Pyjamas were the Melbourne Vixens’ farewell gift to their teammates bound for Liverpool, just as sleepwear will be the outfit of choice for many long-distance Diamonds followers during the July 12-21 Netball World Cup.
Renae Ingles made the farewell presentation in Sydney after the round nine defeat of the Giants; the starting wing defence in Australia’s triumphant 2015 squad joking that, with eight of the Vixens’ 10 heading to the UK, and Lara Dunkley preparing for what would be a triumphant ANL finals series with the Victorian Fury, it was left to her to take care of the send-off.
Since then, the Vixens’ South African shooter Ine-Mari Venter has been forced to withdraw due to an injury sustained during training in Wales, leaving Lizzy Watson, Jo Weston, Caitlin Thwaites and Jamaican Kadie-Ann Dehaney fit for World Cup duty, and Diamonds’ training partners Kate Moloney, Emily Mannix and Tegan Philip heading off for a brief European holiday before returning home.
“Renae’s obviously been there before, so she was just talking about her experiences at a World Cup and what it meant to her, and just saying to enjoy it,’’ said Watson, the Vixens and Australian vice-captain.
“It was really nice, and especially from Kate, Tegan and Emily, obviously it’s been so hard for them, but just to see how excited and supportive they are for us, too, and for them to want to organise this little surprise send-off for us says a lot about the people that they are.’’
Four years ago in Sydney, a young Watson was part of the World Cup preparatory camp, and Diamonds head coach Lisa Alexander admits she marvels at Watson’s on-court strength, having watched the midcourter take her game “to another level again” after first gaining squad selection in the Vixens’ last premiership year, 2014.
“I think it’s the work she does to get herself physically so strong, and she is so skilful now out on court, the way that she can turn quickly, she sights the goaler, she gets it in there and really creates that movement for them, and that is what I’ve really enjoyed watching over the past 12 months particularly,’’ Alexander said.
“She’s got an inner calm and confidence about her, and particularly her defensive ability, whether she’s in wing attack or centre is second to none, and we’re going to need that.’’
Watson’s parents will be among the crowd in Liverpool, with mum Manuela to add another box of mementos and clippings to the growing collection.
“She did say she’s going to start a World Cup one. It’s so nice, and it’s kind of ‘a mum thing’ to do,’’ Watson laughed. “Even just looking back at my Comm Games things that she had collected, it actually is very nice. I laugh about it and say ‘mum, what are you doing?’ But looking back now it’s pretty cool.’’
As for the Diamonds’ team-photo-on-canvas that each player was presented with at the official farewell, count on that being the newest addition to her maternal grandmother Nonna Alessio’s proud hall(way) of fame in Melbourne’s north.
Support extends to the broader Vixens’ squad, too, who have spoken of organising a team hangout to watch the final should Australia make it, with Watson ever-conscious of where she has come from and the opportunities and guidance received along the way.
“When I started at Vixens, I had Bianca (Chatfield) and Madi (Browne) and Geva (Mentor) and all these awesome netballers and they sort of taught me the way,’’ Watson said.
“And being able to grow up in the Netball Victoria pathway with girls that I’ve played with since I was pretty much 12 or 13, and we’re in the same team now, so we definitely know how each other play.
"But I think because it’s such so highly competitive and our training’s always intense right from our junior days, you just get it ingrained in ‘this is how it is, this is the intensity of netball’ and you don’t ever think anything different … and that culture has definitely carried on now.’’
With goaler Thwaites and defender Weston, there will be a Vixen in each area of the court at the World Cup, with Watson expected to be used at both wing attack and centre as Alexander manages her squad through eight games in 10 days, starting against Northern Ireland on Friday.
Winners of 11 of the 14 titles decided, the fact the Diamonds were pipped by England at last year’s Commonwealth Games is acting as extra motivation, should any be required in the quest for No.12.
“You still think about that, and even though we are still currently ranked No.1 it does feel like we are going in a little bit like the underdog, and I think that’s a good thing for us,’’ Watson said.
“Netball in England is massive and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger ever since they won that Comm Games gold medal, so it’s an awesome opportunity for us.
“We’ve got such a new team from the gold medal match, so we don’t really want to dwell on it and bring along the girls that weren’t even a part of it, or didn’t experience that feeling that we had. Obviously, you go there wanting to win and that’s what we’re all talking about.’’
The World Cup begins this week, with Australia’s first three games on:
MATCH 1 - Samsung Diamonds v Northern Ireland – Friday 12 July – 8pm AEST (9GO)
MATCH 2 - Samsung Diamonds v Zimbabwe – Saturday 13 July – 6pm AEST (9GEM)
MATCH 3 - Samsung Diamonds v Sri Lanka – Monday 14 July – 12am AEST (NINE)
Written by Linda Pearce