Barrowford’s Natalie Haythornthwaite is living the dream, ahead of the start of the Vitality Netball World Cup on Friday.
The 26-year-old helped England win Commonwealth Games gold in favourites Australia’s backyard on the Gold Coast last year.
And the New South Wales Swifts star – who has shrugged off a hamstring injury in time for the tournament – knows Tracey Neville’s side are there to be shot at in Liverpool.
But the former Manchester Thunder and Wasps player, who plays wing attack or goal attack, insists the Roses couldn’t be any better prepared for what lies ahead.
England open against Uganda tonight (7 p.m.), and then face Scotland tomorrow (3 p.m.) before their final group game on Sunday against Samoa (11 a.m.) all at the M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool – with no respite as the second stage begins on Monday.
And Natalie said: “I’m like a kid at Christmas, I can’t wait!
“Some of the girls have played in a World Cup, but it’s my first, and to have it in our country is cool. I’ve experienced a Quad Series here, but this is huge, I’m so excited!
“100% it’s what I’ve dreamed of, to get picked for the Commonwealths was a dream, but I’ve always wanted to play in a World Cup.
“They don’t come around that often, so it’s what you work for your whole life, why you want to be a netballer.”
That dream was under threat, however, after a hamstring injury suffered in pre-season with NSW: “It’s part of sport, but when I first did it, you do think ‘am I going to be ready?’
“It’s a huge tournament I’ve worked my whole life for, and can I still play?
“But I was really well supported by club and country, and I’m very lucky my rehab went well. I’ve worked my socks off to get back.
“You do everything you can, while I was out, you do a lot of video work, to make sure you’re still staying involved in the game, I did weights, ball handling, all to make sure when I got back, it all comes back to you.”
And fitness will be tested with the relentless schedule: “It’s going to be full on, but that’s what’s brilliant about the World Cup, we’re going to show the whole world how great netball is.
“It’s going to be brutal, but that’s what all the training is for, to make sure we’re prepared for it.
“We’ve had hard session followed by hard session, and stayed on top of my recovery to make sure I’m good to go.
“Our squad has so much depth, people can play across the positiuons and it’s about making sure the combinations click.”
England are expected to advance through their group with few scares, but Natalie isn’t taking anything for granted: “We had a close Test with Uganda last year, which we won, before we pulled away in the second and third, but the great thing about netball is that on a good day, anyone can beat anyone.
“The margins are slim, and it’s down to the nitty gritty, finding those 1% gains on and off court.
“It’s exciting, we have the full time programme now, and are seeing each other more, playing with each other more, and playing in more competitions – we eat, sleep and breathe netball.”
Australia are out for revenge, and won the Quad Series here in January – although the Diamonds were again beaten by the Roses when they met.
But England have a further motivation to do well, with coach Tracey Neville stepping down after the tournament in order to start a family.
Neville, 42, was appointed in 2015 before the World Cup in Australia, and Natalie said: “It would be lovely to do it for Tracey. Winning the Commonwealths was awesome, but just imagine winning the World Cup as well!
“Tracey has been brilliant, she named me in the squad and gave me my first cap, she took a chance on me, gave me the opportunity to play for England, and I’m very grateful for that.
“But she brings so much passion and has put in so much hard work, and done great for the Roses.”