Netball: Kayla Johnson on her long road back to the Silver Ferns after becoming a mum

Silver Ferns returnee Kayla Johnson couldn't hide her emotion after returning to the New Zealand national set-up, fighting back tears after the confirmation she'll wear the black dress again.

Johnson, 29, is one of two defenders returning to the squad for next month's Quad Series in England, with both herself and Phoenix Karaka back in the Silver Ferns for the first time since they both gave birth in 2020.

For Johnson, the road back to the Ferns has been a long one after years out of the side.

After a string of injuries limited the defender's time as a Silver Fern, Johnson relocated to Australia in 2019 - as husband Shaun left NZ Warriors to join Cronulla Sharks in the NRL. 

Johnson inked a deal to join New South Wales Swifts in Australia's Super Netball League, only for injury to strike again and see her spend more time on the sidelines than the court.

When the Johnsons welcomed daughter Millah in August of 2020, sport understandably took a backseat for Kayla. 

But Shaun's return to New Zealand after re-signing with the Warriors from 2022 also allowed Kayla to re-join her former ANZ Premiership side Northern Stars, and will see her suit up again in next year's competition.

Now back playing in New Zealand, training as part of Dame Noeline Taurua's Silver Ferns camp in Wellington this week has resulted in a return to the national set-up.

And for Johnson, a return to the court is something that the defender couldn't foresee at any level - never mind for netball's world champions.

"I literally said to my husband 'I don't think I'll ever play netball again after having my daughter," Johnson says.

"So it just feels really surreal to be here.

"I decided I wanted to move back, and I wanted to play netball again. I just really put my mind to it, trained my butt off, and somehow ended up here.

"[I'm] just really grateful to be here."

And while juggling playing and parenting is a reality that many of the Silver Ferns face, Johnson welcomes that balance as she settles back into the New Zealand side.

"I don't think I've ever been so tired - well I have, but a different tired. Mum life is tiring, but this is also tiring.

"It's been really cool to be back around the girls again."

Johnson and the Silver Ferns will face Australia, South Africa and hosts England when the Quad Series begins on January 16, 2022 in London.