, as well as the physical nature. I think my game can be adapted to different styles which is one of my strengths.”


Fran Williams in her new Fever club colours. Image: May Bailey/Clusterpix Sports Photography


It comes as no surprise to hear Williams so highly praised for her nous, as she cut her elite teeth under tactical genius Tamsin Greenway. Playing for Surrey Storm and then Wasps Netball between 2016 and 2021, Williams paid credit to Greenway for initially shaping her game.

“Coaches have such an impact on a player’s journey and career within netball. They help you to decipher the style of player you want to be and get that unique game style. For example, Tamsin was my first coach at that elite level, being a training partner at Surrey Storm, and then Wasps for five years. So I’d argue she had the biggest influence on the type of player I was going to be and the style of netball that I was going to play from an early age.”


Wasps’ defender Fran Williams looks to pass. (Credit: England Netball)


Williams won two premierships with Wasps in 2017 and 18, and her most recent one with Loughborough Lightning in 2023. Her early form earned the defender a national debut at just 20 years of age, but while Williams was selected into both the 2019 Quad Series and World Cup teams, she missed out on the 2022 Commonwealth Games. While she attended as a spectator to support her countrywomen, the experience turned Williams’ competitive flame into an inferno.

“Full respect to the other players (that got in ahead of me). I wasn’t ready for that team at that moment, and there were people better than me at the time. But I was gutted not to have made the squad, and that gave me the push to work my complete and utter best to go to the World Cup in 2023.

“Missing out in 2022 made me realise how much I wanted it, and how much I’d been missing. I went to watch as a fan and support the team, and watching them do the huddles and go off into the changing rooms, I wanted to be there.

“I get such FOMO, and had full on FOMO watching them, so I told myself I didn’t want to miss out on Cape Town and I was going to do everything I could, have the best season of my life, get myself into that squad and be able to contribute to the Roses team.”


Fran Williams on the dais at the 2019 Netball World Cup. Image May Bailey/Clusterpix Sports Photography


Making the decision to break back into a national team is one thing, achieving it is another. Williams worked closely with her Lightning coaches, Vic Burgess and Olivia Murphy, to implement changes to her game.

She said, “I don’t know that I was pushing myself to have enough impact. I wanted not just to be seen as a steady defender who does her job, her role, and be good in units and structures, but I wanted to go out and win some ball and be seen as a threat. My coaches were great in terms of giving me the confidence to go for ball that season.

“I was also working alongside players like Alice Harvey, Nat Panagarry, Beth Cobden, and Jaz Odeogberin in the defensive end – we knew our roles and had great structures, and that played a part in us doing so well during the season.”

In a dominant year Williams helped Lightning to a premiership, was grand final MVP for her efforts, and forced her way back into the Roses squad. They went on to win an historic silver medal at the 2023 World Cup, with Williams later accepting a contract to play in Australia.


Fran Williams – the deflection. Image Danny Dalton


Fran Williams – the chase. Image Danny Dalton/Tah Dah


Fran Williams – the pick up. Image Danny Dalton/Tah Dah


Along with the experience of playing with and against some of the world’s best players, Williams was also keen to work with West Coast Fever coach Dan Ryan and his assistant, Sara Francis-Bayman.  Like other club moves in the past, she wanted to learn new skills and styles to improve her game.

“Within each team I’ve been part of, I’m learning and adding to my game. Having that connection with a coach, knowing that they believe in you and back you.

“Dan is someone I’ve been wanting to work with for a while. The environment he’s created holds standards at the highest I’ve ever been a part of. That’s something I’m really enjoying and thriving on – pushing and challenging myself. We aim to train at the same intensity we play a game, but I’ve been finding some of the sessions even tougher than that.

While Williams said she didn’t flinch at the opportunity to move to Australia, it later sunk in that she would be missing her family, friends and life she’d built at home. But it’s also been a bonding experience, with so many international and interstate athletes plying their trade together. They’ve made a home away from home in Western Australia, and Williams believes that’s a great way to be.

She explained that the work done by the group behind the scenes has been just as important as that done out on court.

“Straight away the connections within the Fever squad were real and authentic. It’s a nicely balanced team; everyone is feeling like they have a voice and can contribute. That’s massive because you do want to be playing in a squad where everyone’s voices are heard, people’s feedback is taken on board, and we can have hard conversations with each other. At the end of the day we are doing it with a supportive manner and team first. That’s such an exciting culture to be in.”

With so many signings, the team made a conscious decision to lean into their newness, rather than shy away from it. Williams explained, “We’ve all really invested in making time together away from netball, because we needed to fast track our relationships. It’s happened so naturally though, it hasn’t felt forced. We want to spend time with each other.

“When you have those off court relationships, it only makes your on-court relationships stronger. Knowing each other as people. Who are the extroverts, who are more introverted, how do people like to be spoken to, what people like to eat on game day, how they like to travel. They are all the small things you find out when you spend a lot of time with each other, and it’s crucial.”



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However, even Williams admit to being surprised how quickly Fever, who are currently undefeated after five rounds, have gelled. Due to league wide CPA negotiation issues, and international duties, pre-season was delayed by two to three months for most franchises. With a new look defensive end consisting of an Australian, a Jamaican and an English athlete with their varying styles of play, and six new signings in all, few pundits tipped Fever to have such a strong impact on the competition.

Although completely new to her club and its country, it came as no surprise that Williams polled strongly in Fever’s leadership election. She was captain of the English U21 team, and at just 26 has already assumed those duties for the senior team. Williams has also managed to fit an Economics degree under her belt while playing at an elite level, and has been part of a number of important initiatives within the netball community.

Before her move to Australia, Williams was the Player Chair of England’s Netball Players’ Association, and a strong supporter of the NetballHer movement. The ground breaking resource recognises that various stages in life can impact women’s health and whether they participate in, or drop out of sport. Experts and athletes have contributed to wide-ranging information on a variety of topics includes puberty, pre and post natal care, menopause, pelvic health, menstruation, breast care, nutrition and injury.

Williams said, “I felt strongly that elite players should be involved with NetballHer. If England Netball want to be seen as relevant for grassroots through to the elite level, then as a group, we needed to be educated as well.

“We need to be positive role models and advocates, as elite players within the game who are visible to the rest of the netball community.

“There’s not been the research into women’s health in sport to the same extent as there’s been in men’s, so we are just starting to learn so many new things about our bodies – how they alter with sport, how we need to be treated uniquely.

“That’s important to be recognised, and women are finally coming out and speaking about various issues. That can trigger conversations among other women who might find it an issue they need to know about or have struggled with. It’s important because we are finding our commonality rather than our differences.”


Fran Williams reeling in an intercept against the Silver Ferns in New Zealand. Test 3. Image Steve McLeod.


Empowering people around her to speak is one of the tenets of Williams’ leadership style. She likes to make sure that people’s voices are heard, while also understanding that may look different for each person.

“People do need to stay true to who they are. I’m a very extroverted personality. I like to speak and get around the team, and can be quite loud. So part of how I lead is making sure the team feel connected. But we also need to take the pressure of a little bit and keep a sense of fun in what we do.

“If people are enjoying their sport, if they want to be there, that is going to get the best out of them. When you have a good team, a good culture, and can take the pressure off, that’s when you see the best in people.”


Fran Williams takes on Sam Wallace-Joseph. Image: May Bailey/Clusterpix Sports Photography


Fran Williams and English teammate Helen Housby. Image: May Bailey/Clusterpix Sports Photography

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About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
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