Tag: kate moloney

2020 SSN: Season preview – Melbourne Vixens

AFTER an extended break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season is set to commence on August 1. Draft Central takes a look at each team, with Melbourne Vixens up next on the list. 

Coach: Simone McKinnis
Captain: Kate Moloney
2019 finish: 3rd

A solid season culminated in a finals berth for the Vixens, with a close miss in 2018 pushing the side to the next level in 2019. With a quality pickup over the 2019 off-season in Caitlin Thwaites – along with South African talent Ine-Mari Venter – the Vixens lifted their intensity and pressure last year and were ultimately uninterrupted in their connections and season bar the break in the middle of the season for the Netball World Cup. The return of Mwai Kumwenda from injury added an extra string to the Vixens’ bow, with the Malawi goal shooter rotating seamlessly with Thwaites and Tegan Philip. Meanwhile, the hardworking midcourt of the Vixens worked wonders, though their predictability left something to be desired when it came to finals time, unable to compete off the bench as easily as some of their opposition could.

2020 predictions/expectations:

Well equipped to take advantage of the two goal super shot thanks to the versatile shooting trio of Thwaites, Kumwenda and Philip, the Vixens will hope to go one better than last year. While they lost Venter, young gun Lara Dunkley and powerhouse wing defence Renae Ingles over the off-season, the Vixens have more than enough talent to replace them, it is more about whether they have had the time to forge the connections needed to go far this season. Young talent Tayla Honey had a shaky start in 2018 with injury putting off her first season at SSN level, but she is back in business this season and surely raring to go. Joining an already quality midcourt of Liz Watson and Kate Moloney, the Vixens are not short of talent and experience making them a real force to be reckoned with. The Vixens will be hoping to build off their bench a bit more to provide a constant buffer and pressure through the contest. There is no denying that the Vixens have been a top team throughout the SSN and will be eager to assert themselves on the competition once again with their ability to treasure ball in offence and win ball back in defence. 

Key player to watch:

Kate Eddy is a quality pickup for the Melbourne side, which had a gaping hole at the end of last season given Ingles’ imminent retirement. Her versatility will allow her to slot in where required, likely playing in wing defence but with an ability to rotate further back with Emily Mannix and Jo Weston. With a season under her belt at the Swifts in 2019, Eddy has proved her growth defensively to provide a quality rotation through all three defensive positions. While she did not play in the 2019 grand final thanks to injury, the talented defender adjusted well to the top level and more than handled the job of holding down attackers. What’s more, Eddy is a former Vixens training partner meaning she already has forged connections with a number of players, something that will certainly come in handy given the side’s lack of time together prior to the season starting.

Team list:

Kate Moloney
Tegan Philip
Liz Watson
Caitlin Thwaites
Emily Mannix
Jo Weston
Kadie-Ann Dehaney
Mwai Kumwenda
Tayla Honey
Kate Eddy

Elle McDonald ready for the next step

A NEW addition to the Melbourne Vixens ranks in 2020, training partner Elle McDonald has had an explosive past year, selected for the 2019 Vic Fury squad in the Australian Netball League (ANL) and subsequently getting the call up to the Vixens for the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season.

McDonald has not followed the typical state talent pathway, instead working her way up the ranks through the Victorian Netball League (VNL), honing her craft through the Under-19s to division one and then championship, winning a premiership with North East Blaze in 2017. 

“When I was younger I didn’t go through the state teams pathway that most of the other athletes would have but I was really lucky to still be playing in the VNL. And I thought I’d just work my way through the Under 19 Division and then was aiming for playing in that championship team and then once I was playing that championship team I was, you know, always trying to do the best I can,” McDonald said. “From there, I kept pushing myself and was lucky enough to be named in the team of the year for the last two years, I think, so I’ve just always been trying to improve myself and go one step further.”

The speedy midcourter has no issue traversing the court, able to ply her trade in both centre and wing attack, using her speed off the mark to enter the contest and be a real workhorse in attack.

“Last year I was really lucky to be asked to play in the ANL with Vic Fury, and win the Premiership with them too … I’ve loved every minute of it and it’s been challenging, of course, I’ve had my setbacks like many other people but in a way it just made me work harder and stronger and become a better player.”

But what should have been an exciting start to the year with Super Netball coming up, has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with teams having to switch out regular face-to-face training for backyard workouts and video meetings.

“Yeah, it’s been challenging, but also good I think. Obviously having to train by yourself is very different, especially being used to a team sport and really supporting each other through tough training sessions and things like that,” McDonald said. “I think we’ve been very accountable, and we knew how important it was to maintain our fitness levels during isolation so we can come back as strong as possible when we were allowed to.”

Despite the challenge of taking on her first season of elite training at home, McDonald said that the team was able to conduct virtual training sessions via Zoom.

“I think we were lucky to try and squeeze in … things like that, to really get our feet moving, doing lots of footwork and ball skills against the wall or someone at home, if you had someone to pass with you occasionally, that was really helpful and I think for me, really important to try and keep up.”

That being said, the Vixens are back regularly training now meaning the midcourter can really work on those skills with a plethora of experienced players to learn off, with the likes of Liz Watson and Kate Moloney two prominent figures in the Vixens midcourt unit.

“Just being part of that environment is quite surreal sometimes but I think having role models like that to look up to and, as you said they’re so experienced, but they’re also just so encouraging and they’re really supportive of everyone.I think just being able to train alongside them and be challenged and challenge them is totally our role as a training partner and, yeah, as I said, it’s just such a good and professional environment to be a part of. I’ve been loving every minute of being part of the Vixens.”

McDonald said she is in the team to become the best player she can be, always pushing herself regardless of the level. While she has been exposed to elite pathways in the VNL and ANL along with the impressive coaching at that level, the midcourter says that the training environment with the Vixens is “amazing”.

“I just want to, you know, learn as much as I can from the coaches and the players that we have there … I’ve never had access to the facilities and the strength and conditioning coaches and programs that are put in place before, so I’m really just trying to make the most of it and just absorb as much as I can in that training environment.”

“I think we have been chosen as training partners for a reason. I think they obviously see some potential in us and we want to, you know, be the best we can,” McDonald said. “When you are going up against one of those experienced international players [you want to] to challenge them, because the more we challenge them the better we become as well.”

With significant breaks between seasons, many players pick up other fitness regimes and exercise to do away from the netball court. But for McDonald, mixed netball was a great way to keep up that match fitness and skill over the off-season, drawn to the speed and physicality of the game.

“I played mixed my last year of high school. I sort of was introduced to it and I just thought it would be fun, would get to play with a few of my friends and then I quickly realised just how talented some of the mens and mixed netballers were and how competitive that league was,” McDonald explained. “So to me, when the VNL season stopped, being able to play in the M-League competition was a really good opportunity.”

McDonald was part of the grand final winning Parkville Panthers in the 2019 Victorian M-League Mixed Premier Division, winning the female most valuable player award for the season. She said the physicality of the mixed competition helped improve her speed and ability to attack the ball strongly.

“I think it’s definitely improved my speed, just because I found like some of the boys, you know, they’re very athletic so being able to just turn and feed things quickly. As well as that, the physicality – just really having to claim that ball and pull in strong with two hands.”

While the 2020 ANL season will not go ahead, McDonald will hope to continue improving with the Vixens and prove herself among the main group, still able to play in the VNL this year. With the addition of rolling subs and the two goal Super Shot to the Super Netball season, the midcourter said that the Vixens are one of the teams in a good position with the wealth of talent at their disposal.

“I’m sure they [the Vixens] will adapt to whatever they need to, in a really positive way and I think if you look at the shooters in that team, you know, they’re very lucky to have some accurate long-bomb shooters.”

Who could lead SSN stats in 2020?

WITH the Suncorp Super Netball set to return in just over a month there is plenty of hype surrounding the season and which team will assert themselves on the competition. Last year the Lightning and Swifts seemed to dominate most areas when it came to statistics, but that did not stop Adelaide Thunderbirds recruit Shamera Sterling from leaving her mark claiming prime position in a couple of crucial stats while West Coast Fever goaler Jhaniele Fowler was also well represented in terms of statistical dominance. Draft Central poses some hypotheticals for the 2020 season, taking into account 2019 form, potential development over the off-season and enforced COVID-19 break.

Defensive rebounds:
Talented goal keeper, Sterling dominated rebounds last year notching up a whopping 35 for the season. Collingwood and England Roses goal keeper Geva Mentor was not far behind with 33, something she will be hoping to build on this season given the young and inexperienced defensive unit behind her heading into 2020. Premiership player Sarah Klau proved to be a force to be reckoned with under the post with her strong positioning and rebounding ability amassing the fourth most with 28 for the season. With Diamonds experience under her belt Klau could be an even bigger threat in the 2020 SSN season. While Emily Mannix did not feature within the top 10 for rebounds last year expect the Melbourne Vixens defender to be around the mark this season, with the defender showcasing a renewed hunger towards the end of last season. 

Goal assists:
It is no surprise that Melbourne Vixens and Australian Diamonds vice-captain Liz Watson took out the number one spot when it comes to goal assists with the wing attack simply unstoppable on circle edge with her pinpoint passes. Watson was quick, precise and accurate, feeding into the circle with a whopping 430 goal assists, 139 more than the next closest in teammate Kate Moloney. The Vixens centre was a key contributor throughout the season and will be around the mark once again in season 2020. The highly anticipated return of Madi Browne could see the speedy midcourter leap into the top five when it comes to goal assists as she will have to lead the attacking end for the Magpies given the wealth of personnel changes. Another possibility to join the top five is Swifts captain Maddy Proud who will hopefully make her return from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in the early stages of the season. Renowned for her speed, dynamic movement and quick hands she could have a real impact in the Swifts attacking end. 

Centre pass receives:
Pocket rocket Laura Scherian took out the number one spot when it came to centre pass receives in season 2019, with the nippy wing attack able to burst out over the transverse line and get the ball moving. Her speed off the mark and fancy footwork was one of a couple reasons why the Lightning were so successful with Scherian amassing 428 passes while Watson was not far behind with 375. Often flying under the radar when it comes to her work at the transverse line Gretel Bueta was a prominent threat with 325 receives. Her load may lift even further in 2020 with the retirement of Caitlyn Nevins so expect her to enforce herself in the midcourt. Depending on what position Paige Hadley plays she could be another player that appears within the top 10 while Browne is another possibility.

Goals:
Jamaican powerhouse and West Coast Fever go-to girl Jhaniele Fowler was simply unstoppable under the ring last year and will be hoping to replicate that form again this season. Standing at 198cm the goal shooter is a commanding presence and wowed many with her ability to perform week in week out racking up 709 goals. Fresh off a premiership expect Sam Wallace to pick up where she left off last season with the Swifts goal shooter able to slot them from everywhere no matter the pressure. With a potential increased load in the 2020 season due to pregnancies in the Collingwood camp, Shimona Nelson will have to push herself even further. Slotting 637 goals for the season, Nelson’s numbers could rapidly rise as she becomes an even bigger target for the Pies given the inexperienced attack. While Romelda Aiken did not make it into the top five last year, likely due to missing games for injury, the Firebirds goaler is renowned for her ability to score quickly and at a high volume so expect big things from her this season, while increased court time from Cara Koenen could also see the Sunshine Coast product sneak into the top five. 

Deflections:
Sterling took out the top deflections position with an impressive 120 for the year, a clear testament to her read of the play and ability to impact the contest. She was involved in just about everything and with another pre-season under her belt and more accustomed to the high intensity pace of the game will be raring to go heading into the 2020 season. Klau was another one who impressed last year and will be eager to keep the good times rolling if they are any chance to win back-to-back premierships. Surprisingly, powerhouse defender Karla Pretorius did not feature within the top five when it comes to deflections so expect the tenacious South African to be in the mix while Thunderbirds returnee Layla Guscoth is also renowned for her ability to create tips and turnovers. The development of Tara Hinchliffe and Kim Jenner could see the duo feature within the top five this season while GIANTS wing defence Amy Parmenter is also a threat with her lightning quick pace and slickness on court.

Intercepts:
Although she did not feature in the deflections, Pretorius shone when it came to the intercept category with 69 for the season, one more than Sterling. Pretorius was a game changer for the Lightning, able to spring into action and take a huge intercept with her cleanliness and read of the play. After falling short in the grand final expect that fire in the belly to be evident and for Pretorius to once again be amongst the top echelon of players. Mannix was a prominent threat last year with her history breaking 10 intercepts in one game and ability to read the play. Collingwood newcomer Jodi-Ann Ward has proven on the international stage that she knows how to win ball back with her quick footwork and long reaching arms, while Magpies teammate, Mentor could also be in the top five once again given her strength in the air and skill to float into space and pick off passes. After a quieter 2019 season, West Coast Fever captain Courtney Bruce will be chomping at the bit, looking to assert herself and collect more deflections to rise up the leaderboard. 

What if … the Constellation Cup is cancelled?

THE Constellation Cup has become a permanent fixture in the international netball calendar with Australia and New Zealand putting themselves to the test and often trying out new combinations to discover some type of competitive edge. With dates for Constellation Cup confirmed for mid October international netball is in sight, giving fans plenty to be excited about. It will be the first time that Australia and New Zealand have gone head to head since last year where the Diamonds restored their winning ways claiming their seventh Constellation Cup. In that time both countries have seen some key players retire with the likes of Maria Folau for the Ferns and Caitlin Thwaites for Australia both hanging up the dress, leaving some big holes in the respective squads. While the thought of international netball looms it is all dependent on the spread and safety precautions which must be taken given the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

So what if the Constellation Cup was cancelled? 

With Australia in the middle of somewhat of a rebuild after two heartbreaking one goal losses in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 Netball World Cup, a lack of international netball could have a severe impact on the development of their next generation players. With Thwaites, retiring the opportunity for a new goaler is in the mix with a host of young talent such as Cara Koenen and Sophie Garbin both putting their hand up as viable options last year with their accuracy to post and clever movement. The midcourt could also have a different look for the Diamonds with Ash Brazill unlikely to pull on the green and gold due to a devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury at the start of the year leaving a chance for the likes of Kate Moloney or Gabi Simpson. Similarly the same goes for New Zealand with the Ferns on the search for Folau’s replacement whether it be shooting prodigy Grace Nweke, Maia Wilson or Aliyah Dunn. The Ferns could also be without Bailey Mes who was ruled out of the ANZ Premiership season with a patella injury, creating another possibility for a young player to take the court. With key players missing from both sides respectively the Constellation Cup would be an ideal platform for both teams to test out new combinations and allow up and comers to join the ranks. However if both nations are unable to get on court in an international setting the next time they step out on court could be in the Nations Cup when they will be faced with the likes of England, Jamaica or South Africa. 

The ramifications do not stop there though, with Australia still on the hunt for a coach with Lisa Alexander no longer in charge of the Diamonds. With no coach at the helm the Diamonds future is still relatively up in the air, something they will be hoping to get on top of in the coming months and test out at the Constellation Cup. The tournament will provide the Diamonds with a chance to test out new combinations, coaching styles and ultimately act as a trial run for the upcoming Nations Cup. 

If cancelled due to travel restrictions it also throws up the possibility of not seeing some household netball names take the court again. Both teams have a couple of players heading towards the latter stage of their career in particular New Zealand with the likes of Laura Langman and Katrina Rore. While in no means are we hoping for them to retire from international netball given their undeniable explosiveness, skill and sheer presence, retirement is inevitable in every netballers career. Langman is 34 while Rore hit the 33 mark this year and if international netball comes to a halt in 2020 there is a slight chance netball fans may have already seen the back of them. 

Travel is a key part of the Constellation Cup with games played both in Australia and New Zealand, however if restrictions remain in place the competition will not be able to go ahead and subsequently have a huge impact on the world of international netball.

Top 20 players over 30: #10 Caitlin Thwaites

THERE are a host of international players across the world that, much like a fine wine, have simply gotten better with age. With netball on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Draft Central takes a look at players that fall into the category of over 30 and still have plenty in the tank given their on-court prowess. Coming in at number 10 is none other than fan favourite and Australian netball sensation Caitlin Thwaites.

The Melbourne Vixens goal shooter is simply in a class of her own with her effortless movements and accuracy to post constantly leaving fans in awe. There is no denying that Thwaites is a marquee player able to single handily break a game wide open with her long bomb shooting, fancy footwork and versatility. While she is typically known for her role as a goal shooter the 33-year-old has developed her repertoire able to swing into the goal attack position and have just as much as a commanding presence with her impressive ball movement. Thwaites is a real play maker able to set up attacking forays while her ball control is second to none able to reel in errant passes time and time again.

Her connection with the likes of Tegan Philip is incredibly strong with the two able to rotate through the circle with ease and keep the defenders guessing. Her commanding presence under the post allows the likes of Kate Moloney and Liz Watson deliver the ball into her with ease. She can easily shake up her game style from a holding shooter to a moving one, able to get on the move and drive into the circle to keep heads turning and create confusion.

Thwaites is incredibly strong on the hold able to ward of defenders with her clever body positioning and experience. She is not often flustered or out-positioned under the post given her cool, calm and collected temperament and frequently puts up high numbers of shots to give her side that competitive edge. When Thwaites is on there is no stopping the powerhouse goaler who is quick on her feet and can simply shoot from anywhere despite pressure. She is a real leader in the attacking third for the Vixens able to stand up and absorb the pressure no matter the stakes and does not look like slowing down.

Recently retiring from international netball, Thwaites proved to be a real force to be reckoned with able to come on and inject herself in the contest. She was a key contributor under the post for the Diamonds with her reliability and netball smarts constantly on display. Her adaptability to combine with the likes of Gretel Bueta or Steph Wood was equally as impressive able to create space or tailor her game style to suit the goal attack a clear testament to her netball nous.

TOP 20 PLAYERS OVER 30:

#20 Stacey Francis (West Coast Fever/England)
#19 Laura Scherian (Sunshine Coast Lightning/Australia)
#18 Ama Agbeze (Severn Stars/England)
#17 Phumza Maweni (Sunshine Coast Lightning/South Africa)
#16 Jade Clarke (Wasps Netball/England)
#15 Chelsea Pitman (Adelaide Thunderbirds/England)

#14 Romelda Aiken (Queensland Firebirds/Jamaica)
#13 Madi Browne (Collingwood Magpies/Australia)
#12 Nat Medhurst (Collingwood Magpies/Australia)

#11 Mwai Kumwenda (Melbourne Vixens/Malawi)
#10 Caitlin Thwaites (Melbourne Vixens/Australia)

Top 15 SSN training partners: #6 Allie Smith

WITH a number of netball leagues across the world being suspended due to COVID-19, the Draft Central team is making a case for the top 15 training partners stepping up to the Suncorp Super Netball plate in 2020. Coming in at number six is Melbourne Vixens midcourter, Allie Smith. This countdown is purely opinion-based, taking into consideration recent form, individual potential and future development.

A crucial midcourter through the star-studded Victorian Fury outfit which won the Australian Netball League premiership last season and having gone two from two with a Geelong Cougars premiership in the Victorian Netball League, Smith is well and truly used to the winning mentality. A talented speedster with quick feet and impressive agility, the Geelong product is only 20 years old with plenty of star power in the making. Typically a midcourt defender with the ability to drop back into the goal circle, Smith can also take on the centre bib when required to have an impact in attack, with her versatility certainly something the Vixens can build up to be a handy extra cog on court. 

Smith has plenty of potential with her timing and vision down the court, while her speed and constant pressure allows her to be a threat both inside and outside the goal circle. Coming from a defensive background, Smith is able to turn on the defensive gears up the court to turn over the ball with ease, using her speed and game smarts to chase down the loose ball and combine with defenders and attackers alike. Now in her second season training alongside the likes of Kate Moloney, Liz Watson and Jo Weston, Smith has plenty of opportunity to further develop her craft in the coming season.

TOP 15 SSN TRAINING PARTNERS SO FAR:

#15 Ashlee Unie (Sunshine Coast Lightning)
#14 Ruby Barkmeyer (Melbourne Vixens)
#13 Tippah Dwan (Queensland Firebirds)
#12 Matisse Letherbarrow (GIANTS Netball)
#11 Chelsea Blackman (Adelaide Thunderbirds)
#10 Sunday Aryang (West Coast Fever)
#9 Latika Tombs (GIANTS Netball)
#8 Sharni Lambden (Collingwood Magpies)
#7 Jacqui Newton (Melbourne Vixens)
#6 Allie Smith (Melbourne Vixens)

What if … Mwai Kumwenda did not return to SSN in 2019?

IN the second last game of the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season, Melbourne Vixens goaler Mwai Kumwenda injured her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), ruling her out not only for the rest of the season but so too much of the 2019 season. With athleticism and accuracy to boot, Kumwenda was a key cog in the goal circle for the Vixens and was sorely missed throughout the 2019 season despite the acquisition of another shooting sensation.

Kumwenda is highly reliable, able to post a high volume of shots and impose herself in the goal circle up against some of the worlds most renowned defenders such as Geva Mentor and Courtney Bruce. Her unique style of play allowed her to continuously have an influence under the post. While she is not the strongest or bulkiest shooter it is her clever positioning, fancy footwork and go-go gadget arms that make her such a challenge for opposition teams.

Sidelined for the majority of last season, new recruit and fan favourite Caitlin Thwaites took the centre stage alongside goal attack Tegan Philip. The two combined seamlessly with their impressive movement, shooter to shooter interplay and accuracy to post doing all the talking. However, with finals quickly approaching and Kumwenda on the mend, the inclusion of the Malawi shooter added an extra element to the Vixens’ somewhat predictable line-up, helping them surge ahead and take out third position on the ladder.

But what if Mwai Kumwenda did not return to SSN? Would the Vixens have gone as far as they did in 2019?

Her on-court influence is hard to deny. Simply the way Kumwenda moves and her effortless shooting action makes her incredibly hard to stop while her versatility to change from a holding to moving shooter adds another string to her bow. With pressure mounting towards the backend of the 2019 season the option to bring Kumwenda on for the Vixens paid dividends with the goal shooter able to absorb the pressure and shoot truly. Unfazed by the score or the theatrics of the game, Kumwenda was cool, calm and composed and forced other teams to shake up their defence given her impressive timing, aerial ability and strong hands on the take.

Since taking the court in 2017, Kumwenda has proved that accuracy and volume is no issue posting 588 goals in 2017 and 501 goals in 2018. While her 2019 season was interrupted, her accuracy did not waver, only missing nine of her 66 attempts. Her strong connection with the likes of Liz Watson and Kate Moloney was another focal point for the Vixens’ late success, with the midcourters easily able to sight the Malawian shooter and deliver the ball on a silver platter to her. The innate understanding between the trio allowed the Vixens to thread the needle through the defence and apply both attacking and scoreboard pressure, giving them the edge in the semi-final against Collingwood.

While she is not the sole reason the Vixens were able to triumph their way into the preliminary finals she was a key aspect to their success, able to come on and have an influence when need be. Although the Vixens also had South African Ine-Mari Venter amongst the mix the still developing shooter at times lacked the explosiveness and experience of Kumwenda.

Diamond Liz Watson focused on Super Netball success with Melbourne Vixens

LIZ Watson is one of the most recognisable names in the netball world. The Melbourne Vixens turned Australian Diamonds wing attack provides a vital cog through the midcourt, using her netball nous to deliver crucial ball to her goalers and provide an option on circle edge with her impressive hold and clean hands. But like much of the world, Watson is having an unprecedented break from netball, having to switch up her plan and structure for the year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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While it was tricky in the beginning, Watson said the adjustment to isolated training has come in time thanks to routine and constant contact with her Vixens teammates and friends.

“I guess it was a bit tricky at the start when it all kind of happened but now I’ve got a bit of a routine and I’m still keeping busy with uni, we check in with the girls every day at Vixens which is really helpful,” she said. “So it sets up the day on what we’re required to do.”

Settling into a routine has made social distancing that little bit easier, working into training plan that fits around other ways of keeping busy during the pandemic.

“Before we went into lockdown we were pretty much match fit and I guess building up to competition mode, and now we’ve kind of had to strip that back and go right back to basic kind of fitness and strength,” Watson said. “Our training plans have been sort of up and down, so that’s probably the most tricky part and I think now we’re just starting to incorporate a bit more footwork and netball specific drills.”

“I love going for a big long walk in the morning, that kind of gets me moving and I guess sets up the day, but we are following a training program from the coaches so it’s set out every day – there’s either gym, conditioning and a bit of footwork stuff, but I also am loving doing a bit of palates and yoga, which is good because I don’t usually do that as much throughout the year.”

The past weekend was shaping up to be a blockbuster round one battle against Queensland Firebirds in the Suncorp Super Netball, one that Watson would have hoped to see replicate their 2019 matches, during which they defeated the Firebirds on both occasions. 

“It’s probably just, you know, the mental and physical idea that you’re preparing for a match, but now we’re going right back to sort of that preseason fitness base kind of work,” Watson said.

“We’d be having a pretty much a normal week at training but I guess that it’d probably be a bit lighter and throughout the back end of the week we’d have a light training session at the venue which would have been at Melbourne Arena for us. “That’s where we were playing round one so we would have headed there on the Friday for a training session and then played there on the Saturday, so a lot different at the moment, but yeah it is what it is, I guess.”

On the international stage, Watson is vice-captain of the Australian Diamonds, joining forces with a number of her Super Netball rivals. She said the vice-captaincy has given her a lot of confidence in her game, able to share the leadership load with a number of her teammates.

“It’s really special,” she said. “I think the one thing I love the most about it is that you actually are voted in from the team and I think that it’s really important to have that belief and confidence and trust from the teammates to put you into that position. “That gives me a lot of confidence going out there and actually being able to be the vice captain alongside Bass (Caitlin Bassett) as captain so it’s a really special group. “Everyone has to come together, obviously we’re rivals throughout the year but then we are teammates.”

Teaming up with quality players from across the country, Watson has had to switch up her game style on the odd occasion, namely when taking the court with one of her round one opponents in dynamic goal attack, Gretel Bueta. Watson also took on somewhat of a different role in the Diamonds in 2019, playing more of a centre role than her typical wing attack.

“I absolutely love playing with Gretel because you don’t really know what she’s going to do,” Watson said. “I think that’s something that we’ve learned and are really encouraged, is to let Gretel play the way she plays and we kind of mold in around that.”

“I think I definitely feel it more in my lungs in centre, rather than wing attack. “But yeah, I think that they’re quite similar in their positions and the gameplay isn’t too different… in all our analysis sessions we’re always talking so I was across what centres have to do typically in a game so from a game sense it wasn’t too bad.”

At the Vixens, Watson feeds a couple more conventional – but not any less talented – goalers in Caitlin Thwaites, Tegan Philip and Mwai Kumwenda, typically teaming up with captain Kate Moloney to feed into the goal circle.

“A good mid courter, our job is to make our goalers look good and we need to do that by playing to their strengths,” Watson said. “So someone like Tegan is very fast and speedy and Caity, she can hold really well and get that high ball in, so as a mid courter it’s about working with each goaler and actually enhancing their strengths as much as possible and letting them do their thing and kind of fitting in around their their gameplay.” 

With plenty of talent coming up through the pathways, Watson is well aware of the Victorian netball pathways given she followed them through in the traditional sense, even playing much of her junior netball at the State Netball and Hockey Centre where the Vixens train and hosted their impressive semi-final against Collingwood Magpies last season.

“I’m very lucky I’ve played and pretty much followed the Netball Victoria pathway to a tee,” Watson said. “I’ve been there ever since I started really, 11-years-old.”

Watson said the Victorian pathway helped curate her competitive streak, with the winning culture something that helps push every young player to keep putting their best out onto the court. 

“We always have a strong history of winning in Victoria, and right through nationals, Victoria were always expected to be in that top two, if not number one,” she said. “So it brings that competitive side and I think it’s great that we’ve got such a really structured pathway for young girls and they know the step by step to become a Vixen, and it’s easy when kids say to you, you know, how did you become a Vixen and I say ‘I followed this pathway, this is what you can do to get there’. “We’re very lucky in Victoria that we have that winning culture and that success and that’s because all our pathway is planned out right from when we’re juniors.”

Simone (McKinnis) has made a Vixens squad so we’ve got an extended squad of girls who are up and coming and I think that’s really important,” Watson said. “It’s so special. “As a young kid I remember going into the Vixens environment, even if it’s just for one training session, and you just see how they train and then you go back and you say, ‘that’s how I need to be training if I want to become a Vixen or be at that level’. “So I think it’s great that we’ve got this squad, and then they can go back to their clubs and I guess drive that standard with their local clubs too so I think having the extended squad has been really valuable for us.”

While the 2020 season is ultimately still up in the air, Watson said the Vixens’ season aims still ring true despite not yet taking the court. Having made finals last season but fallen short, the tenacious Vixens want to win back some of the glory that has evaded them in the Suncorp Super Netball and bring the trophy back to Victoria.

“We want to be the team that comes out of isolation the best… yes we can be fit and strong and deliver our programs but it’s that mental toughness that we’ve always been working on and that’s the side that I feel has let us down previously, that mental side of our game, and if we can come out of this isolation the toughest strongest team mentally, then nothing can really stop us,” Watson said.

As for fellow netballers who are itching to get back on the court and may be feeling a bit sluggish or unmotivated, Watson said it is useful to remember that everyone is in the same position and acknowledge that plenty of others are in far worse situations across the globe.

“I think it’s important to know that everyone’s probably feeling a little bit like that, even us as elite athletes do feel like that … I always think I’m so lucky – I am still playing, I still get to train and I still get to talk to my teammates every day, it’s just in a different way and that’s just the way it has to be right now,” she said. “I think just acknowledging that – yes it’s hard, but if we just sit here and say it’s hard then we’re not going to really move forward at all.”

“(We’re) all trying to work to come out as I guess, fitter and stronger but also just mentally ready to hit competition mode and, yeah, hopefully have a really good season. “Fingers crossed we do play some sort of netball in the back end of the year.”

What if… SSN doesn’t happen in 2020?

WITH the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season postponed until June 30 due to the COVID-19 outbreak there are many question marks surrounding the competition and whether it will actually go ahead at all. Last year marked one of the biggest years of netball with a host of new players joining the SSN to bolster line-ups and bring a more international flavour to the respective teams. The New South Wales Swifts broke their premiership drought with a convincing win over two-time premiership winners Sunshine Coast Lightning. While the season was filled with plenty of intrigue the off season also drew plenty of attention with multiple a-list players retiring and new players entering the system making for an action packed 2020.

So what if SSN does not return in 2020? Who might not return? And what happens to the international players that have returned home but are still signed with SSN clubs?

No netball in 2020 could have a huge impact on the sport itself as it was only just becoming recognised as a professional sport in Australia thanks to the leaps and bounds of SSN in regards to salaries. Many teams across the competition have taken huge strides forward in developing facilities that are adequate to create high performance environments for athletes to train in. Players have already been subjected to a 70 per cent cut in their salary due to the outbreak and may suffer further if the season does not go ahead which is becoming a very real possibility given the importance of public and player safety.

In terms of players it also means we won’t see the likes of new recruits Jodi-Ann Ward and Julia Woolley take the court for the first time since entering the league while the return of injured star Madi Browne and youngsters, Tayla Honey and Teigan O’Shannassy will be postponed until next year if the season does not commence. It also begs the question of retirements. When Geva Mentor joined Collingwood at the end of 2017, the England Roses goal keeper signed a two-year deal to see her in the black and white something that could quite easily come to an end if this season does not ahead.  While we are saying in no means that the highly touted defender is ready for retirement given her uncanny ability to force turnovers and create havoc down back, it is a possibility. Other massive question marks loom around the likes of Caitlin Thwaites who recently retired from international duties, and Laura Langman who signed a one-year deal late in the year last year. Could Thwaites retire if the season does not go ahead? Would Langman return to New Zealand? As a netball spectator, I hope not.

In fact, most of the SSN players are only on contracts for 2020. The least impacted teams if the season was called off would be GIANTS Netball with six players, including shooting trio, Caitlin Bassett, Jo Harten and Kiera Austin all signed up for 2021, as is Rising Star, Amy Parmenter. West Coast Fever have four players – Courtney Bruce, Jhaniele Fowler, Jess Anstiss and Alice Teague-Neeld – on board until 2021, while the Vixens’ Emily Mannix and Kate Moloney, and Swifts’ Helen Housby have also signed deals to take them through until the end of next year. Four sides – Adelaide Thunderbirds, Collingwood Magpies, Queensland Firebirds and Sunshine Coast Lightning have not re-signed anyone for the 2021 season to-date.

There are a number of international players on the rosters at each and every club in the SSN with some of the players deciding to stay here in Australia while the outbreak is trying to be managed and others opting to return to their homeland. The likes of South African goaling duo Lenize Potgieter and Ine-Mari Venter both returned home to be with their families but are still contracted to their respective clubs in Adelaide Thunderbirds and Queensland Firebirds. Thus, if the season does kick off at the designated start date it begs the question of whether or not these players will be eligible to return to the country, let alone play in the SSN.

In an update released by the Canberra Times, Suncorp Super Netball chief executive Chris Symington said the competition still intended to go ahead, but where or when was still yet to be decided.

“We are still working to get an understanding of what’s possible from a logistical point of view and also what’s achievable for our teams and our broadcaster,” Symington said. “Given the nature of the sport there is the ability to potentially play mid week so you could condense and run a shorter version of the season – so the same amount of matches but over a shorter time frame. “That could halve our time frame to eight weeks because you could also look at packaging our three weeks of finals into one weekend or sudden death playoffs so that’s also on the table.”

Another suggestion mooted was a World Cup style netball competition played over a couple of months, condensed down.

“That’s something we could potentially do and capture as much content as we could in that time-frame without placing too much load on the athletes,” Symington said. “They would probably all go to a single location – where that is is anyone’s guess at this stage. “But you could take all teams to a single location as you would for a World Cup … and you play a tournament style with multiple matches within a short period of time. “That’s a last resort based on timing toward the end of the year.”

What do you think will happen with the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season?
Cancelled - will return in 2021
Season will start in July as planned
Postponed season - World Cup style competition

Netball fantasy team: All-Star Vixens v. All-Star Swifts

THERE is no denying that over the years both the Melbourne Vixens and NSW Swifts have welcomed their fair share of star players and have played in some epic battles to ignite the Sargeant-McKinnis Cup. Therefore, Draft Central has decided to create a fantasy team taking into account players that have been at each respective club for two or more seasons in order to form an all-stars list.

All-Star Melbourne Vixens

GK: Geva Mentor
GD: Bianca Chatfield
WD: Renae Ingles
C: Madi Browne
WA: Liz Watson
GA: Sharelle McMahon
GS: Caitlin Thwaites
BENCH: Mwai Kumwenda, Kate Moloney, Julie Corletto

The Melbourne Vixens have always had a plethora of stars wear the dress since their inception making them one of the biggest powerhouses in Australian netball history. Starting in defence, the influence of Geva Mentor was profound with the English international winning a whopping four best and fairest medals for the club ranging from 2012 to 2017 highlighting just how much of an influence she had down back with her impressive timing, defensive pressure and keen eye for intercepts. Fellow defender Bianca Chatfield was also renowned for her immense pressure over the shot, smothering style of play and ability to create turnovers while wing defence Renae Ingles is in a league of her own. Ingles has simply got better with time, credit to her high level of endurance, speed off the mark and deceptively long arms constantly able to force tips to disrupt any form of attacking flow for the opposition. Prior to joining the black and white in the Suncorp Super Netball, Madi Browne was a key cog in the attack unit for the Vixens with her precise movement, speed and well-weighted passes on full show. Browne is strong around the top of the goal circle able to hustle for position much like fellow teammate in this fantasy side Liz Watson. The wing attack is arguably one of the world’s best when it comes to consistency, vision and most importantly cleanliness hardly ever throwing away balls thanks to her impressive skillset. Talking of impressive skillsets cue Sharelle McMahon, the talented goal attack was a great servant to the Vixens guiding them to a premiership in 2009 with her accuracy to post, smooth movement and reliability on full display. McMahon never failed to disappoint for the Vixens faithful much like goal shooter Cailtin Thwaites who made her much awaited return in 2019 after somewhat of 10 years. Thwaites is consistent under the post, able to use her strength to hold space and most importantly score freely. She is not afraid to back herself from range and uses her quick feet to reposition and go to post. Unlucky not to make the starting seven is Mwai Kumwenda who has been a star for the Vixens since signing with them thanks to her aerial ability along with captain Kate Moloney through the midcourt. When it comes to defence Julie Corletto just missed out given the influence both Mentor and Chatfield at the club.

All-Star NSW Swifts

GK: Sharni Layton
GD: Mo’onia Gerrard
WD: Abbey McColloch
C: Kim Green
WA: Paige Hadley
GA: Susan Pettitt
GS: Catherine Cox
BENCH: Sam Wallace, Maddy Proud, Sonia Mkoloma,

Another powerhouse of netball in Australia is the NSW Swifts who have found their straps in recent seasons winning the premiership last year but have boasted impressive line-ups previously with the likes of Sharni Layton leading the way down back. Although she made the move in 2017 to the Magpies, Layton played a wealth of her career in the red and white where she made a name for herself with her physical style of play and ability to relentlessly hunt the ball. Throw in the likes of Mo’onia Gerrard and the Swifts had one of the toughest defence units given their physical pressure and tenacity. Gerrard was not afraid to put her body on the line throwing herself into every contest that came her way and using her quick feet to get around the body of her opponents. Through the midcourt, former captain Abbey McColloch was solid, consistently able to do the little things well and build pressure with her tagging style of defence. Centre come wing attack, Kim Green was renowned for her ability to do the unthinkable and thread the needle with her impossible passes. Green was in a league of her own and was a key contributor the Swifts early success with her high endurance, speed and workhorse mentality before switching to the GIANTS in 2017. Fellow midcourter Paige Hadley has developed into one of the clubs strongest leaders with her hard work, ability to hustle around the goal circle and versatility to switch between attack and defence with ease. Moving into the goal circle the Swifts boast one of the most stacked line-ups with veteran Susan Pettitt consistently showcasing her ability to glide across the court and hit the scoreboard. Her impressive netball IQ and ability to score from anywhere made her a handful but it is hard to go past the likes of Diamonds star and Swifts favourite Catherine Cox. The goal shooter could turn a game on its head with her accuracy and volume, not afraid to demand the ball under the post with her strong holds and fancy footwork. With so many players to choose from, current Swift Sam Wallace and Maddy Proud were unlucky to not make the starting seven while veteran Sonia Mkoloma just missed out.

Who would win?

It is near on impossible to decide who would win but given the Vixens star power both in the goal circle and defensively, one could argue that the scales would tilt in favour of the Vixens. Having the likes of Thwaites, McMahon under the post puts them in good stead to put up a hefty total while the defensive pressure through the midcourt coming from the likes of Ingles and Chatfield would be hard to quell. However, the Swifts are not without their own star power in the likes of Cox and Layton.

Which All-Star team would win?
All-Star Vixens
All-Star Swifts
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