SSN Signing Period: Melbourne Vixens restock across the court

The Melbourne Vixens have loaded up on quality across the court. (Photos: Melbourne Vixens; Will Cuckson)

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The Melbourne Vixens went from one extreme to the other in just 12 months. Adding a third championship trophy to the cabinet in 2020, they then lay claim to the undesirable honour of the wooden spoon in 2021.

They were the team that lost the most experience coming into this campaign. Diamonds shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip played out their last dance, and retired with no stone unturned.

Now Diamonds captain Liz Watson was struck down by injury and required foot surgery, leaving the once great team floundering and unsteady.

What it did lead to though, was the discovery of gems in the rough. Young shooter Rahni Samason finally made her long awaited debut as a replacement player, and it left an impression that still rings through the SSN. Teenager Hannah Mundy looked like she’d been playing just as long as her captain Kate Moloney.

With additions in every area of the court, The Inner Sanctum reviews the Vixens’ signing period.

Re-signedAddedDeparted
Kate Moloney
Liz Watson
Jo Weston
Emily Mannix
Kate Eddy
Mwai Kumwenda
Rahni Samason (elevated)
Hannah Mundy (elevated)
Kiera Austin (Giants)
Olivia Lewis (Fever)
Allie Smith (Swifts)
Kadie-Ann Dehaney (Lightning)
Kaylia Stanton
Ruby Barkmeyer

Biggest Signing: Kiera Austin

Affectionately known as ‘Kippa’, Kiera Austin addresses the biggest need for the Vixens – more shooting talent.

The goaler earned her first Diamonds call-up in 2019 at just 21-years-old, replacing her then Giants teammate Caitlin Bassett due to injury.

She would go onto play 24 games across the next two seasons, proving herself as one of the best young versatile players in the league, sharing time across wing attack and goal attack.

Her 2021 season was quickly ended by an ACL injury. Austin spoke to The Inner Sanctum after making the move about the new perspective that sitting on the bench has given her.

While the 24-year-old will likely be used as a shooter, more specifically at goal attack alongside Mwai Kumwenda, the versatility she provides will give the Vixens midcourt and shooting circle a whole new look.

Hannah Mundy, Kate Moloney, Liz Watson, and Austin can all be used as offensive midcourters. One of Austin’s strengths is in her assists, using her strong understanding of manipulating the circle to allow her fellow shooters to score if she doesn’t.

Player Preview: Kiera Austin - GIANTS Netball
Austin playing at wing attack. (Photo: GIANTS Netball)

Similarly to how Simone McKinnis played the circle this year, she’ll likely rotate through goal attack with elevated training partner Rahni Samason.

There is the potential for Austin to be the full-time goal attack, however. Kumwenda isn’t likely to spend much time on the bench, but Samason is traditionally a goal shooter.

This versatility can only be a good thing, but will be a dilemma for McKinnis to work out throughout the pre-season.

Biggest Departure

Kadie-Ann Dehaney departs the Melbourne Vixens after five seasons and 46 games for new shores at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

The Lightning have now formed a league-benchmark defensive end including captain Karla Pretorious, Kate Shimmin and Tara Hinchliffe. It doesn’t leave the Vixens too out of sorts though.

Olivia Lewis was brought in to add defensive depth, but doesn’t have the same level of versatility, reach or explosiveness that the Jamaican superstar brings.

Dehaney would often rotate through with Mannix, which likely means Lewis will be performing a similar role.

Projected Starting Seven

With Liz Watson returning from injury, the Vixens’ starting seven returns back to its championship best.

The defensive end boasts the familiar combination of Diamonds duo Jo Weston and Emily Mannix in goal defence and goal keeper respectively. The pair were key to keeping the Vixens in games in 2021, and will do even better with the midcourt at full strength.

Kate Eddy occupies wing defence after a strong 2021 rotating through the position with Allie Smith. Now the sole specialist WD on the list, there’ll be more expected of her in terms of court time.

The midcourt is the Vixens’ strongest area coming into 2022. The fact that Hannah Mundy is starting on the bench speaks volumes after the debut year she had.

It’s understandable given that MVP winner Kate Moloney and Diamonds captain Liz Watson are ahead of her in the centre and wing attack positions. There’s not many better offensive midcourt combinations in the league.

Kiera Austin starts in goal attack, with Mwai Kumwenda in goal shooter. Austin has the versatility to push up into wing attack if McKinnis wants a taller side, and to get Samason on the court in the Power Five.

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Shooting Group

With three strong shooters to choose from, the Vixens’ shooting circle is looking significantly improved on 2021.

Samason and Kumwenda are dangerous options in the Power Five, showing off their long range shooting at various points throughout the year.

Kumwenda shot 460 goals and 40 Super Shots last season, including scoring six two-pointers in the loss to the Swifts at John Cain Arena to peg back the margin.

23-year-old Samason’s remarkable SSN debut barely needs any introduction. Her long range shooting has stood up under pressure, and will be relied on late in games.

Austin is the goal attack the Vixens have been dying for, both being able to score reliably from anywhere in the circle while also working up the front third and the midcourt.

Kumwenda’s accolades have just kept on rolling, winning player of the grand final in 2020, and was runner-up in the best and fairest this year.

Midcourt Group

With the additions and re-signings, the Vixens have put together one of the most versatile attacking midcourts in the league.

Watson, Moloney, Mundy and Austin all possess the ability to play across wing attack in particular, with Moloney and Mundy the first choice options in centre.

Three of the four have been Diamonds, while Mundy was selected into the 2021/22 development squad after her first full year at Super Netball level. She was a worthy replacement for Watson, and saw her development accelerated tenfold.

Watson will once again be the first choice out of the centre pass, finishing with 284 centre pass receives and 367 assists in her 14 games across the 2020 season. The defensive side of her game will be vital on return, with 50 deflections across 2019 and 2020.

Mundy took 201 centre pass receives and had 136 assists this season. She could spend time in wing attack when Watson needs a rest, a strong feed into the circle.

The major worry that comes in the midcourt is at wing defence. Kate Eddy and Allie Smith shared the role in 2021, with Smith being one of the more underrated lockdown players in the competition.

Kate Eddy will be in Vixens colours again in 2022.
Kate Eddy will be in Vixens colours again in 2022. (Photo: Dani Brown)

With no other specialist wing defences in the squad to rotate with Eddy if her opponent gets the best of her, Jo Weston could move into the role.

This provides a strong defensive presence in the circle for the Vixens with Lewis and Mannix, while allowing Weston to play more of her aggressive and in-your-face game.

The versatility gives McKinnis more options to change up her team than any other coach.

Defensive Group

Kadie-Ann Dehaney departs the defensive group, while Olivia Lewis joins. The starting pairing of Mannix and Weston still holds a swathe of national level experience, and it should hold up as so.

Despite finishing last, the Vixens boasted a near finals level defence. Weston and Mannix’s presence was enough to make up for the experience lost in the midcourt and shooting circle.

What the Vixens lose in Dehaney’s explosiveness off the bench, they gain in Lewis’ strong ability to read the play and position herself with closing speed between the goalers and the ball.

Lewis didn’t manage many minutes in 2021, finding just three rebounds, three deflections and an intercept. Across her 19 games the two years previous though, she had 25 deflections, 16 intercepts and 17 rebounds.

Weston had a fantastic season, finishing with 61 deflections, 15 rebounds, and 10 intercepts. Lewis and Weston will make for a complementary combo when Mannix is on the bench – switching with Lewis like she did Dehaney.

The new recruit does her best work under the post and in the circle, while Weston could even switch into wing defence to give the two deep defenders a greater ability to play to their strengths.

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About Alex Catalano 217 Articles
Alex is a studying journalist from Melbourne with an obsession for all things Aussie rules, and a commitment to providing equal coverage and recognition to women's sport. A sport all-rounder, Alex reports on Aussie rules, football, basketball, netball, cricket and esports.

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