Super Netball 2022: Top five storylines to watch

The NSW Swifts celebrate their second Super Netball title Albert Perez/Getty Images

After months of off-season and a flurry of player movements during the signing period, Super Netball 2022 is finally here and it's set to be the most hotly contested season yet.

With plenty to watch out for this year, read on for our top five storylines:

1. Vixens redemption season

The last two seasons couldn't have been any different for the Vixens. Overcoming COVID adversity in 2020, the Vixens went on to win their first title since 2014, only to produce their worst results since 2010 to drop to the bottom of the table last year following crucial retirements and injury. In good news, it seems last year's results were just a blip on the radar.

While it's good not to read too much into pre-season matches, the Vixens looked strong at the Team Girls Cup tournament in February, handily defeating their opponents while not dropping a single game. The return of Liz Watson from a foot injury is a major boost for the side, after her absence last year left her team well off the mark, while Hannah Mundy and Rahni Samason have grown immensely following their debuts in 2021.

In a huge coup for the team, Kiera Austin's signing adds experience and versatility to the Vixens attacking end, adding an edge that was sorely missed last year after both Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip stepped away from the sport. She's already made a strong return to court after an ACL injury sidelined her in 2021.

With a stacked squad, anything less than a top two finish could only be viewed as a failure. If Simone McKinnis can keep her team fit, there's little doubt the Vixens will be making a return to the Grand Final.

2. COVID contingency

As witnessed by the AFLW, COVID is continuing to wreak havoc on domestic competitions and after two years of COVID chaos, Super Netball have produced several contingency plans ahead of the season opener in order to avoid any re-scheduling issues. How well this plays out though is yet to be seen.

Hoping to avoid last year's controversy that saw the Vixens refuse to fly to Western Australia for their clash with the Fever, the governing body has implemented parameters around match rescheduling, with the league considering requests if; five or more players are impacted by COVID, or three players from one position are impacted by COVID.

The most interesting of the contingency plans though is the player pool that each club will have access to outside of their 10 player squad. For this season each team will able to travel with an additional two training partners for all away matches, while a list of supplementary players has been developed in each state. This could mean a player could represent multiple teams across the one season.

Contingency plans have also been created for coaches and umpires. An increased pool of pre-identified umpires has been offered casual contracts in case of COVID disruptions, meanwhile each team must travel with at least two coaches, if that's not possible, the League will provide a pre-approved replacement coach.

The league will be hoping none of these plans will need to come into play, but with COVID on the rise again, there seems little doubt these protocols will come into action.

3. Will Sophie Garbin fly at the Magpies?

A star on the rise, Sophie Garbin took her game to another level in 2021 as she helped the Swifts to a second title in three years, but constantly fighting for minutes behind international stars Helen Housby and Sam Wallace saw the young gun take the chance to move south to Collingwood.

It most certainly means more game time for the shooter, but with that, added pressure in a team that has failed to pass the first knock-out round of the finals since their introduction to the competition in 2017.

Expectations will be high for the 24-year-old to succeed in Melbourne. A versatile shooter, Garbin stands out in both the GA and GS position and her recent Diamonds experience at the Constellation Cup and Quad Series, should give an edge to the often struggling attacking end.

However, how well she combines with Gabrille Sinclair and Shimona Nelson could be the difference in a successful season for the Pies. While we were given a glimpse of her work with Nelson during the pre-season, we've yet to see her pushed back to the circle and work with Sinclair.

According to her former teammate Paige Hadley, Garbin has the ability to become one of the world's next best shooters. We've seen glimpses of her talent during her few minutes of court time at the Swifts, but we'll need to wait to see just how far she can rise at the Magpies.

4. Can Swifts learn from the past and go back-to-back

They rose to the top in 2019 and looked certain to do it again in 2020, however the hunters became the hunted and the team failed to grow with the competition. Rising again last year, the Swifts are hoping they've learnt from the mistakes to become just the second team in Super Netball to go back-to-back.

While some things have changed for the Swifts, much has stayed the same. Following an exciting signing period, the team in red managed to retain much of their core group. Their starting seven remains chock full of international talent including co-captains Maddy Proud and Paige Hadley, shooting duo Helen Housby and Sam Wallace and their defensive end Maddy Turner and Sarah Klau.

However, the biggest losses this year come from their incredible bench. Over the years, Swifts coach Briony Akle has had access to the best depth in the league, in Sophie Garbin, Lauren Moore and Natalie Metcalfe (nee Haythornthwaite), but her team will be tested this year following the losses of all three. Now, Akle will be hoping promoted training partners Teigan O'Shannassy and Kelly Singleton will be able to fill in the huge gaps.

Despite this, the Swifts still head into the competition as one of the title favourites and again will become the hunted, how well they've learned from their past mistakes will be especially important this time around.

5. The most hotly contested season yet

Following a flurry of off-season signings, rosters across the league have been shaken up, with stars making moves across the country, while plenty more return from injury. Although the Swifts remain firm favourites for the title, plenty more are knocking at the door, with pre-season predictions split across the league.

With the return of Liz Watson to the Vixens and a nice balance of experience across the court, the team that finished bottom last year look like they can turn their fortunes around to return to the top of the pack, meanwhile the Magpies with the signing of Sophie Garbin and under the control of Nicole Richardson look the most balanced side they've had since their inclusion.

In Sydney, the Giants have the ability to reach their third Grand Final. The loss of Kiera Austin will hurt, but Sophie Dwyer's experience in her stead last year will give her team a boost, while on the other end the acquisition of Lauren Moore from the Swifts will help cover the losses of Sam Poolman and Kristiana Manu'a as she joins experienced April Brandley.

Up north in Queensland, after failing to reach the finals for the past three seasons, the Firebirds will be hoping their relatively unchanged squad can get things done in 2022. The signing of Donnell Wallam is a huge win in the absence of Romelda Aiken-George who's on maternity leave. On the Sunshine Coast, things are a little shaky after Karla Pretorious announced her pregnancy, but they'll be hopeful the signing of Kadie-Ann Dehaney from the Vixens will fill the gap.

Perennial underachievers, the Adelaide Thunderbirds appear to be the team to watch as they look to rise to the top for the first time since 2013. After years of chopping and changing in their squad, they've finally managed to retain a core group and have signed rising young gun Tippah Dwan, no doubt giving them an edge this year. Out west the Fever will be eying their first piece of silverware with captain Courtney Bruce building a strong combination with Sunday Aryang while the league's best shooter Jhaniele Fowler will need to be at the top of her game.

Either way you look at, the competition will be fierce in 2022 and there will be plenty of intrigue to see who can get through the season untouched by COVID and injury as they attempt to claim the Super Netball title.