Pictures: Suncorp Super Netball/Melbourne Vixens, Design by Will Cuckson

After a season-ending ACL injury in 2021 put her ascending career on hold, Kiera Austin began to think about her future. Thus a move to the Melbourne Vixens was on the cards.

A talented netballer at Giants Netball, Kiera Austin was always a capable netballer at Suncorp Super Netball level. After a season-ending ACL injury in 2021 put her ascending career on hold, she thought about her future and thus a move to the Melbourne Vixens was on the cards.

The Inner Sanctum spoke exclusively to Kiera Austin about Giants Netball, the move to the Melbourne Vixens and the hope of playing for the Diamonds in the Commonwealth Games.

One of the biggest storylines of the Suncorp Super Netball season so far has been Austin’s return to the league after her ACL injury against the Adelaide Thunderbirds in Round 1 last year. She speaks about the trepidation of returning to the level and trusting her knee.

“The first thing that jumps to my mind is scary, I don’t know what it is about round one but it’s just so much more anticipation around it, a lot more emotion,” Austin said.

“Leading into that round, I probably had a little bit of swelling spike in my knee so I didn’t even know if I would be playing the first round.

“Seeing Sam Wallace go down very similar to what I did was, I think I felt really sick about it but I just couldn’t watch the replay after I saw it live.

“There was definitely a lot of emotion heading into that game but I was proud of myself to get out there and get a few minutes on the court and remember what Suncorp Super Netball is like. Once I started to trust my knee a bit more and form those connections with the girls I think that my performances have only gone from strength to strength.”

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2020 Breakout Season

In the 29 games Austin played with Giants Netball, she became one of the best young players to watch. Her breakout year was 2020, where even though they were in the Suncorp Super Netball hub in Queensland, Austin shined and brought about highlights for a down year for Giants Netball.

She won the club’s Most Valuable Player award, was named goal attack in the Team of the Year and was selected in the Diamonds squad for the first time. 2020 was a tough year for Austin as the team was not winning, yet she had a phenomenal year individually.

“It’s crazy reflecting on that year because I don’t think that it was the best year in terms of our team’s performance,” she reflected.

“We didn’t make finals, we were away in the hub, I found the hub really hard so I don’t have the fondest memories of that year.

“When people mention that to me, I go ‘oh it was still really a big and exciting year for me’ but I think I also knew that I had so much more to give than what I gave that year. I was stoked for the accolades and whatnot but I knew that there was more to put out on the court.

“I’m still finding that as well coming back from my knee but I guess in terms of achievements since then I can’t go past debuting for the Diamonds, it’s still one of the fondest memories I’ll ever have, we went through a lot to get to that point. It’s still up there.”

The Move to the Vixens

One big moment in Austin’s career was her time on the sidelines in 2021 due to her season-ending ACL injury. This gave her time to think about her netball career, her potential and the chances she was given at Giants Netball.

“I’ve never had a major injury before and when it did happen I had a whole lot of time to really reflect on my netball and how much I was enjoying it,” the 24-year-old said.

“I just felt like I was kind of plateauing at the Giants and when I knew there was an opportunity elsewhere. I thought if now is not the time then when will be and I haven’t really looked back at all.”

Austin looks fondly back at the memories she created at the Giants and thinks of the move to the Vixens as something to get the best out of herself and her body rather than a slight on the Giants.

It has seemingly been a great decision so far for Austin who is finding her feet at the Vixens and is under the tutelage of many former and current Australian Diamonds.

“I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, you just get a lot of time to reflect and think about your sport and what you are putting out there on the court. [I] thought that maybe my potential could be harnessed better in a different environment.”

The Vixens Defence

Austin slots into a star-studded netball squad when looking at the Melbourne Vixens. Turning up to training and playing on two of the best current defenders in the competition and some of the up and coming defenders was a major drawcard.

Austin speaks highly of the learnings she has had training against Jo Weston, Kate Eddy and Emily Mannix.

“If you had asked me before coming to the Vixens, who’s the most annoying defender to play against I would have said Jo Weston,” she said.

“The fact that there was an opportunity at the Vixens and knowing that probably every training session I’d have to train against Jo, that was a really good sign for me. I thought, great if I can get more experience playing on someone like Joey [Jo Weston] who literally rides you like a backpack then that’s only going to be more beneficial for me.

“I’ve really enjoyed coming down and having that challenge to be defended by Jo [Weston]. Em [Emily Mannix], Liv [Olivia Lewis], and Kate [Eddy] are also very deceptive with their long lanky limbs so you only get better if you train against the best.

“I don’t like playing against Jo, you get better at it so that’s been good.”

One of the best things to come from the move to the Vixens is the friendship that Austin has found with fellow new recruit, Olivia Lewis. Lewis has been a great find for the Vixens this year, coming from the Fever.

Lewis’ best game so far this season came against Jamaican star shooter Jhaniele Fowler. This game showcased the 23-year-old’s talent and it was no surprise to Austin that she played so well.

“Liv is just amazing, we both flew into Melbourne at the same time and we were staying at the same hotel for about a month and we became really close friends,” Austin said.

“I think we went through similar things at our previous clubs, we had a lot of love for the girls there but probably weren’t getting the best out of ourselves.

“[Her] coming down and seeing her literally train so bloody hard and get a decent amount of opportunity, learning from Joey (Weston) and Em (Mannix) seeing her go from strength to strength.

“She works really hard, I don’t know if she’s got the best vertical jump in the league but I think she’d be pretty damn close.”

The Vixens Attack

The Melbourne Vixens goalers have become the best in the league with Austin joining young super-shot specialist Rahni Samason and Malawi International Mwai Kumwenda. Austin also gives plenty of praise for co-captain Liz Watson.

Being of a similar personality type and new to the contracted list for the Vixens, Samason has made an impact on Austin.

“I get along really well with Rahni, I get along really well with all the girls but I think Rahni and I are just like me and Pratts (Susan Pettitt) and me and Sam (Poolman), we just got along really well,” Austin said.

“We just try and bring the best out in each other and obviously in a team you want to be fighting for that position on court and we quietly do that for each other.

“We kind of push each other at training to get the best out of each other and we are striving to be better athletes each day. I think she’s a real workhorse as well, I can’t wait to see her grow and grow over the season.”

When it comes to learning from the best, there is not much better than the experienced duo of Liz Watson and Mwai Kumwenda.

Austin said although her form was up and down at the beginning of the season, she has now learnt more about the Vixens’ game plan and her teammates.

“I think playing with Lizzy and Kumwenda, I feel like I’ve just slotted in now after having a few more sessions and understanding where they like the ball to be fed and where they usually drive,” she said.

“It just feels really easy playing with them and I like how they encourage me to get on with things if I throw a ball away or something like that, they’re all incredible players.”

First game against Giants Netball

One headline that was banded around in Round 3 this year was the tantalising match-up between Austin and her former team, Giants Netball.

She speaks about the fact that this was a match-up she was looking forward to and was happy she only had to wait for a few rounds.

“I had a feeling coming back from my knee that I didn’t know if I’d be ready for round one and they usually say it’s a 12-month rehab process. I think when round one came around I was about 10 months, so when I was going through rehab in the early stages, I knew the fixture,” Austin said.

“I was like ‘wouldn’t it be great if my first game back was against the Giants, I think I’ll be just so hungry’. So I was grateful that I had a few more games under my sleeve before I came up against them.

“For a very long time I thought I would only be really fired up for that game, so I think it was perfect timing in terms of finding my form a bit more on the netball court.

“It was a little bit bittersweet against the team, I felt like I knew what their structures were and where they like to feed the ball and all that jazz.

“I definitely wanted to expose that but I think it was good timing for me, I guess just finding my form again, I don’t know what it is about playing your former team but it’s an added bit of flair.”

The Melbourne Vixens got the win against Giants Netball that day with Austin taking home Player of the Match honours. She scored 24 goals from 27 attempts, she also went two from four attempts from super shot range. Austin also had 14 goal assists, 15 feeds and 11 centre pass receives.

Austin’s career at Giants Netball

When looking back at her time at Giants Netball, Austin said she was helped by fellow attacker Susan Pettitt. Pettitt helped Austin find her way as a young player playing in the same position that Austin has featured in. After she retired, defender Sam Poolman became a big influence in Austin’s development.

“When I first started at Giants I was quite close with Susan Pettitt, she took me under her wing and we got along like a house on fire,” Austin said.

“Since Pratts (Pettitt) moved on, I formed such a close relationship with Sam Poolman, obviously different ends of the court. Again, we just had very similar personalities and very similar viewpoints on things.

“We got along really well and we still call each other every now and then to give each other a life update. I’d definitely say those two were great in helping me feel not left out in the sense when you are a young player coming through.”

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