Southern Steel's Aussie settles in
Netball reporter Brendon Egan sat down for a hot chocolate with new Southern Steel signing and former Australian international Natasha Chokljat yesterday.
Is your surname really pronounced "Chocolate"?
It's actually pronounced "Choc-erla". The j is like a `yer'. I've always been called Chocolate.
I even like Chocolate now, it's easier. My dad was the only one who pronounced it correctly.
What are the origins of your surname?
It's Yugoslav. My dad was Yugoslav. He left before the war. His father was Croatian and his mum was Serbian, so it's easier for me to keep the peace with the Yugoslavian.
What are your early impressions of Invercargill?
It's been fine. It's a beautiful sunny day. We've got a nice little place and have settled in really well.
What attracted you to Southern Steel?
Steel had a really nice vibe. I've met the coach (Robyn Broughton) before and she's a pretty well renowned coach. It's nice to be coached by one of the greats in the sport. It's a really nice looking team, too.
How tough was it to leave Melbourne and your Vixen team-mates?
It was a big decision to make – leaving two of my best friends (Vixen players Bianca Chatfield and Sharelle McMahon). It was a time for a change and my partner (rugby player James Lew) decided we'd go somewhere else.
Do you know about the proud history of netball in Southland?
I think everyone knows about Sting. We used to play them in pre-season.
How did you find the Steel fans as an opposing player?
I remember the funny ladies in the wigs. They scared me at the aftermatch function. It'll be nice to have them on my side for once. It will be a little less daunting playing in front of them.
Have you had much to do with the Steel players in the past?
Funnily enough no. I've played against them a fair bit. In terms of having a conversation with them, not really.
Do you think more Australian players will sign for New Zealand franchises in the future?
I think it's something everyone looks at. It's a new experience, with different coaching and a new challenge.
I wouldn't be surprised if you see more of those older girls popping over here next year.
What's the biggest difference you've noticed from the Australian domestic league to the ANZ Championship?
It's a lot tougher. With the Commonwealth Bank Trophy there was three top sides. The other ones were easy games and you didn't play your best netball. With the ANZ, every game is really hard. You can't afford to have a bad game.
Have the Silver Ferns closed the gap on the Australians after their win in the Commonwealth Games final?
The difference is (the Ferns) are getting stronger ones coming through. You had a great starting seven, but you're getting much more depth. The smart thing (Silver Ferns coach) Ruth (Aitken) did in the (Commonwealth Games) final was mix things around so no one got used to it. Australia struggled to combat it.
You won the 2009 ANZ Championship title with the Vixens. Where does that rate in terms of your career?
It was definitely a highlight. I've won five premierships and they're all special for different reasons. Winning a final is the single best thing in the world.
It makes up for all the hard yards and all the birthdays and weddings you miss during the year.
You played 31 caps for Australia. What's your most favourite memory?
One of the wins we had in Melbourne (in 2004) when we won by two (against the Silver Ferns). That finished off the series. When I first got named in the team in 2003 for the world champs that was a massive highlight.
When did netball start for you?
I started playing when I was nine. I was from a small town (Savage River) in Tasmania. There wasn't much there, so I tagged along and tried to get a game. I was taller when I was growing up so I played goal attack and then started playing goal defence.
When did you decide you could make it as an elite netballer?
Probably not until I was away at nationals when I was 16. After that I made the talent squad and I got a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport. After that I made the Australian under-21 team, then got picked up with Phoenix.
What do you get up to away from the court?
Shopping, socialising with friends. I really like baking. I'm good with desserts. Chocolate by name, chocolate by nature.
What's your speciality in the kitchen?
Sticky date puddings. I make great little lemon tarts. Anything sweet, I'll eat it.
Who's the toughest New Zealand player you've come up against?
Temepara George. She's a little nugget. She's really tough and never gives up and always gives 100 per cent. She keeps going and going.
Who's the dirtiest player in the ANZ Championship?
(Queensland's) Lauren Nourse is really dirty. She's probably the dirtiest one around.
What's Sharelle McMahon really like?
She's a lot of fun. She's one of my best friends. She's one of the greatest goal attacks.
Who's the next big thing in Australian netball?
Madison Browne (from the Vixens). She'll step up and take over that (Australian) wing attack position and make it her own.
Who is going to be the top ANZ Championship teams from Australia next season?
The Vixens and the Swifts. I don't think Queensland will be as strong. Adelaide might struggle.
The Southland Times