If celebrated Melbourne Vixens quartet Kate Moloney, Liz Watson, Jo Weston and Emily Mannix have long seemed destined to share netball's grand final stage, then read on for a fun fact.
They already have.
Not in Suncorp Super Netball (or the ANZ Championship as it was known then), for Mannix did not arrive until the season after the club’s most recent flag, in 2014. Rewind to 2012, when four of the standout products of the Netball Victoria pathway first combined for a dominant performance in the national 19/U championships in Launceston.
Nine games. Nine wins.
At the time, Kate Moloney was a top-age midcourter and emerging Victorian Netball League (VNL) star, still as loud and fiercely committed as she is today. Her younger teammates included a certain ball magnet named Elizabeth Watson, a gangly, baby-faced defender called Joanna Weston, and the lanky, sunny, country kid, Emily Mannix.
So how much has changed for the four Netball Victoria pathway products, born within 15 months of each other in 1993-94?
“Not much!’’ laughs Moloney, the first to graduate from the Australian Netball League's Victorian Fury to the Vixens list in 2013.
“One of the great things is that we’ve been able to play together for so long. We’ve played in plenty of successful teams and had some challenges throughout that time, as well, but we’ve always managed to stay really close friends, and all four of us were there in my debut for the Diamonds.
“It’s really special. We’ve been through a lot together, the four of us. Love running out on court with them.’’
Referencing the recruiting free-for-all ahead of the switch from the ANZ Championship to Suncorp Super Netball at the end of 2016, Moloney believes such a stable core - one that includes the long-serving Tegan Philip - also says plenty about the club and the influence of head coach Simone McKinnis.
“Simone’s done so much for us. She got us into this club and you want to play so much for the Vixens and that’s what I love about it,’’ says Moloney, 27.
“I think the loyalty from Lizzy, Emily and Joey is something that really stands out for me, and I love that, and we have so much pride in playing for Victoria and being able to wear that navy dress, and I think that really shows out on court, as well.’’
McKinnis says the quartet has grown and learnt together, encompassing both leadership and the mental side of the game.
"They’ve had their disappointments but they’ve always been there for each other - and for everyone in the group - and I think that’s important. Everyone’s in it together and looking after each other.’’
In 2020, certainly, that has been taken to another level, through three months of hub life in Queensland, and hotel arrangements that have seen Co-Captains Moloney and Watson rooming right next door to funster defenders, Mannix and Weston.
But sick of each other yet? Apparently not, for once the season (and subsequent Diamonds’ camp in Noosa) is over, a holiday-for-four has been booked for a rented-house-with-pool on the Gold Coast.
“I know,’’ laughs Watson. “Spending more time together!’’
Despite the common cause - and bond - Mannix says the individual relationships within it are all unique.
“We have our moments and we have our ups and downs and our laughs along the way, and being able to laugh about things always helps - well, me anyway!’’ she says.
“We’re a pretty tight knit group and having such true friendships off the court really helps that on-court performance as well. It’s really exciting that we’ve played together for so long.
“Netball Vic and the Vixens, they’ve done so much for me personally, and for all of us in our upbringing in the netball world, I guess. So you can’t put that loyalty aside: that’s why we’re still here.
“I’m sure the other girls have had offers from other clubs. Over the years I've had a couple as well, but I could never see myself leaving the Vixens - unless they didn’t want me any more, which would be a sad day! But I think that’s really what it comes down to, is feeling really at home at the Vixens and in Victoria.’’
Fittingly, the Big V will adorn the Vixens dress as part of the #DoingItForVIC message.
“We’re super-lucky to have been able to have been able to play together for so long,'' says Watson. "We’re Victorians, we love to win, that’s been instilled in us since under 12s pretty much, so it’s nice to be able to share this moment.’’
Gradually, over a decade, the on-court familiarity and combinations have built. Weston and Mannix, for example, first played together (alongside Watson) at 15/U schoolgirls level, then on and off before progressing to become the Vixens’ regular circle duo in 2017.
“It’s been over 10 years since we were all together as young teenage girls just playing netball,’’ says Weston of the four musketeers. “So it’s kind of crazy. But I don’t think I’d want to be doing this with anyone else.’’
Moloney and Watson were also VNL teammates as well as members of the starting seven for the 2014 Grand Final defeat of the Queensland Firebirds (footnote: that day, and for much of that season, the rookie Weston warmed the bench).
“Emily and Jo know almost where each other are without having to say anything, and the same with Kate and I out the front; we know each other’s game very well, we know when each other are getting frustrated or when we need to help out,’’ says Watson.
“So having that little awareness without even needing to have a conversation goes a long way in an intense game.’’
The Grand Final is sure to be just that, despite the limited crowd and scarcity of family members and friends at Nissan Arena for a match that in non-COVID times would have drawn a full house at Melbourne Arena.
“We’re just excited to play. I wish we were playing in Melbourne in front of all our family and friends but it’s really exciting,’’ says Weston. “It’s been a year unlike any other, so it’d be weird if we played a final just like a regular one, right?’’
So true, despite the number of so-familiar faces who have shared so much, even if Mannix’s ecstatic reaction to the big win over the Lightning in the major semi was a reminder of what several of her friends have done that she has not.
Played in a national league decider. Won it.
All in this one together, indeed.
Written by Linda Pearce
Image thanks to Netball Scoop / Simon Leonard