Almost 11 months after they lifted the 2019 Super Netball title, and close to four months since the 2020 season was originally set to begin, the NSW Swifts will take to the court on Sunday and finally begin their title defence.
Like all sports leagues around Australia and the world, Super Netball has been forced to scramble to get their competition off the ground after the COVID-19 outbreak necessitated the postponement of the 2020 competition.
Despite the uncertainty and ever-changing environment, Swifts captain Maddy Proud said her team was ready to take the court and could go back-to-back even if they are forced to undertake the first six rounds, if not the whole season, in Queensland.
"It's definitely been disruptive, that's for sure," Proud told ESPN. "We were full steam ahead in those early months and then took a few months off where a lot of us actually went home, so we all went our separate ways while we awaited the news of what was going to happen.
"While it's been disruptive, we've actually been able to have a good chunk of time together and I think that's where we're at a real advantage, we've been able to keep a bulk of our team together [from 2019] and we know each other really well.
"We're equipped for these situations; we're adaptable, we're flexible and we're just ready to get going now.
"I don't think it [COVID] will effect that [going back-to-back] at all, at the end of the day every team is in the same boat, every team is experiencing the same thing and experiencing the same circumstances.
"The team that gets through it the best and copes with it the best, puts out the best performances game-in, game-out is going to be the team that'll come out on top. Regardless of the structure of the season or what else is happening, I think the best team will win in the end and we want that to be us."
Preparing to launch the season in Sydney with three matches within eight days, the Swifts -- and Super Netball -- were forced to scramble yet again after the Queensland Government announced on Wednesday they would be shutting the borders to Greater Sydney from Saturday night. The Swifts reacted quickly, packing a truck with training gear by Wednesday afternoon, while the players were on a flight to Brisbane Thursday.
Six weeks or more on tour doesn't worry Proud though. Many of the team live together, including the 26-year-old, have spent lockdown together and trained together, which she believes is just another advantage the Swifts have over their competition.
"I live with three of the other girls and then there's a house of internationals, which is what we call it, so seven out of our ten players actually live together as it is. That's why when we talk about going into hubs and things like that we already live in our own hub in a way, so it's not going to be too different when we go across to Queensland.
"It'll definitely work in our advantage and it also helps when we were able to train at home we had our own home gym set up and we could do it with three others as well. We love living together it's actually been a real silver lining throughout all of this that it's meant that we've been able to train together as well."
With the competition moving across the northern border, six of the eight teams will be away from family and friends for an undetermined amount of time, while two Queensland based teams -- the Sunshine Coast Lightning and Queensland Firebirds -- will spend most of the season at home. While Proud acknowledged the Queensland teams will have an advantage, she wouldn't focus on it.
"There'll always be some form of advantage for them, but I think there's still the possibility that towards the end of the season, depending on what happens, they could end up having to travel.
"You can look at all that, but then you can look at the flipside as well, we're going to be living together, which might also be an advantage in that you're spending that extra time together - you can bond further, or maybe even work more on things that they won't have time to do when they're going back to their homes.
"You can't underestimate the value of being able to be in your own environment and being at home, but two teams out of the eight teams is still not a huge deal in my mind and I think we've just got to take it for what it is and use our situation to our advantage and try and make sure it works for us in the best way possible."
In order to avoid injury due to the increased load with short term turnarounds, Super Netball have introduced a Super Netball Injury Surveillance Manager to provide up-to-the-minute data to the medical and high performance teams, while they've also taken the step to postpone the introduction of extra time, ended the bonus point system and have permitted the number of players for each match to increase from 10 to 12.
"It's all for the best interests, for the welfare of the players at the end of the day," Proud said. "Having 12 players to be able to pick from each week and having them on the bench is going to really help manage player load, at the end of the day, you don't want to see anyone getting injured, you don't want to see anyone getting burnt out.
"The same with the extra time, it's always hard playing any extra minutes and the more you add in those shorter amount of times it is going to be tough, now that just means that teams have to fight it to the death to make sure they don't finish with a draw or anything like that."
Sidelined through the back end of 2019 season and forced to watch as her team lifted the Super Netball trophy, after she ruptured her ACL, Proud is back, ready for round one and is determined to be lifting the trophy alongside her team in 2020.
"We know that we have the team to do it and this situation, being flexible, adaptable, works for us. We had a really disrupted season last year with injuries, so we know how to handle these sort of circumstances. I have no doubt that the girls will be able to do it again this year.
"There will be no better feeling than when I can do it being on the court with them. We're really looking forward to hopefully putting out a really good performance together as a team and make sure we get there at the end."