One of the best current-day midcourters in the world, Liz Watson made the big time in 2014, after a late change to the Melbourne Vixens roster.
The teenager took home a Rookie of the Year award as well as a premiership in her first year, which thrust her into the spotlight.
In her first-ever season, Watson did what few young netballers do in Suncorp Super Netball. She featured in a premiership alongside all-time netball greats in Geva Mentor, Bianca Chatfield, Madi Robinson, Tegan Caldwell, and Catherine Cox.
A career full of team and individual success for Watson is attributed to hard work and her teammates over the years.
She spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about her journey from teenager to captain of the most successful netball nation today.
“That really does feel like a lifetime ago, I think I had such great players in the team and you know Bianca Chatfield was the captain at the time, Geva (Mentor), Madi Robinson,” she said.
“All these experienced and awesome players were in the team and so I think I was able to slot in and learn from them.
“I guess to have success so early to me it felt like this is good, this is great but as I’ve continued on in my career, I’ve realised how hard premierships are to win and come by whereas in 2014, it was a big whirlwind and I was happy to be there and sort of getting the opportunity to play,”
2014: Starting out as a Vixen
At the time that Watson arrived at the Melbourne Vixens at the time they were being led by Victorian and Diamonds legend Bianca Chatfield.
59 appearances in the green and gold dress, winning two gold Commonwealth Games medals, One silver Commonwealth Games medal, and six super netball titles (four with the Melbourne Phoenix and two with the Melbourne Vixens), Chatfield is revered as any figure in Australian netball.
When starting at the level, it is usually the captain that takes the young players under their wing and Chatfield did that.
Captaining the team for eight seasons, Watson speaks so highly of the influence of the champion captain even now, years later.
“[Someone who looked after me was] Bianca Chatfield, we’re still really good friends now and I think obviously she was a great netballer but her leadership and what she was doing off the court, she really grounded us,” she said.
“I guess she really showed me what it was like to be an elite netballer and she is still someone that I would call today for advice and have a really good friendship with her too.”
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The Dynamic Duo is formed
The names, Kate Moloney and Liz Watson have become synonymous with the Melbourne Vixens and with Australian netball.
Playing netball together in their junior days has meant a connection formed many years ago is now one of the most potent in the Suncorp Super Netball.
With the two stars playing across the three midcourt positions, wing defence, centre, and wing attack, Watson said it’s been easy to play with Moloney given they know each other inside and out. The same can be said for their leadership in which they have different strengths that complement each other.
“We know each other really well and even at in our junior days, we played at the same club too so we have definitely played a lot of netball together,” Watson said.
“I think that the way that we lead sort of compliments each other, you know Kate has that loud voice and so passionate and so vocal out there on court and I’m probably quieter and do things behind the scenes,
“We kind of do complement each other in different ways but we definitely know our game styles really well even when I swung back into centre and Kate went to wing defence that’s how we used to play at the Vixens so it didn’t feel too unnatural for us.”
Playing wing attack in the SSN
One of the hardest and most star-studded positions in the Suncorp Super Netball teams is the wing attack position. Players like Watson herself, Kelsey Browne, Maddy Proud, Paige Hadley, Lara Dunkley, and Georgie Horjus have all shone this season in this position.
As they are some of the best players on the court for their teams, the wing defence position has become an important position stopping the wing attack from feeding the attacking line. Gabi Simpson, Amy Parmenter, and Ash Brazill are some of the league’s best wing defences.
Watson explained what goes into stopping their influence in a game.
“I think you definitely have to be aware of players’ strengths and what they can bring, you know someone like Ash (Brazill) is completely different to someone like Gabi (Simpson) but they are both really good wing defences,” She says.
“For me, it’s just playing, for me, I also don’t like overthinking things much and focus on opposition that much.
“I can’t be naive to the fact that they’ve got amazing strengths that I don’t, that I have to counteract with my attack, so I still like to sort of play my game with the little tweaks about who my direct opponent is,”
2020: Captaining a team in your home state
Born and bred in Victoria, Watson had dreams about playing for a team in her home state for as long as she could remember. However, she never could have anticipated playing with some good friends from the Victorian pathways and becoming a Melbourne Vixens Co-Captain.
“I mean it is everything, I’ve grown up playing all my netball in Victoria at the same stadium that we train in at the moment,” Watson continues.
“I’m really proud to still be a Victorian athlete, you know Victoria is always really proud of its success even from our junior days and nationals.
“It’s nice that I’m in the Vixens team with these girls like Kate Moloney, Jo (Weston), Emily (Mannix) we have all played together through the pathways so it’s pretty special to still be there and not have to go to another state or club and still have the success that we do too.”
2021: The year out through injury
Watson had one of the tougher years of her career in 2021, Missing the whole season due to injury. Being plagued by a navicular injury in her foot, she had to weigh up between managing a painful injury or having surgery, which would rule her out for the season.
She maintains this was something that has only helped her in 2022 as she came into the year firing and ready to compete. The Melbourne Vixens team, the support staff, and the coaches all had their part in helping her to get back on the court this season.
“I think I was so lucky to have such an amazing rehab program and team behind me,” she said
“The team was also great too, Simone let me travel with the team, sit on the bench with her and actually be in more of an assistant role and help her out and help the team out as much as I could.
“[I was] really glad I was able to have that surgery because I’ve had no issues with my foot this season and I feel really strong and fit and really great out there on court and not having to manage the pain that I was in prior to surgery.
“Obviously rehab was challenging but I wanted to make sure once we were set to start preseason as a team I could just join the team and not be on a modified program.
“That was the plan and that’s what happened and I did a lot of work in the offseason last year to start the running and to build up that fitness and strength.
“[This was] so by the time all the Vixens were back for preseason I could just join the group and didn’t have to really miss sessions or have to modify anything, which was the aim so I felt like I have had a really good preseason.
“I guess I had a really good base of work done as well, which is what rehab does is focus on those little things you probably don’t get to focus on during the year and so I felt like I had a pretty big preseason to get set up for the year.”
Importance of Fox Sports coverage in growing the game
The coverage of the Suncorp Super Netball in 2022 has been a massive factor in the rise of the sport’s popularity.
Fox Sports and Kayo have done a lot to make sure the league and its players are accessible to fans and supporters throughout the season.
Having no ad breaks within play, free netball to stream on Sundays, and the added access to player interviews have helped netball to find its footing inside the homes of Australian families. Watson believes this has the competition in a good space which will help encourage grassroots participation.
“[The SSN] being on Fox Sports and on Kayo, I think it’s been amazing to see the kind of exposure we are getting and the excitement of the game with getting lots of crowds back, which is great to see as well being away for so long,” Watson said.
“I think because the competition is so tight as well it makes it very exciting for people to come along. Obviously, everyone loves the super shot so that brings another level of excitement into our game.
“I think we are definitely going in the right direction with the exposure that we are getting across all media platforms,”
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