Liz Watson thought it was slightly odd. Why, she wondered, had Vixens’ head coach Simone McKinnis messaged to request a FaceTime video call, when the pair had just seen each other at training?
The answer: McKinnis had some important news to deliver, and wanted to see Watson’s reaction when it was received.
In the club’s first leadership tweak since Suncorp Super Netball launched in 2017, Watson has been elevated from Kate Moloney’s joint deputy (with Tegan Philip), to Co-Captain alongside her fellow midcourter and close friend.
Defender Emily Mannix, the reigning Sharelle McMahon Medallist, was chosen as the new Vice-Captain, with all three positions decided after consultation with the extended squad and coaching staff.
“It was a bit of a surprise,’’ says Watson, 26. “I was kind of like ‘oh, really?’. I was just a bit shocked and confused. I didn’t think that we even did a Co-Captain kind of set up!
“I’ve loved being a vice-captain under Kate, and working with Teegs as well. It’s nice that we can step up together and share this load and really change things up and try to improve, because that’s what we’re trying to do.
“It’s such a privilege and an honour. You are representing your whole state and you can sometimes forget that when you’re playing for the Vixens. You are representing everyone that plays netball, which is a lot of people in Victoria. It’s nice to think about it in that sense.’’
The pair’s close bond makes the appointment even more special, according to the current Diamonds’ Vice-Captain and former Australian 21-and-under skipper.
“We’ve played netball pretty much our whole lives together, so it’s nice that we can do this together,’’ says Watson, whose history with Moloney - one year her senior - dates back to their BUPA VNL days with City West Falcons.
“We communicate and talk about things all the time, and I think it’s going to be a very smooth transition because we kind of know each other back-to-front, anyway. I have real respect for what Kate’s done for the Vixens so far and I think we can definitely work together and try and step up and go to the next level.’’
Having held the role solo for the past three seasons, Moloney was positive about the changes, including the appointment of Co-Captains for the first time since McMahon and Bianca Chatfield shared the duties from 2009-2011.
“It’s always just an honour and a privilege to be named in that leadership team, and I’m really excited to be working alongside Lizzy and Em,’’ she says. “I can’t wait to see how it goes, but we’ve worked really closely together for a long time.
“I think with Lizzy and Em it probably wasn’t a matter of ‘if’, it was just a matter of ‘when’, and I think it shows great confidence from our team to have a leadership group of the three of us.’’
All bring different styles and qualities, but share mutual trust and unwavering commitment. Famously, Moloney’s is the loudest voice, with Watson renowned for leading by example, and Mannix a happy-go-lucky natural morale officer who has not just a sunny nature but a steely competitive streak.
All three have come through the Netball Victoria pathway. Moloney and Watson have taken joint holidays, as well as countless breakfasts and coffee chats, while also sharing a close pal and mentor in former Captain, Chatfield.
“Kate and I see each other every day with training, but when we’ve got some down time we’re either out at a cafe, or in the off-season we’re probably out partying together or something like that!’’ laughs Watson, the heir(ess) apparent to Diamonds Captain, Caitlin Bassett.
Mannix is the smiling new face among the official leadership trio, vaguely recalls having been a deputy back in her school days at Geelong Grammar under Di Honey, and is entering her sixth season after a fifth that counted as her finest yet.
The 26-year-old says she was both surprised and humbled to have been recognised by her teammates, having worked hard in recent years to play a more senior role within the group. Yet one of the most beloved Vixens expects that little, really, will change.
“I’m a big believer in just being yourself and not trying to be anything else, and just owning that,’’ Mannix says. “I’ll support Lizzy and Molones in what they’re doing, which is the number one thing for me, and not taking things too seriously, obviously, which is something I like to live by, anyway.
“I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but I pride myself on building strong relationships with all our squad members and staff, and checking in with everyone, so that will be something that I’ll continue doing.’’
Hub life in Brisbane for the Vixens, initially, and with no definitive time frame on a return home due to the ever-evolving coronavirus situation - will add another layer to the challenges ahead.
“This year is pretty much like no other and I don’t think there will ever be a year like this one again, so it’s almost extra special to be a leader at this time because I know it’ll be such a big thing, and there’ll be times when people are struggling,’’ says Mannix.
“I think it’s going to be really interesting how it all works. But for me it will just be providing that support for everyone. I’ll obviously be missing my family and my friends as well, so it’s about being there for everyone when they need it.
“And even when they don’t need it, I’ll still be there, because I’ll probably be in the next room over! So they can’t get away from me, which is maybe not such a good thing!’’
Written by Linda Pearce