The Long Road Back

​It’s hard to imagine that Liz Watson was sidelined for almost the whole 2021 netball season, because when she returned to the court this year, she looked like she hadn’t missed a beat.

Just months after Watson co-captained the Melbourne Vixens to their third SSN Premiership, and with her bags packed for the 2021 pre-season trip to Sydney, she received a “shock” phone call that she had been fearing for a while. 

It was from VIS Manager of Physiotherapy and Soft Tissue Therapy Steve Hawkins, who had just finished talking to Watson’s surgeon, agreeing she would need to stay behind for an appointment.

“The news came as quite a shock, because we didn’t think we’d be going down the surgery path,” she said.

“But sometimes your body just knows, and surgery was the only option to get this foot right and get back out there and continue doing what I love.”

Watson hadn’t missed a netball season since she was an 11-year-old and knew that 2021 was going to be a challenge for her personally, but continuously reminded herself that this is “the right thing to do.”

“It was about seeing the bigger picture,” she said.

“There’s so much netball happening next year and the year after and so much more I want to do, so I have to do this now.”

Watson admits that it was a “difficult feeling” knowing she wasn’t able to contribute on-court.

“I had to get my head around that, and contribute in other ways,” she said.

Image: Liz Watson after a successful surgery 

The mentor role that Watson played to the developing players, particularly first-year player Hannah Mundy, cannot be underestimated. Mundy insisted that Watson was a great mentor and loved being able to learn from the “best wing attack in the world.”

“Even though Liz wasn’t on the actual court, it was really helpful to have insight from her, especially for me in my first year,” Mundy said.

“I always looked to her for advice and for her to tell me what to do.”

Watson used the extra time she had away from the court to continue focusing on setting up her life after netball, studying a Bachelor of Primary Education at Deakin University.

At the end of 2021, Watson could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And although missing the whole season, she was voted by her peers and deservingly named the 25th captain of the Australian Diamonds.

“I love this sport, I love this team and I love this country. To be given the honour as captain of the Origin Australian Diamonds is something I will forever be thankful for,” she said.

Diamonds head coach Stacey Marinkovich was thrilled with the appointment.

“Liz’s passion and drive for success is evident and she has a fantastic ability to stay calm whilst continuing to empower players around her.” Marinkovich said.

In 2022, Watson returned to the netball court in a big way.

She led the Diamonds to a significant Quad Series victory, defeating a determined England Roses side – a slice of redemption over the team who beat them for gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Her return to Super Netball was also impressive, propelling the Vixens from the bottom of the ladder in 2021 to becoming Minor Premiers in 2022.

But one of the main highlights for the year came at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Watson played a key role in leading the Diamonds to a gold medal and it was only fitting that it became Australia’s 1000th Commonwealth Games gold medal.

“Connected for life with the most amazing team,” Watson said.  

To top off a sensational year, Watson was named the winner of the VIS’ very special Sarah Tait Spirit Award. Presented to an athlete who has demonstrated courage, commitment, and persistence to achieve their sporting goals, whilst showing the ability to inspire and bring out the best in others, engage with and bring pride to their community.

Like the Award’s namesake, Watson has shown her fighting spirit on her long road back to the netball court.

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