Trailblazer is a word that gets flung around repeatedly when talking about the career of Geva Mentor.
The English international will line up in her 200th national league match on Sunday when her Collingwood Magpies take on the Giants at Melbourne’s John Cain Arena, to become the 10th member of the prestigious 200 club.
Already, Mentor has lined up in more national league games – in Super Netball and the old Trans-Tasman Netball League – than any other current player.
And you could make a solid case that she has had as great an impact as anyone currently playing the game.
In an Australian career now in its 14th season, Mentor became the first international import at an Australian club when she was recruited by the Adelaide Thunderbirds for the inaugural ANZ Championship season in 2008.
She has also played for the Melbourne Vixens, Sunshine Coast Lightning and the Magpies, and won premierships with three of those clubs.
In doing so, she not only became one of the most recognisable players in the league but paved the way for a flood of internationals to enter the game and lift the standard of netball around the world.
“When the opportunity (to head to Australia) came across my table I jumped at it because I wanted to come over and train and play with the top one and two in the world – when we had the ANZ Championship and the New Zealanders in the league as well,” Mentor said.
“I’ve been out here for 13 seasons now, I’ve been playing international netball for 20 years and I think each year has flown by because I’ve provided myself with different challenges and different opportunities to better myself and the people around me.”
Jane Woodlands-Thompson works closely with Mentor as the general manager of women’s sport at Collingwood.
And she knows the 36-year-old better than most, having been her first coach in Australia when she worked with the then-emerging international star at the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
“Our recruiting team at the T-Birds identified Geva 13 years ago from the world championships when the inaugural Trans-Tasman League started up,” Woodlands-Thompson said of Adelaide’s quest to find a gun defender for the ANZ Championship.
“We were after a keeper who had experience against the world’s best shooters who we were set to face weekly in this new elite competition.
“We were the first team to bring in an international import and this caused quite a controversy.
“She has contributed so much to our game through the eras. Reaching 200 games is an incredible feat, I was pleased to have been there for her first.”
Mentor quickly established herself as one of the most popular players in the league and now calls Australia home “because I’ve been here that long and am settled and grown my roots”.
Her on-court ability is one thing but it’s Mentor’s leadership qualities and pioneering spirit that set her apart from the pack.
It was recognised by the Sunshine Coast Lightning, who recruited her to lead the expansion club in the inaugural Super Netball season and she repaid them in spades, leading the club to back-to-back premierships while winning league player of the year honours in 2017.
Collingwood came calling in 2019, and Mentor is hoping she can add a Magpies premiership to her list of achievements.
“A lot of people thought I was done and dusted back in my Vixens days, almost eight years ago now,” Mentor said.
“I think I’ve probably had some of my best years up at the Lightning, found a new lease of life up there and then coming down to Collingwood, to really try and create a great culture and bring some success to a club that’s struggled over so many years.
“Every club I’ve been a part of I’ve managed to (win a premiership), so I’m headstrong on trying to achieve that at this club.”
You wouldn’t bet against Mentor given her ability to inspire others near and far.
“Having played for four different clubs over her time in ANZ Champs and (Suncorp Super Netball), Geva has brought a lot of experience to both leagues and motivated and inspired many young players who have had the privilege of playing with her,” Woodlands-Thompson said.
Among them is England teammate Helen Housby, who said Mentor’s move to Australia and success in the best competition in the world had inspired a generation of athletes to follow.
“I say all the time how important that was for the English girls back in the UK to see players like Geva Mentor and Sonia Mkoloma and in later years when Jo Harten went to New Zealand and Serena (Guthrie),” Housby said.
“To be something you have to see it and you have to have someone to follow and look up to and those girls really were trailblazers.
“It’s no small task to move halfway around the world and to know that people have done it before you and been very successful, is very encouraging.
“I was seeing them come back from their league stint in Australia into the England set-up as vastly different players – better physically, better mentally, just all-round better netball players.
“For Geva to get 200 games anywhere is super impressive but to do it in the best league in the world is phenomenal.
“She’s been a trailblazer not just for the England team but for netball in general for so many years.”
Joining the 200 club is a milestone but not a full stop for Mentor, who said she had plenty left to achieve in the sport, including help the Roses defend the gold medal they won at the last Commonwealth Games.
“I’d definitely love to do another Commonwealth Games and World Cup, which sees me at Birmingham next year and South Africa the year after and alongside that I’d love to still be here playing in this competition,” she said.
“I’ll be taking a role looking to nurture the next defenders coming through and it’s great for us at Magpies having the likes of Jacqui Newton, because I can impart a lot of my ways on her and when I eventually do hang up the dress we’ve got a good defensive line coming up through.
“So definitely the next couple of years but at some stage I’ve got to realise that I’d love a family too and I’ve got to try and pencil that in somewhere in the calendar with not just Suncorp Super Netball but England as well.”
Cath Cox 254
Bianca Chatfield 244
Natalie Medhurst 235
Caitlin Thwaites 232
Susan Pettitt (Pratley) 232
Bec Bulley 228
Sharelle McMahon 227
Kim Green 212
Caitlin Bassett 206
Geva Mentor 199 *
Most ANZ Championship/Super Netball games for current players
Geva Mentor 199
Romelda Aiken 192
Jo Harten 142
Gabi Simpson 127
Verity Charles 121
Paige Hadley 121