Is the NSW Swifts' title defence already over?

Sam Wallace collapsed early in the fourth quarter on Saturday NSW Swifts/Narelle Spangher

They say one player doesn't make a team, but the loss of goal shooter Sam Wallace is a monumental blow for the Swifts and has surely all but ended their hopes of back-to-back Super Netball titles.

Collapsing to the floor after her right knee buckled early in the fourth quarter, Wallace and her teammates were visibly shaken as she was helped from the court. On Sunday, the Swifts confirmed the worst for the shooter, she'll be sidelined for the remainder of the season after tearing her ACL.

Wallace had been racing the clock with a left knee niggle ahead of the opening round and missed much of the pre-season, sitting out the Team Girls Cup and playing just a few minutes during closed door trial matches.

A lynchpin for the Swifts, the 28-year-old has been crucial in the rise of her team over the last five years, the shooter integral to their two title wins in 2019 and 2021. Her connection with Helen Housby is especially important to the team, with the housemates' ability to sense each other's movements and produce special connections in the circle.

The Swifts were already against it in their opening clash with the Giants, chasing their tail early in the piece, while they were set to face plenty of battles through the season with their return to the final series not set in stone. Depth was always going to be tested with three big losses during the signing period, Sophie Garbin's departure to the Magpies now especially detrimental.

Garbin left to get more minutes after several years sitting behind Wallace and Housby, but her expertise is exactly what the Swifts need now. Her versatility in the attack end was huge for the Swifts with coach Briony Akle able to slot her in at either attack or shooter, while her connection with both Housby and Wallace was exciting to watch. How could she have known her opportunity for more game time was right around the corner?

With 12 minutes left to play, recently elevated training partner Kelly Singleton was given her first chance to step up in Wallace's absence. Slotting in at attack with Housby pushed to shooter, Singleton was clearly struck by nerves. Her first shot fell flat, hitting the front of the ring, and she sunk just one of her four shots at goal, while there were some missed connections in the circle.

The question now is does Akle put her faith in young Singleton to step into Wallace's shoes and take the reins at goal attack? Or does she look outside the squad to experienced players such as Maria Folau or recently retired Caitlin Bassett to fill in the gap?

The Giants proved last year keeping the faith in a newly contracted player can pay dividends. Similar to the Swifts predicament, the Giants lost talented goaler Kiera Austin to an ACL injury in their opening round clash. Turning to young shooter Sophie Dwyer, she helped take the team all the way to the final where they fell short to their fierce rivals the Swifts. The experience was crucial after Austin made the decision to move to the Vixens at the end of the season, while Dwyer has now made the GA patch her own, shooting at 84 percent in the opening round.

But with just how unsettled the Swifts looked from the opening whistle, it seems Akle's best option to keep her team on track for a title defence would be to look outside her group. She proved in 2019, she wasn't afraid to look to experienced outsiders to lift her team, signing Katrina Rore as the team pushed towards the title and this season should be no different.

While Singleton proved through the Team Girls Cup she's got plenty of talent, the 23-year-old is not yet ready to step into Wallace's very impressive shoes and the Swifts need experience and stability now. One of the World's best shooters, Bassett must be in Akle's sights if she wants to add another title to her illustrious resume.