Once a child prodigy compared to an icon, Alice Teague-Neeld’s rise to Premiership stardom came with twists and turns no one could have foreseen, writes LINDA PEARCE.
Towards the end of the 2022 pre-season, with several West Coast Fever players on international duty, new coach Dan Ryan decided to use one last untried attacking combination in a practice game against the Victorian men’s side.
Alice Teague-Neeld – an Australian Fast5 representative and fourth on the West Coast who played best and fairest goal attack last season – would start with wing attack.
Things clicked, almost instantly.
Just a few months later and to an ecstatic crowd at the Perth Arena, it was Teague-Neeld’s 88th game at three clubs as a Fever Premiership player, by then bearing the more familiar letters WA.
It was a result few would have predicted during a successful junior career that led to Teague-Neeld’s debut for the Melbourne Vixens aged just 17, a move to Collingwood for the first Super Netball season and Perth two years later which controversially turned out to be a straight trade for Diamond’s great Nat Medhurst.
However, Teague-Neeld’s reinvention was so successful that Ryan ranks the 26-year-old – along with West Coast’s enduring midfielder Jess Anstiss – as one of the most underrated players in the league.
“Alice is a very good athlete in terms of strength, timing and power, but nothing beats her brain,” says Ryan, another product of Geelong’s fertile netball region.
“She’s one of the smartest and most creative players I’ve worked with and I just loved seeing her own that part of her game and bring it to life every time she steps onto the pitch.
“Alice has loved the transition to wing attack, she still keeps her hand in goal attack and is doing some brilliant stuff there in our training environment and she’s definitely thriving at the moment and over the past 12 months.
“And I love to see that in an athlete who has struggled a bit with confidence and things like that in the past. It’s great to see their best qualities and to be really important to the way our team works.”
Teague-Neeld laughs that her first season with the Vixens was something of a culture shock. One of the hottest prospects of the Victorian career, a former 17/U National Championship MVP and Australian World Youth Cup runner-up captain, suddenly wasn’t the best player on this new team.
Playing minutes: few.
The 2017-18 Collingwood experience was unexpectedly difficult for a number of reasons; Their struggles are manifested in a reluctance to shoot and an almost inevitable mid-game summons to the bench.
“Both years we didn’t do as well as everyone hoped, including the players and everyone else’s expectations, and it’s been a challenging couple of years,” Teague-Neeld admits.
“There were periods where I really didn’t like and enjoy my netball and I know when I’m playing my best I love netball, I like going to practice and I want to be there and on game days the best day of the week.
“Whereas there was a moment in my career where that just didn’t happen.”
At times it even occurred to Teague-Neeld that maybe she could be done with the sport she had played so well for so long. Only to soon realize that was easier said than done, for life without netball was an uncomfortably alien concept.
“The more I thought about it, it kind of hit me, ‘No, I want this, I want to work harder and I want to get where I want to be, and I want to overcome this little challenge and everyone has it’.”
At the Vixens — where she was first drafted while still in high school, winning a contract in 2015, playing 15 games and drawing comparisons to a young Sharelle McMahon before being poached by the Pies — Teague-Neeld tended to bottle things up Turn your head so that your feelings are not seen as a sign of weakness.
By the end of their unhappy stay in Collingwood, it was clear that talking would help.
It was also natural for her to change her mind, wondering how things might have turned out had she stayed at the established Victorian club, where she still counts defender Emily Mannix among her close friends.
“I was obviously quite young, so the thought, ‘Oh, what would have happened if I stayed,’ definitely came to my mind,” she admits.
“But to be honest I’m so glad I’m happy with how my career and journey is going because I think if you don’t go through these things you don’t learn as much.
“I’ve learned so much over the last few years and the last eight or nine years and I think that’s the point. You have to go through the ups and downs to get out the other side and be a better person, to be a better athlete. Definitive.”
However, she doesn’t blame the early hype for not meeting expectations right away, as she was little aware they existed when she was a kid playing just for the love of music.
Teague-Neeld also now has several sounding boards including club performance psychologist Jodii Maguire, family members including father Mark Neeld, the 74-game Geelong and Richmond footballer and coach of Melbourne 2012-13, and friends and teammates of Fever including Anstiss and Emma Cosh .
Teague-Neeld didn’t expect her move to Perth for the 2019 season to solve everything, but – joined by partner Tom O’Halloran, who would join WAFL club West Perth and now play at amateur level – it seemed like a good opportunity to be. personally and professionally.
But she also could not have imagined what followed when the surprise departure of three-time world champion Medhurst (now Nat Butler) was announced shortly after her signing.
It turned out to be a goal attack trade as Medhurst was picked off by the Magpies but was received in less than easy fashion. The players themselves were collateral damage, with the support of the club and the young Victorian’s new team-mates far warmer than the general outside reception.
“I know what people’s initial reaction will be because they love Nat and Nat is a superstar,” says Teague-Neeld.
“I admire Nat’s game and I think she’s an amazing netballer, but I also know Fever fans loved Nat and obviously (we) play in the same position so it would have been a completely different ball game if we were completely different positions.” would have played.
“I obviously had no control over what happened to it; It was just that timing, so it wasn’t ideal, and learning to just block out the outside noise, and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it as I’ve gotten older.
“So everything was a little bit out of my control, but that’s okay. This is sport and this is life.”
The irony, of course, is that Medhurst – now a mother of two – has returned to the Fever at the age of 39 in an official capacity as training partner for 2023.
“Now I’m learning from her at Fever, which is great,” says Teague-Neeld.
“But yes. I know.”
Teague-Neeld recalls saying to her partner Tom before the first round last season that she suspected she might start with a wing attack. “And then I played and loved it and we had such a great game as a team and I was like, ‘I’m excited’.”
With the cross line in common, not shooting is the obvious difference, but the attacking instincts are similar and, in the case of Teague-Neeld, natural. The effect was also fairly immediate.
“I just had fun this spring,” she says.
“It’s funny…to play one position at a professional level for seven or eight years and then get the opportunity to play something else, that’s pretty rare. Of course I still have a lot to learn in this position and that is really exciting.”
The move has also made her appreciate her attacking time even more as she plays with what the physiotherapist calls ‘less fear’ and more of the joy and fun that was once waning.
When young children in clinics ask their position, Teague-Neeld sometimes has to think about it before answering and finds herself saying WA and GA. She can, does and will probably still play both.
“I’ve only had this one season in wing attacking and loved it, so definitely a lot of room to improve and learn from that, and I really want to consolidate my wing attacking game,” she says.
“But I also know that having two positions is really important and it’s good for a team too…depending on what we need at any given time, depending on who we’re playing and if something doesn’t work out and we must try something else.”
Which suits Ryan, as the more options the better in the interests of versatility for the 2022 champions. The coach has no doubt that her original home at GA will be a “very strong second position” for an emerging talent who has now adopted the WA start number.
“I think the wing attack role for Alice brings all of her natural abilities to life because she has the confidence that she can master them exceptionally well,” says Ryan.
“So she knows how to read the circle when feeding the ball, she knows how to position herself to get to the edge of the circle and she understands the importance of being really disciplined with the ball and creating play , so it really suits her very well.
“But in the training environment, she shoots like an absolute superstar when she comes into play on goal attack and that’s certainly a position where I won’t close the door on Alice at all.”
https://www.codesports.com.au/netball/super-netball/the-rare-reinvention-of-alice-teagueneeld-how-former-ga-prodigy-became-a-champion-wa/news-story/25f1fcb9429dd5118f9562cb0a429f3a?nk=5c77919e8035f530e70992c8b37d7440-1677547624 Super Netball 2023: Alice Teague-Neeld on reinventing West Coast Fever