Can the Melbourne Vixens rise again in 2022? (Photo: Melbourne Vixens; Design: Will Cuckson)

The Melbourne Vixens dropped to the bottom of the table in 2021, but with a big focus on recruitment, it may not be long before they flip the script again.

With injuries and retirements aplenty, the Melbourne Vixens claimed the wooden spoon in 2021. Will a strong focus on recruitment seen them rocket back into finals, or more?

Last season:

The Vixens had their worst finish since 2010, gracing the the bottom of the ladder and winning just two games overall. It was expected they would drop, but not quite so hard.

A footy injury to midcourt champion Liz Watson and the retirements of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip left major gaps across the midcourt and shooting circles.

However, it also came with its positives. Without those voids, the rise of Hannah Mundy and Rahni Samason, who earned contracted 10 spots this season, may not have been possible.

Re-signing coach Simone McKinnis until 2025 is a sign that the club internally believes that 2021 was just a blip in the radar.

What’s made waves in the pre-season?

Pre-season games aren’t always an indication of regular season success, but Vixens fans would have to be excited over what their side has managed before the main event.

The Vixens claimed the Team Girls Cup, the SSN’s pre-season competition, not dropping a game on their warpath.

With a near-full strength squad, it was a dominant showing. Most impressive perhaps was circle defender Olivia Lewis‘ first fully competitive hit out in navy, teal and pink.

She was given her time to shine majorly in the match against the NSW Swifts, where she not only dealt handily with youngsters Kelly Singleton and Laura Towell, but also English Rose Helen Housby.

Lewis finished that game with four deflections, three gains, and two intercepts. Her reading of the play and athleticism seems to complement Jo Weston and Emily Mannix perfectly.

The Vixens’ defence was already their best area in 2021, so with an extra rotation to give Weston freedom to push into wing defence, McKinnis has plenty to work with.

What needs to change?

Realistically, the Vixens just need to keep their full squad on court for the whole season.

Not having Watson at all for 2021 was felt massively, with her elite workrate and feeding a welcome addition to return in what is now looking like a stacked midcourt.

The Vixens’ struggled most in the shooting circle last season, and it was clearly their weakness.

Adding Kiera Austin into the circle will make a world of difference. A versatile player for her height, Austin is very capable of supporting the midcourt as well, whether that be in GA or WA.

She returned to the court for the first time in the first of two informal pre-season match ups against Giants Netball. In an 18 goal smashing, her addition was welcomed.

With a genuine goal attack, and Samason and Mwai Kumwenda both excellent options in goal shooter, the Vixens’ shooting woes may be quickly put behind them.

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Who’s in for a big season?

With the return of Watson and the ever-reliable Kate Moloney holding the centre bib, youngster Hannah Mundy has a big challenge ahead of her if she wants to escape the bench in 2022.

It may be a bit of whiplash for the 20-year-old, who is certainly not guaranteed court time ahead of two Diamonds midcourters.

Mundy was starting in WA from Round 1 last season nearly out of necessity. It was a trial by fire that she passed with flying colours, and had some incredible offensive performances.

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But when you are competing with two of the best offensive midcourters in Australia, there’s bigger challenges ahead.

While it gives the Vixens a heap of versatility, with Austin able to move into wing attack, and Weston and Kate Eddy through wing defence, it may mean Mundy might need to go to another level to keep getting minutes.

The games that matter:

Round 2 vs NSW Swifts @ Ken Rosewall Arena

This will be the Vixens’ first big test of the year, taking on the reigning premiers away.

Every side will be using the Swifts as the measuring stick for where they stand in 2022. As the saying goes, to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The Swifts have lost bench experience in the off season, while the Vixens have gained it massively. Throw in the first meeting for Allie Smith against her old side, and this will be a premier early season match up.

Round 7 vs Collingwood Magpies @ John Cain Arena

The first Melbourne derby of the year should draw a huge crowd at John Cain Arena.

‘Big sisters’ the Vixens were embarrassed in the first of the two games by a 16 goal margin, while losing the second by four.

Only losing their first derby in 2019, the Vixens will be keen to paint Melbourne navy again this year.

Round 10 vs West Coast Fever @ RAC Arena

These two teams have traded blows in recent years, with the Vixens claiming the ultimate glory in the 2020 Grand Final. However, they haven’t beaten the Fever in Western Australia since 2017.

This included dramatic draws in 2019 and 2020, while only two goals separated them in the fight for the championship.

You can rely on these two sides to put on a good game. At this point in the season, this match could be deciding finals positions.

Ladder prediction:

With their additions and returning players, the Vixens should be in for a finals finish. Any lower than third would probably be considered a failure.

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