Nakita Jackson is preparing to take her next step in the world of netball, after being selected as one of the very first rising stars to be accepted into the Giants Netball Academy program for the 2020 season.

Jackson is one of 24 athletes to be picked for the Sydney club’s inaugural development system, which is aiming to provide a pipeline of talent from regional New South Wales and the metro associations in Sydney, all the way to Suncorp Super Netball.

As well as a place in the club’s new Giants Academy roster to play in the Netball NSW Premier League, the Hunter star is also up for selection for the club’s Australian Netball League team, and for the Super Netball roster itself in the future.

For Jackson, who has been playing in New South Wales state squads over the past few years and continuing to prove she can compete at the very highest level in her age brackets as a stand-out defender, it’s the next step to the big leagues.

“This is the first time this has happened, so it’s cool to be part of something massive like this, it’s been very exciting to watch everything unfold and it’s still new for everyone,” she said of the foundation of the NSW club’s academy.

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“I think getting to the Giants and the top level is the dream for all the girls in the Academy, and all the girls around Australia. Suncorp Super Netball is the best competition in the world, so we all want to be in it, of course.”

Part of the allure of the Giants youngsters program for Jackson specifically is also the fact that former Diamonds keeper and world champion Bec Bulley will be taking the helm of the program in its inaugural year to guide the next generation.

Nakita, who has played as a defender through most of her representative career, and in the red of the Souths Lions in the Greater Open Championship in Newcastle, said she couldn’t wait to start learning off “one of the best defenders in the world.”

“It will be so awesome, and she’s a defense coach too so lucky me, and it’s cool to be able to work alongside her and learn from her,” she said.

“I never had an idea that I would be here, I played netball because I loved it in the beginning, and I just kept making more teams, and now I’m being coached by one of Australia’s best-ever defenders. It’s unbelievable.”

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Jackson isn’t the only Newcastle star to be heading south for an Academy program either, with long-term representative partner Dakota Thomas named in the Swifts development squad for 2020 at the same time as Jackson.

Although they may now be ‘cross-town’ rivals in the Sydney clubs, the former Souths defender says she couldn’t be happier Kota had made it too.

“It’s awesome Dakota joined the Swifts, we got used to having each other in the car, and we’ve been in a lot of NSW squads together,” she said.

“I’m glad that we both got the Academy teams, but it will be weird not travelling with her as much anymore now that we’re working on different schedules. We [Dakota and I] both love the sport, so we have to do it to keep going.”

Retired world champion Bec Bulley is taking the helm of the Giants Academy in 2020.

Jackson also broke into laughter when it was suggested she and Thomas were living out a Hollywood movie, having risen through the ranks together as allies, before potentially meeting opposite each other on the Super Netball court.

According to the NSW Institute of Sport graduate, she hopes that she can eye off Dakota on the other side of a derby battle at Qudos Bank Arena—it would mean the two Hunter stars had cracked into their respective teams, and were playing at the top.

“I certainly hope we can see that, because it means we’ve ended up playing for the Giants and the Swifts, and that would be great!” she laughed.

Right now, a little further away than Hollywood, Jackson does have her eyes set on the next step: the Australian Netball League, and a spot in that team.

“ANL is the next step, I really want to get into that team and that gets chosen from the Academy as well,” the young keeper explained.

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“I want to work on my play as well, I want to focus on growing as a keeper, fine-tuning what it means to be a defender, and working against the best, and I think Bec will be able to help me with that a lot too. I want to keep improving.”

Giants coach Julie Fitzgerald will be keeping a close eye on the club’s academy lineup.

Giants head coach Julie Fitzgerald, who will have a heavy hand in overseeing the program as she continues to search for young new state talent to bring into the national team fold, said she was thrilled with the 20-player roster for the first year.

“I’m so excited to welcome this group of athletes into our setup,” she said. “The experience they’ll become accustomed to through the high-performance environment they’ll be training in will be invaluable for their quest to make it to the top level.”

“We have a great mix of athletes in the squad. We have girls that are still in the midst of their netball development and underage representation years, through to those that could take the court tomorrow if needed.”

The Giants Academy roster will begin their campaign in the NNSW Premier League in mid-May next year. The Australian Netball League season, and the 2020 Super Netball competition, are both set to begin at the start of the same month.