The tropical beaches of Montego Bay are a long way from the lush farmland of New Zealand’s deep south, yet Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler-Reid – netball’s super shooter – is drawn back to Invercargill year after year. Suzanne McFadden discovers why.
Jhaniele Fowler-Reid doesn’t like snow. For six months of the year, she lives in a “cosy little house” on the edge of a hotel complex in Invercargill. Her husband, a policeman, lives 13,000km away.
Yet the Jamaican super shooter keeps returning to one of the southernmost cities in the world, year after year. And with every season, Fowler-Reid becomes a sharper thorn in the side of every top defender in New Zealand netball.
If there are any drawbacks to making one of the longest pilgrimages in the netball world, Fowler-Reid certainly doesn’t let them interfere with her game.
The Caribbean Cannon, in her fifth season with the mighty Southern Steel, is only becoming more lethal with her aim. She’s shown she can score a goal every 50 seconds throughout a netball match, barely taking a moment to catch her breath.
On the court, she puts it down to “becoming one” with the goalpost. Off it, to being adopted as a daughter of Southland, along with her own daughter, eight-year-old Drehannah.
‘Southland is more and more my second home’
As she did over the last four years in the Trans-Tasman competition, Fowler-Reid is dominating the new ANZ Premiership with her prolific shooting. Last week, she sank a personal best 70 goals against the hapless Tactix, missing only five attempts.
Admittedly, Fowler-Reid is nearer her target than any other player in the national elite league. At 198cm tall, barely a metre separates the top of her head and the rim of the goal. Even the longest defensive arms in the league struggle to put up much resistance. Magic goal keep Kelly Jury comes the closest to her in height, but even she is still 6cm shy.
On Wednesday night, with her hair pulled back in purple braids, the girl from Montego Bay racked up 45 goals from 46 shots – despite only playing three of the quarters – as the well-drilled Steel beat the rookie Northern Stars side, 73-51, and regained their place at the top of the league table.
The 27-year-old goal shoot – a regular in Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls international line-up since 2010 – is incredibly modest about her shooting achievements; her Kiwi team-mates call her humble. She says she isn’t chasing individual milestones, but simply doing her job.
“Scoring 70 goals is really awesome, unreal. But thanks to my team-mates, I can,” she says. “Honestly, my goal each week is to put in all the balls that my teammates bring to me, making sure that all the work they do outside the circle is rewarded with a goal.
“When you’ve been doing something for so long, it becomes a part of you. Shooting has become a part of who I am. It’s about having a good technique, and knowing the goalpost.
“So, both myself and the goalpost – any goalpost, as a matter of fact – have become one. I have confidence in myself to get it in. And if I do miss a shot, I just know I am going to go back for that rebound really strong.”
She’s also built a strong understanding with her Steel goal attack, Silver Fern Te Paea Selby Rickit.
Fowler-Reid also has the confidence knowing that she and her family have the support of the netball community to make her annual contract work.
Last year, her husband Andre came to live in Invercargill with Fowler-Reid and their daughter, but he can only take time off from his police job in Kingston every second year. So, this season, Fowler-Reid has brought her mother, Dorothy, and her 11-year-old brother Devante to keep Drehannah company. They share a small house that’s part of the Ascot Park Hotel, the naming sponsor of the Steel.
“Having them here feels like a bit of home is with me. It’s a long time away, and I reckon if I didn’t have the opportunity for them to travel with me, I would probably have stopped a long time ago,” she says.
“With every year, Southland is more and more my second home. I get the best of both worlds really; when I come here in January, it’s warm; I leave just as the weather is getting cold and go home to a beautiful summer. I really love it.
“The people surrounding us make me feel comfortable. Being supported by them makes it much easier for me to make the decision to come here year in year out.”
Drehannah and Devante are happy in school, and in true Usain Bolt style, they dominated this year’s track and field championships. Drehannah plays soccer like her dad, rather than following in her mum’s size 14 shoes.
“She’s like ‘Mom, every time someone asks me if I’m going to play netball like you, I just tell them yes, because that’s what they want to hear. But I don’t want to play netball.’ And I say ‘Good, just do what you want to do’. No pressure from me,” Fowler-Reid laughs.
But at some time in the not-too-distant future, Drehannah’s future may put pressure on Fowler-Reid to reconsider playing in New Zealand. “It’s going to come to a point where we have to settle down in one place, as my daughter gets older. It will be a tough choice to make, but my daughter is my heartbeat, so it would be really hard to come here and leave her for that long.”
The Steel would feel her loss even more, but not just on the scoreboard, the team’s corporate and communications manager, Kate Buchanan, says. “Her prowess on the court is nothing compared to her presence off it. Jhaniele has added so much to our team environment and culture with her values and humbleness – along with a fair whack of Jamaican sass thrown in!
“She has a cheeky grin that’s infectious. And her whole family brings such a positive energy; it’s been fantastic to see them embrace Southland and really thrive in our community.”
When the time comes, Fowler-Reid should be able to help everyone deal with the loss. She’s part-way through a degree in guidance and counselling at Mico University College in Kingston. At the end of her playing days she wants to be a guidance counselor.
It’s a service that, in the meantime, she may need to offer her ANZ Premiership opponents.