Category: Manchester Thunder

VNSL 2021: Team review – Manchester Thunder

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season is officially done and dusted, meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Despite a mid-season hiccup, Manchester Thunder was one of the leading teams in season 2021 with their consistency and exciting firepower never failing to deliver.

Season form: 17-3 (2nd)

It was another impressive season from the highly successful club, which ultimately came in as the hunted this season after the league had no winner crowned in 2020. While Kerry Almond had announced her retirement at the end of 2019, the stalwart defender returned to wreak havoc alongside Emma Dovey and the duo picked up where they left off, never out of the contest. A hugely experienced midcourt bolstered that back-line with Caroline O’Hanlon, Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter hard to stop, while there was no doubting the exciting frontend as the likes of Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell combined effortlessly and were relentless in attack. Despite one big blemish on their season with two straight losses in Round 5/6, Thunder only dropped one home and away match from then on, losing by just three goals to Bath in Round 13 before falling to the side by the same margin in the second semi-final. Overall, it was another impressive season from the side which could never be ruled out no matter the deficit, finishing the season with the most goals scored by any side (1096) and earning the bronze with a win over Rhinos to finish.

Best win: Def. Loughborough Lightning 60-46, Round 19

The only side which came away with two straight wins over the Lightning, there was no doubting the winning ability and intent of this Thunder side. But whilst their Round 9 victory over the side spoke of the Thunder’s winning ability, it was their Round 19 clash that really cemented the Thunder as the side to watch out for with a huge 14-goal margin setting the tone for a huge finals series. Winning the first three quarters and not allowing the lightning to maintain any consistency throughout, it was the defensive work from the Thunder that kicked this clash up a notch as they rendered Lightning inaccurate and error-ridden. The shared workload between Mvula and Cardwell paid off once more putting up 29 and 23 goals respectively, while Almond (five turnovers, five deflections, three intercepts, two rebounds) was immense and Malcolm, Dovey, Cardwell and Elia McCormick registered one intercepts apiece throughout an impressive full court defensive effort. Berri Neil also earned valuable minutes, putting up seven goals straight, while O’Hanlon’s ability to propel ball into the circle once more proved critical.

Standout player: Joyce Mvula

Most Improved: Amy Carter

In a team of stars, it was hard to pick out just one standout player from the Thunder playing group, but at the end of the day it had to be the ever-reliable Malawian sharpshooter in Mvula. The goaler rarely skipped a beat throughout yet another influential season in the front-end, and her combination with Cardwell was second to none as the duo carved up the front-end. Mvula’s ability to find space and evade her defender was significant, continuously receiving the ball exactly where she wanted it and her sticky fingers never letting her down. Her standout characteristic was her accuracy to post, piling on a whopping 681 goals for the season at 92 per cent, and her cleanliness saw just 24 unforced errors come off her hands across 21 outings for the side. Like the standout player, it was tough to choose a most improved performer for the powerful Thunder, with Carter eventually earning the title for her impressive consistency and non-stop drives. The defensive-minded midcourter was hard to stop when she got going credit to her hunt for the ball and great speed to cross the court within a fraction of a second, plying her trade in both centre and wing defence with ease. By no means the tallest player on court, Carter never failed to have an impact collecting 23 intercepts and 19 deflections for the season, rarely out of the contest, and averaged just one unforced error per match such was her cleanliness with ball in hand.


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Semi-finals wrap

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague grand finalists have been decided with Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath winning their respective semi-finals clashes and progressing through to the big dance. There were plenty of great moments with two spectacular clashes providing plenty of heart in your mouth moments.

Loughborough Lightning (58) defeated Leeds Rhinos (38)

Player of the match: Sam May (Loughborough Lightning)

Leeds Rhinos have set the bar high this season, and while they did not get the job done against the top of the table Loughborough Lightning, they have plenty to be proud of. In their inaugural season and subsequently first finals series they showed plenty of grit and determination however it was always going to be a challenge without the services of Australian goal shooter Donnell Wallam who was granted compassionate leave to return down under after the passing of her grandmother. It was a comprehensive performance by the Lightning who despite a close opening term put the foot down piling on 18 goals to nine to claim the ascendancy. That momentum did not let up for the remainder of the game with the Lightning implementing some incredibly strong defence to stop the Rhinos in their tracks. The Rhinos failed to reach double-digits in the second, third or fourth term as the lead ballooned out to 20 goals. Uncharacteristic inaccuracy cost the Rhinos, missing 17 shots compared to five while the Lightning showcased their ability to win ball back racking up 12 intercepts to eight.

The midcourt work of Beth Cobden and Nat Panagarry was once again at its damaging best as the pair combined seamlessly to open up the space. Cobden was a real menace through the midcourt and around circle edge amassing two intercepts and three deflections. Player of the Match Sam May impressed in her second last game before retirement with the goal keeper proving to be an imposing force. She picked up two rebounds, five intercepts and four deflections in an all-round clinical performance. In attack the work of Mary Cholhok was on display as the Ugandan shooter nailed 39 goals from 42 attempts, and not playing out a chunk of the match. She partnered well with Ella Clark out in goal attack who slotted 19 goals of her own and only missed the one attempt for the whole game. For the Rhinos it was the shared efforts of Rhea Dixon and Sienna Rushton in the goal circle that was paramount nailing 13 and 25 goals respectively. Jade Clarke’s midcourt craft was on show once again as the veteran plied her trade picking up an intercept and three deflections while the defensive unit were forced to work in overdrive with Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan racking up the penalties.

Manchester Thunder (38) defeated by Team Bath (41)

Player of the match: Serena Guthrie (Team Bath)

After holding top of the table for majority of the season, Team Bath stumbled at the final hurdle to drop down the ladder standings. But that aside, they managed to rally against the reigning champs to pull off a hard-fought win that went right down to the wire. There was no shortage of twists and turns as Thunder started strong before Bath skipped out to a two-goal lead at quarter time and then managed to forge ahead in the second to create a handy three-goal buffer which turned into the eventual winning margin. The second half was an intense and tight battle as neither side could be separated with both outfits scoring nine goals in the third and 10 in the last, highlighting the defensive pressure out on court. Thunder missed seven attempts while Bath only missed the two which proved to be a major difference in the end result. Penalties also came back to bite the Thunder as they racked up 10 more than their opponents, 55-45.

Defensively, Team Bath are littered with options and players that are able to turn a game on its head and that is what Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth did; imposing themselves on the contest at every opportunity. Guscoth was costly with her 13 penalties but made up for it with two intercepts and three deflections. Joyce Mvula was nowhere near as dominant for Manchester finishing with 18 goals to her name thanks to Team Bath’s strong defensive pressure to stem her influence and force Eleanor Cardwell to do much of the heavy lifting. Cardwell outscored Mvula finishing with 20 goals from 24 attempts. Through the midcourt it was a one-woman show as Serena Guthrie gave fans plenty to cheer about with her tenacity on full display with two intercepts and two deflections, let alone her sheer athleticism. Kim Borger was the strike shooter for Team Bath posting 39 goals at 97 per cent while Sophie Drakeford-Lewis played a strong supplementary role with her nine goals.


Grand final preview:

Loughborough Lightning vs. Team Bath

The grand final is set to be a cracker between the two teams. With both Lightning and Bath coming off a short turn around it is going to come down to which team can last the longest and provide that run and gun for a whole 60 minutes. Team Bath are coming off a gruelling encounter with Manchester Thunder, forced to really grind out the game and push it home while the Lightning had somewhat of an easier game in their semi-final encounter. Looking at the history of the two teams this season and it is a checkered one to say the least with both teams notching up wins meaning the grand final is going to go down to the wire. While Lightning have the recent form to suggest a win, there is no doubt Bath’s consistency this season will assist in their pursuit for glory.

All eyes will turn to the midcourt battle between Guthrie and Panagarry with the centres lynchpins for their respective sides and are real driving forces in both attack and defence. Defensively Team Bath have more options with Usoro-Brown, Guscoth and Summer Artman able to hold ground down back plus the work of Imogen Allison out the front. But the Lightning cannot be underestimate with May wanting to leave a mark on the competition and the likes of Jasmin Odeogberin and Alice Harvey able to have an impact. Team Bath will need to shut down the speed and ease in which the Lightning can score if they are to win while Loughborough will be hoping to stifle the classy ball movement Team Bath are renowned for to claim the upper hand.

Photo credit: Ben Lumley

VNSL 2021: Semi-finals preview – Two huge semis to play as grand final looms on Sunday

THE Vitality Netball Superleague finals have arrived, with two huge matches setting up Sunday’s finals. First up is a battle between one and four, with the Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos going head-to-head, with the two versus three clash between Manchester Thunder and Team Bath following that.

Loughborough Lightning (1) v. Leeds Rhinos (4)

2021 results:

Round 4 – Lightning (70) defeated Rhinos (41)
Round 17/18 – Lightning (59) defeated Rhinos (51)

A huge battle is set between the Lightning and Rhinos, with one side in winning form and the other having spent a couple of weeks away from the courts with COVID-19 mandated restrictions. That being said, the Rhinos have been a big threat this season with a potent attacking end, hunt for the ball and willingness to contest hard, meaning they are a bit of a smoky here against the consistent Lightning. Both sides have plenty of upside and little flaws, making this matchup one to watch for sure. Lightning earned the minor premiership at the end of Round 20 and got the chocolates in both prior matchups this season, meaning they have the slight upper hand in this contest, but it is safe to say they should not underestimate the Rhinos, with the side stepping up well at every hurdle in the latter stages of the season.

A lot of this clash will come down to which side can take an early lead, with both sides boasting some huge gamechangers. Whilst there is no doubt the Rhinos have been a powerful team in the latter stage of the season, there’s a huge question mark over whether they have the tenacity, hunt and four quarter endurance to beat Loughborough Lightning without Donnell Wallam out on court in goal shooter. Rhea Dixon and Brittany Coleman boast plenty of exciting attributes in the goal circle, while Brie Grierson is another viable option who can rotate into the circle, however much of the side’s forward drive has come down to spotting Wallam at the post and propelling the high ball in. Coming up against the likes of Jas Odeogberin and Sam May, the Rhinos attack will certainly have plenty to think about especially with May’s impending retirement following the end of the season. Also bolstering that Lightning backline is Beth Cobden who has proved to be a livewire in wing defence throughout the season, while Nat Panagarry is a consistent performer out in centre, set to take on veteran Jade Clarke who will certainly match her for smarts and hunt on the ball. At the other end Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark have been hard to stop this season with Suzie Liverseidge providing an additional option to the post and consistently wreaking havoc out the front, meaning the likes of Paige Kindred and Tuaine Keenan will have their work cut out for them alongside tenacious micourter Fi Toner.

Tip: Lightning by 8.

Manchester Thunder (2) v. Team Bath (3)

2021 results:

Round 5/6 – Bath (60) defeated Thunder (35)
Round 13/14 – Bath (44) defeated Thunder (41)

Two teams coming off very different finishes to the season, there is no doubt this semi-final clash between Bath and Thunder will be a blockbuster. Both sides boast a wealth of talent across the court and plenty of versatility, however Bath have become a fraction predictable in the latter stages of the season while Manchester have continuously fired, creating a hugely even clash here. Whilst Manchester has the momentum coming into this final following a couple of confidence boosting wins to finish the season, Bath is on the back foot for the first time all season and it really showed in their last few matches. That being said, Bath got the better of Thunder both times they met earlier on in the season, and will not go down without a fight here after dropping the minor premiership this week.

Thunder’s defence in Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey has been on fire in recent weeks while Rebekah Airey has also been a formidable force in both wing defence and goal defence. Comparatively, Bath boasts its own hugely exciting defensive outfit with Layla Guscoth and Ebony Usoro-Brown not skipping a beat in each encounter this season. Expect an intriguing clash of speed, defensive nous and agility as Imogen Allison and Caroline O’Hanlon potentially go head to head, while Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter are also formidable forces who will look to split the midcourt and hunt for the turnover ball.The ever impressive Serena Guthrie can be hard to stop however, with her aerial ability and willingness to contest every ball continuously empowering her side, with her and Allison’s combined pressure allowing both Guscoth and Usoro-Brown to go out hunting. In the goal circles, it will be a battle of accuracy, volume and level-headedness, with both sides boasting huge talents to post. Thunder’s Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell are two of the most consistent performers in the league, with an ability to share the load when required or take on the pressure themselves. Meanwhile, Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis are similarly as exciting to watch, with Drakeford-Lewis’ playmaking ability and skill from range providing a constant buffer for the defence.

Tip: Bath by 2.


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 20 final standings

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague was touted as one of the best seasons in the league’s history this year, and no wonder why with every team producing some huge performances and one of the greatest races to finals in many years, with such an even crop of sides vying for content. No team was untouchable, and whilst there were standout franchises in the competition, there were certain players who stepped up to propel their side to new heights despite where their team fell on the ladder.


  1. Team Bath (17-2)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (16-3)
  3. Manchester Thunder (16-3)
  4. Strathclyde Sirens (10-7-2)
  5. Wasps Netball (10-8-1)
  6. Saracens Mavericks (10-8-1)
  7. Leeds Rhinos (10-8)
  8. London Pulse (6-13)
  9. Severn Stars (3-16)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-16)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-17)


  1. Loughborough Lightning (17-3)
  2. Manchester Thunder (17-3)
  3. Team Bath (17-3)
  4. Leeds Rhinos (12-8)
  5. Saracens Mavericks (11-8-1)
  6. Strathclyde Sirens (10-8-2)
  7. Wasps Netball (10-9-1)
  8. London Pulse (6-14)
  9. Severn Stars (4-16)
  10. Surrey Storm (3-17)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-19)

It is safe to say that the final round of the season produced some of the most wholesale changes across the entire season. With the Top 4 looking almost certain last round, everything changed this week as Loughborough Lightning wreaked havoc on Team Bath and Manchester Thunder downed Strathclyde Sirens, seeing Lightning take top spot – and the minor premiership – while Thunder stole second and Bath fell to third for the first time all season. It was certainly not the finish Bath were after following such a dominant season, and the side will really need to step up during Saturday’s semi-final against Thunder if they want to make the grand final on Sunday afternoon.

Looking further down the ladder, and Rhinos were ultimately handed the final top four position due to the positive COVID-19 case amongst the playing group, and with a question mark still over Donnell Wallam for this weekend’s clash following a family member passing away, they will want to fire up ahead of taking on the ladder-leading Lightning in the semis. Results appeared to go the way of the Saracens Mavericks this week, leaping up to finish in fifth, whilst Strathclyde Sirens achieved their best finish since they joined the competition – bar last year’s unfinished season where they placed fifth with one win from three games – with 10 wins for the season, sitting in sixth. Meanwhile, it was a different story for the inconsistent Wasps, who lost four of their last five games to finish in seventh, their lowest finish since entering the competition in 2017. Rounding out the top eight is London Pulse, whose second half to the season saw them finish with six wins, although their season was unfortunately cut short, unable to pay their final match against Rhinos in Round 20 and surely wondering what could have been.

The remainder of the ladder has not seen much change across the past few rounds, with Severn Stars, Surrey Storm and Celtic Dragons labouring at the bottom. Stars and Storm both redeemed themselves with Round 20 wins to finish the season on a high, while Dragons will be getting to work now to ready for a fresh start in 2022 to put this season behind them.


Sunday wrap // Monday wrap


Sunday wrap // Monday wrap

Past ladder updates: Round 3 // Round 4 // Round 5/6 // Round 7 // Round 8 // Round 9 // Round 10/11 // Round 12 // Round 13/14 // Round 15 // Round 16 // Round 17/18 // Round 19


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

2021 ANZ Premiership vs. VNSL Team of the Week: Round 10&20

THE final round of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action commenced over the weekend with a number of surprise results dictating this week’s Team of the Week. Meanwhile big wins to the Northern Mystics and Mainland Tactix sees those two sides dominate their Team of the Week.

ANZ Premiership:

GS: Ellie Bird (Mainland Tactix)
GA: Te Paea Selby-Rickit (Mainland Tactix)
WA: Peta Toeava (Northern Mystics)
C: Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (Northern Stars)
WD: Fa’amu Ioane (Northern Mystics)
GD: Karin Burger (Mainland Tactix)
GK: Anna Harrison (Northern Stars)

BENCH: Grace Nweke (Northern Mystics), Sam Winders (Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic), Sulu Fitzpatrick (Northern Mystics)

Returning from injury Ellie Bird made no mistake under the post with the goal shooter using her height to carve up the court. Her strong holds and silky footwork to edge closer to the post made her a constant threat for the Tatix and was a key reason for her sides record breaking win in Round 10. Bird commanded the ball from the opening minutes of play and did not let up despite her brief time on the bench slotting 47 goals. Joining her in the goal circle is teammate Te Paea Selby-Rickit with the goal attack using her nous to play the ball around both inside the circle and out the front. The crafty goal attack was a real maestro using her deft touches to hit up Bird under the post while also backing herself to got to post finishing with 19 goals from 23 attempts at 83 per cent.

It was another stellar performance from Peta Toeava who seemed to have the ball on a string out in wing attack for the Northern Mystics. She was involved in just about every single passage of play, crafting the ball down the court and doing damage both from the top of the circle or in the pocket to deliver pinpoint passes into the circle. Northern Stars centre, Mila Reuelu-Buchanan is back in the side after another strong showing through the centre with her impressive timing and defensive work to win ball back. She was a real menace thanks to her three-foot marking and ability to contest around circle edge while her take-off speed allowed her to fly down the court racking up 20 goal assists. Another player returning from injury but this time for the Northern Mystics was Fa’amu Ioane. The wing defence well and truly left her mark on the match with her athleticism coming to the fore in the defensive third while her closing speed also brought plenty of excitement. Ioane was in the thick of things from the get-go and did not relent on her pressure, staying tight throughout the game and niggling away to finish the match with four deflections and a gain.

Karin Burger only continues to get better for the Mainland Tactix with the goal defence showcasing her impressive read of the play and aerial ability to wreak havoc down back. She was in just about everything, constantly hustling for front position and using her closing speed to shut down the space and win ball back. Burger was not only picking up intercepts and deflections recording six apiece but was also imperative through transition slicing through the opposition defence. Alongside her in defence is none other than Anna Harrison with the goal keeper having a field day out on court with her long arms doing a wealth of damage. It was a phenomenal effort from Harrison who like a cat continuously landed on her feet to spring into action recording a whopping 10 gains four of which were intercepts.

On the bench is Grace Nweke with the goal shooter once again prolific while Sam Winders was a real workhorse for the Magic for the entire 60 minutes. Unlucky not to get the nod in goal keeper, Sulu Fitzpatrick slots into the bench with the goal keeper getting plenty of hands to ball.


GS: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)
GA: Paige Reed (Severn Stars)
WA: Amy Carter (Manchester Thunder)
C: Beth Ecuyer-Dale (Saracens Mavericks)
WD: Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning)
GD: Emma Dovey (Manchester Thunder)
GK: Felisitus Kwangwa (Surrey Storm)

BENCH: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning), Serena Guthrie (Team Bath), Kerry Almond (Manchester Thunder)

There is no denying that Joyce Mvula was in ripping form as she guided Manchester Thunder to victory. Her 40-goal performance under the post was impressive as she used her heights and body positioning to withstand her direct opponent and shoot freely. Earning the nod out in goal attack for the first time this season is Paige Reed with the Severn Stars goaler utilising her timing and clever court play to her advantage. She was not afraid to back herself on the shot nailing 23 goals from her 25 attempts highlighting her prolific nature and ability to command the ball.

Through the midcourt, Amy Carter proved her wares out in wing attack. She impressed with her ability to open space up while her drive through the attacking third also did not go unnoticed. Her continuous give and go was crucial for Manchester Thunder as she threaded the needle into the goalers time and time again while also picking up a wealth of defensive ball with four intercepts and two deflections. Beth Ecuyer-Dale was a staple through the midcourt providing a sense of composure and calmness for the Saracens Mavericks. Her two-way running and overall netball smarts allowed her to have an impact at both ends of the court. It is no surprise that Beth Cobden secured the wing defence role with the Loughborough Lightning midcourter using her three-foot marking, foot speed and body work to impose herself particularly around circle edge. Her hunt and tenacity was undeniable as she collected nine deflections in what was yet another strong showing.

Emma Dovey was on song down in defence for the Thunder with the goal defence wreaking havoc with her hands over pressure and tenacity. She finished with an impressive five intercepts and five deflections to her name showcasing her ability to cleanly contest for the ball and be a real commanding presence down back. A stellar win from the Surrey Storm sees Felisitus Kwangwa make her way into the Team of the Week with the zippy defender using her read of the play and quick movement to disrupt the play. Her ability to force turnovers and confuse the space was on show throughout the match as she worked in overdrive to win ball back for her side.

The bench consists of a couple familiar names with Mary Cholhok and Kerry Almond who were both solid performers for their respective sides. The final spot goes to Serena Guthrie with the Team Bath centre imposing herself with her two intercepts and two deflections.

VNSL 2021: Round 20 – Sunday wrap

SUNDAY’S Vitality Netball Superleague matches are done and dusted for Round 20, with four teams completing their respective seasons. Whilst two sides started strong before their opposition flipped the script, Manchester Thunder had no holds barred in a massive clash with Strathclyde Sirens, taking out top spot ahead of the battle between Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning on Monday night.

Saracens Mavericks (48) defeated Surrey Storm (35)

Player of the match: Beth Ecuyer-Dale (Saracens Mavericks)

A shaky start from The Mavericks was not enough for the Surrey Storm to execute an upset, with the classy Mavericks showcasing plenty of hunt in the second half to well and truly overwhelm the Storm. The Mavericks proved that their seven-goal first quarter would not be the end of them, completely resetting at half-time and only allowing a total of 13 goals from the Storm throughout the second half – just four in the last – in a complete shutout by the Mavericks defenders. Whilst it was not the ideal finish to The Mavericks’ season, the hunt they displayed in the latter stages of the game when the game was in the balance allowed the side to finish on a high during Jo Trip’s final match before retirement.

Karyn Bailey impressed to post in her second last match before retirement, finishing with 30 goals despite the hefty defensive effort that was imposed upon her. However it was the lack of assistance to post that really hurt the Stars as Emma Magee and Sophie Kelly only combined for five goals from nine attempts credit to the workrate of Jodie Gibson and New Zealand retiree Trip down back, as the duo combined for five intercepts and 11 deflections, resulting in seven turnovers. Beth Ecuyer-Dale was immense combining with Gabby Marshall through the midcourt, with the two seamlessly transitioning the ball up the court with speed and clean hands to boot, whilst Sasha Corbin showcased her continued connection with sister Kadeen (11 goals) and South African Ine-Mari Venter, who continues to shine in attack finishing with 35 goals from 37 attempts. Felisitus Kwangwa and Grace Sullivan put on a solid defensive showing for the Storm, combining for six intercepts, 10 deflections and nine turnovers. A combined six turnovers from the midcourt combination of Yasmin ParsonsMikki Austin and Niamh Cooper did not do the side many favours, although Austin did win back a valuable intercept.

Manchester Thunder (64) defeated Strathclyde Sirens (37)

Player of the match: Emma Dovey (Manchester Thunder) 

Manchester Thunder topped off an excellent season with a huge win to complete their home-and-away fixtures, firing on all cylinders from the get-go and piling on the defensive pressure against the Sirens to pull off a 27-goal victory. Whilst the Sirens had a better second half, it was their shaky first half that really allowed the Thunder to stand up, with the Sirens attack failing to provide the same potency they have in recent weeks. Thunder piled on 31 goals to 15 in the first half to sit head and shoulders ahead of the Sirens going into the second half, and added insult to injury in the final term with 18 goals in the fourth alone to extend the huge victory.

There is no denying that Thunder boasts some of the best and most accurate firepower in the competition, and that was once again evident in this clash as Joyce Mvula piled on a whopping 40 goals as Ellie Cardwell applied ample assistance finishing with 24 and the duo missed just five attempts throughout against daring opposition. But the usually potent Towera Vinkhumbo just was not able to get hands to turnover ball, credit to the excellent feeds from Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter, with the duo threading the needle time and time again to force errors from the Sirens defence and Carter teaming well with Laura Malcolm at the other end, wreaking havoc off circle edge to finish with four intercepts. It was a defensive masterclass from the Thunder, with player of the match Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond dictating both the pass and the placement, getting their hands to constant ball and the duo combined for 13 turnovers off the back of Dovey’s five intercepts and Almond’s two. Sirens’ attack had no answer for the Thunder’s hunt, as Bethan GoodwinNiamh McCall (both 13 from 16) and Emma Barrie (11 from 16) struggled to receive easy passes, with Beth Dix well held and Gia Abernethy forced to run with Carter.

Celtic Dragons (39) defeated by Severn Stars (45)

Player of the match: Paige Reed (Severn Stars)

In another tight start the Celtic Dragons and Severn Stars could not be split throughout the entire first half of their match up to finish off Sunday’s proceedings with a tight clash. But the Stars put on the accelerator in the third, executing an 11-6 quarter to extend the first major lead of the game. Whilst the Dragons tightened up in the final term, it was not enough to turn the tides as the Stars ran out six-goal victors under pressure, well and truly earning their fourth win of the season. To the Dragons’ credit they put out a fine performance, but unfortunately could not hold on for the full four quarters as the Stars’ experience reigned supreme.

the seesawing start was down to the defensive effort from both sides, with Abigail Tyrrell and Annika Lee-Jones controlling the airways down one end, and Iman Thomas and Lucy Herdman working hard at the other to pressurise the contest. All four defenders worked hard, however it was the likes of Paige Reed that became the showstopper throughout the contest, taking control of the Stars front-end to command possession and using her quick footwork to out-manoeuvre Tyrrell’s heavy attention down the court and evade Lee-Jones’ long arm inside the circle. Dixon shared the load with Georgia Rowe, piling on 23 goals to Rowe’s 22, and opened up space well for Lucy Harris (two turnovers) and Kyra Jones to find purchase on circle edge as the Stars extended a lead. Defensively, the Stars were marginally cleaner finishing with 27 penalties across Herdman, Thomas, Adi Bolakoro and wing defence Nia Jones, compared to Dragons’ 37, between Tyrrell, Lee-Jones and Clare Jones in wing defence. Amy Clinton (30 goals from 34 attempts) and Rebekah Robinson (nine from 13) worked hard in the front end for the Dragons, while Shona O’Dwyer was a nuisance in centre picking off three deflections.


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 20 preview – Final round sees intriguing clashes emerge

VITALITY Netball Superleague (VNSL) Round 20 is here, and thus the end of the season has emerged with the closest campaign in recent years proving exciting and unexpected from start to finish. While the top four was prematurely decided following a positive COVID-19 case amongst the Leeds Rhinos playing group, the top three sides still have top spot to play for following unprecedented Round 19 results, whilst a quest for bragging rights remains for lower sides.

Round 19 ladder update: What is required from each top three side?


Saracens Mavericks v. Surrey Storm

With fifth, sixth and seventh positions still in contention, Mavericks need a win here to at least settle the score that they could have made finals if things played out differently this season. At the same time, the Storm have absolutely nothing to lose and have played out some big results over the past few rounds, making this one an intriguing clash to say the least. With some great developing players amongst the playing group the Storm will look to test the Mavericks, although the Mavericks’ newfound versatility and depth on the bench should pay off to put one last win in the book.

While Razia Quashie has already been ruled out of this matchup after suffering a potential Achilles injury last round, the Storm front-end does not have it any easier with both Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip forging a great connection throughout the season to really slam home the pressure and create exciting defensive moments. Both able to play a flashy game with their aerial leap or settle to a classic and physical one-on-one contest, Karyn Bailey and Emma Magee will have their work cut out for them against the Mavericks defensive duo. Through the midcourt expect plenty of speed from Yasmin Parsons with Gabby Marshall set the test of limiting the crafty wing attack, while two experienced heads in Mikki Austin and Sasha Corbin will go toe-to-toe. At the other end, the Mavericks boast a couple of viable options to post which allows them to avoid becoming too predictable, with Kadeen Corbin, Ine-Mari Venter and Britney Clarke all reliable and strong.

Manchester Thunder v. Strathclyde Sirens

Whilst neither team necessarily needs a win to complete their season given the Thunder has already secured a top three finish and the Sirens are out of the running for finals, it is safe to say this clash could be very interesting. Something worth keeping in mind is that the last time the Sirens and Thunder played, it was the opening weekend of VNSL action for the year. Whilst the Sirens went down by a hefty 17 goal margin in that encounter, the side had not yet found its footing in the competition meaning anything could happen here.

When it comes to this clash, there is no shortage of firepower. Expect a huge matchup between the two exciting Malawians, with Sirens goal keeper Towera Vinkhumbo one of the leading goal keepers in the competition and taking on compatriot Joyce Mvula – who is arguably one of the most consistent goalers in the league. But one of the big tests the Thunder front-end poses is the consistency of Thunder’s attack, with Ellie Cardwell able to both playmake and hand off the attempts to Mvula, or carry the load herself. This versatility could really shake the Sirens defence with Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen really needing to create a defensive buffer and deny the likes of Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm pride of place on circle edge. Malcolm, O’Hanlon and Amy Carter will need to limit the speed in transition from Cullen and captain Gia Abernethy, while Beth Dix has been a livewire feeding into the circle, with Thunder’s Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey needing to put on the speed and creative flair to limit the impact of Emma BarrieBethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall to post.

Celtic Dragons v. Severn Stars

Expect a big clash here between the Dragons and Stars with both sides sitting on the lower end of the ladder, but the Dragons well within their chances to get a second win on the board and close out their season on a high. Whilst the Stars got the chocolates last time they met, the Dragons have produced some solid performances over the past few rounds and have somewhat found their form in the front-end which could challenge the Stars. Realistically, Stars should still take out this victory, although expect the Dragons to give them a run for their money.

The likes of Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson have been fairly consistent performers all season, usually lacking confident ball into the circle but proving relatively accurate to post when they do find the ball. It will be up to Shona O’Dwyer and Laura Rudland to confidently bypass the defensive effort from the likes of Iman ThomasLucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly, while Nia Jones and Kyra Jones play a vital role through the midcourt, transitioning well with their turn of speed. Dragons’ Clare Jones has played a crucial role back in wing defence for the Dragons, utilising her change of direction to create deflections, with the likes of Lucy Harris and playmaker Paige Reed both needing to apply some real offensive pressure to propel ball into Georgia Rowe and escape the long limbs of Dragons defenders Abigail Tyrrell and Annika Lee-Jones.

Tips: Mavericks by 12, Thunder by 8, Stars by 2


Surrey Storm v. Wasps Netball 

A big matchup will wage between the 10th ranked Storm and sixth ranked Wasps to open Monday’s proceedings, not necessarily because of an expected result, but because the Storm will officially say goodbye to their attacking pillar Bailey, who announced her retirement during the week. The Australian goal shooter has been with the club since 2019, and played her first VNSL season at Mavericks the year prior, closing out a solid career in both Australia and the UK. Nevertheless, the Wasps were only pipped of a finals position this week, just like Mavericks and Sirens, meaning the side will be out hunting to get one last win on the board to prove what might have been.

For the Wasps, expect Fran Williams and Josie Huckle to pile on the pressure and not make life easy for Bailey and Magee at the post, while Lily-May Catling will need to be in tip-top form to disrupt the ease with which Parsons goes about her business. Iona Christian has really elevated her game this season alongside Amy Flanagan, so expect the duo to be a tough barricade through the centre and drive up the court with speed, with Niamh Cooper likely tasked with stopped Christian’s pinpoint passes into the circle. Defensively, Storm will hope to have the services of livewire Alima Priest back at their disposal, while without Priest, Felisitus Kwangwa and Leah Middleton will need to be switched on to force errors from the confident combination of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris.

Loughborough Lightning v. Team Bath Netball

These two sides have not played since Round 1/2, making for an enticing clash given there is no more recent encounter that could play in with their respective form. Both sides come into this matchup off the back of unprecedented Round 19 losses, opening up a real question of which side has the intent and ability to bounce back well here. Both renowned for their ability to play a full court defence and shut down attacking forays, both Lightning and Bath will have their work cut out for them, with the side that is quickest to play its own game most likely to command control throughout and claim the points.

As is often the case between two similarly strengthened teams, the winner of this match will be the side which controls the centre third. Whilst Team Bath boasts

 in the centre and Jess Shaw and Imogen Allison on either wing, the Lightning can match them for defensive intent credit to the workrate of Nat PanagarryBeth Cobden and Hannah Joseph. Both sides have another viable wing attack each who can slip into the position to have an impact, while in the attacking neither side has a real hole in their offence with Lightning boasting Mary Cholhok, Ella Clark and Suzie Liverseidge, while Bath’s combination of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis is backed up by an in-form Betsy Creak. Defensively, Sam May and Jas Odeogberin will have their work cut out for them against the Bath versatility, while Bath’s own backline in Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown is also hugely influential.

Tips: Wasps by 15, Bath by 3

VNSL 2021: Round 19 ladder update

THE final round of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action is set to commence on the weekend, with the top four finalist prematurely decided through no fault of the sides that were still in with a chance, and a positive COVID-19 case setting up a “break glass in case of emergency” scenario prior to the round beginning. In the final edition of our Draft Central ladder update series, we compare and contrast the latest VNSL results and how they impact on the ladder heading into Round 20.

In a difficult end to the 2021 VNSL season, the top four has been prematurely decided prior to the final round playing out, following cancellation of Leeds Rhinos’ final two matches due to a positive COVID-19 case amongst the playing group. Whilst this result would typically see points split or matches rescheduled, the league’s ‘Postponements, Reschedules and Cancellations’ process in place this season means that Rhinos are awarded winning points for both of their Round 20 matches. While both of their two matches were coming up against lower sides in Celtic Dragons and London Pulse – which the Rhinos claimed wins over earlier in the season – there was ultimately no guarantee the Rhinos would earn the win over the Pulse at the very least, with the side rallying in recent weeks and knocking Saracens Mavericks out of finals contention in their Round 19 clash.


Namely, this means that despite currently sitting in fourth and fifth on the ladder, Strathclyde Sirens and Wasps Netball now have no chance of making the finals, with just one match remaining apiece. Whilst already previously noted that the Rhinos would be playing both Dragons (11th) and Pulse (8th), the Sirens and Wasps still had a slim chance of reaching the post-season series dependant on other results across the round. Realistically, the situation does not have much of an impact on the remaining teams, although Dragons and Pulse will not get a chance to play their remaining fixture of the season with their respective Round 20 matches cancelled.


  1. Team Bath (17-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (16-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (15-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (10-8-1)
  5. Leeds Rhinos (10-8)
  6. Strathclyde Sirens (7-7-2)
  7. Saracens Mavericks (9-7-1)
  8. London Pulse (4-13)
  9. Severn Stars (3-15)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-16)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-16)


  1. Team Bath (17-2)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (16-3)
  3. Manchester Thunder (16-3)
  4. Strathclyde Sirens (10-7-2)
  5. Wasps Netball (10-8-1)
  6. Saracens Mavericks (10-8-1)
  7. Leeds Rhinos (10-8)
  8. London Pulse (6-13)
  9. Severn Stars (3-16)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-16)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-17)

Looking back at Round 19, and there were some intriguing results to come out of the round. Firstly, the Severn Stars and Wasps were forced to postpone their clash to a later date due to a positive COVID-19 case amongst the Wasps playing group. Fortunately, the side became aware of the case early enough to ensure their match could be rescheduled for Monday evening, June 21.

The Mavericks overcame Team Bath to prove that their Round 9 upset was not a fluke, and keep their finals hopes alive. But a huge effort from the Pulse saw the eighth-ranked side pull off a massive Monday night victory over the Mavericks to officially put their finals hopes to rest, less than 24 hours after the Mavericks thought they had secured a chance. The Sirens bolstered their percentage to leap into fourth with a huge 19-goal win over the Dragons, and Manchester Thunder are hard to stop when they are switched on, and they most certainly were against the Lightning, executing a huge 14-goal victory to close the round.

With two of the top three side dealt losses in Round 19, all three of Bath, Lightning and Thunder retain their positions heading into the final round, however the semi-final matches are still in question with all three franchises ultimately able to take out top spot dependant on their fellow top sides’ efforts. With Thunder hosting Sirens and Lightning hosting Bath in the final match of the round, no team will be sure of their semi-final opposition until the final whistle is blown.

Now let’s have a look at what is required from each top three side:

Thunder: Must beat Sirens by a hefty margin, and Lightning must only beat Bath by a small margin, for Thunder to take top spot. If Thunder loses to Sirens, they likely retain third position, unless Bath dominate their clash.

Lightning: Must beat Bath by a hefty margin to ensure they stay above Manchester to take top spot. If they lose to Bath, the side will want a small margin to ensure Thunder do not take second.

Bath: Must win to retain top spot, otherwise could fall to second, or even third depending on results. Bath have retained ladder-leading status for majority of the season, but could lose it for the first time since Rounds 4, 5 and 6, when Lightning took the mantle.

Now that Leeds has ultimately take fourth spot on the ladder – although the six winning points (three per win) have yet to be attributed to the side meaning the official ladder with Sirens in fourth (32 points with one match remaining), Wasps in fifth (31 points with one match remaining), Mavericks in sixth (31 points with one match remaining) and Rhinos in seventh (30 points with two matches remaining) still stands until Round 20 is complete – there is not much left for the remaining sides to do.

Pulse’s six wins ensure they finish a couple wins clear of Severn Stars in ninth, whilst Surrey Storm (two wins) and Celtic Dragons (one win) sees the remainder of the ladder go unchanged despite the huge movements from seventh through to the very top, in what has been a closely contested season all around.


  1. Team Bath (18-2 / 54 points)
  2. Manchester Thunder (17-3 / 51 points)
  3. Loughborough Lightning (16-4 / 48 points)
  4. Leeds Rhinos (12-8 / 36 points)
  5. Wasps Netball (11-8-1 / 34 points)
  6. Saracens Mavericks (11-8-1 / 34 points)
  7. Strathclyde Sirens (10-8-2 / 32 points)
  8. London Pulse (6-14 / 18 points)
  9. Severn Stars (4-16 / 12 points)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-18 / 6 points)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-19 / 3 points)


Friday/Saturday wrap // Sunday/Monday wrap


Sunday wrap // Monday wrap

Past ladder updates: Round 3 // Round 4 // Round 5/6 // Round 7 // Round 8 // Round 9 // Round 10/11 // Round 12 // Round 13/14 // Round 15 // Round 16 // Round 17/18


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

2021 ANZ Premiership vs. VNSL Team of the Week: Round 9&19

VITALITY Netball Superleague returned this week with the finals race front and centre while Round 19 of the ANZ Premiership rolled around. There were plenty of impressive performances from players across both leagues as Draft Central compiles two teams of the week from the respective leagues.

ANZ Premiership

GS: Grace Nweke (Northern Mystics)
GA: Jamie Hume (Northern Stars)
WA: Peta Toeava (Northern Mystics)
C: Maddy Gordon (Central Pulse)
WD: Renee Savai’inaea (Southern Steel)
GD: Karin Burger (Mainland Tactix)
GK: Taneisha Fifita (Southern Steel)

BENCH: George Fisher (Southern Steel), Sam Winders (Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic), Elle Temu (Northern Stars)

There is no denying that Grace Nweke has all but solidified her role as the starting goal shooter in our Team of the Week with the Northern Mystics representative a pillar of consistency. Her ability to hold strong under the post and use her footwork to claim prime position is second to none, not to mention her accuracy and volume finishing the game with 57 goals from 61 attempts. Alongside her in the goal circle is Northern Stars goal attack Jamie Hume who well and truly stepped up to the plate in Round 9 of the ANZ Premiership. The quick footed sharp shooter made her presence felt from the opening minute and shouldered the load. She backed herself from range and boasted a confident aura throughout the clash with her clever drives and hot hand coming to the fore to finish with 18 goals at 86 per cent.

There is speed to burn through the midcourt with Peta Toeava starring in wing attack with her quick give and go and vision. The Mystics midcourter set the court alight with her drive and positioning around circle edge to fire off pinpoint passes racking up a whopping 38 goal assists. Speaking of speedsters, Maddy Gordon had her time to shine in at centre for the Pulse with her tenacity speaking volumes. A real competitor with a high endurance base, Gordon plied her trade effectively up both ends of the court to feed the ball into the shooters and also rack up the intercepts herself. She could transition down court in a heartbeat such is her speed while her quick hands were also prominent. The wing defence position falls to Renee Savai’inaea and while she did not register a wealth of stats her work off the ball was tremendous, keeping her opponent off circle edge.

Down back it is hard to go past Karin Burger with the goal defence continuing to impress. In her first year with the Tactix, Burger has well and truly found her place using her closing speed and deceptively long arms to create deflections aplenty and disrupt the attacking rhythm for opposition teams. Her read of the play was also at the forefront of her performance collecting four intercepts for her efforts. Youngster Taneisha Fifita secured the goal keeper position with her ability to compete in the air and at ground level. The Southern Steel defender got hands to ball and used her body work to out-manoeuvre her opponent and reel in wayward passes.

Elle Temu was unlucky not to get the nod down back after putting out a stellar performance. The defender was in just about everything using her aerial capacity and quick feet to win ball back time after time. Also on the bench is George Fisher with the goal shooter a rock under the post while the final spot goes to Sam Winders with the Magic captain a real driving force in both attack and defence.


GS: Ine-Mari Venter (Saracen Mavericks)
GA: Eleanor Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
WA: Caroline O’Hanlon (Manchester Thunder)
C: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)
WD: Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning)
GD: Funmi Fadoju (London Pulse)
GK: Towera Vinkhumbo (Strathclyde Sirens)

BENCH: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning), Serena Guthrie (Team Bath), Razia Quashie (Saracens Mavericks)

Goal shooter, Ine-Mari Venter was in dominant form and was a key reason for the Mavs win using her strength to hold off her opponent. Able to read the play and position accordingly, Venter was able to go score with ease posting 31 goals. It was a strong performance by Eleanor Cardwell with the goal attack controlling the tempo in attack for Manchester Thunder and subsequently earning the starting position. Her ability to weave her magic down the court, hit the scoreboard at an accurate rate only missing three of her 26 attempts and create attacking forays was second to none.

Caroline O’Hanlon secured the wing attack position with the Manchester Thunder midcourter using her knowledge and experience to have a profound impact around circle edge. Not the quickest player out on court, one thing you can rely on is O’Hanlon’s ability to deliver well-weighted passes and nous to find space in the attacking third. Strathclyde Sirens captain and centre, Gia Abernethy was on song throughout her outing using her gut-running and slick hands to have an influence at both ends of the court. Abernethy had a hand in just about everything picking up a number of intercepts and deflections to lead the way for the Sirens. Beth Cobden takes out the wing defence position with the Lightning stalwart able to ply her trade and use her closing speed to clog up space.

London Pulse goal defence, Funmi Fadoju was in scintillating form in both games across Round 19 of the VNSL and while she got her fair share of whistle she made up for it with her ball winning capabilities. She was a real energiser bunny down in defence, throwing herself at everything that came her way and most importantly winning ball back whether it be through intercepts or deflections. Towera Vinkhumbo was at her damaging best for the Sirens getting hands to ball and staying away from the whistle. Her skill to stay in play and mount pressure was imperative in her side’s win as was her tenacity to win ball back and make life hard for opposition teams trying to enter the defensive circle.

There are a number of key players on the bench with Mary Cholhok a commanding force once again under the post for the Lightning with her height and prolific nature to post putting her in good stead. Razia Quashie also impressed with her defensive pressure and tenacity before she was struck down with injury, while the final spot goes to Serena Guthrie with the centre imposing herself in defence and attack credit to her hunt and sheer athleticism.

VNSL 2021: Round 19 – Monday wrap

TWO more matches completed Round 19 of Vitality Netball Superleague action on Monday night, with huge results seeing one side dealt a devastating blow to their finals potential and the other a dent to their confidence ahead of their finals campaign.

London Pulse (46) defeated Saracens Mavericks (33)

Player of the match: Ashleigh Dekker (London Pulse)

For the two sides coming into their second clash of the weekend off the back of wins on Sunday, a tight matchup was expected especially given the confidence of the Pulse and the Mavericks dealt a devastating blow with Razia Quashie succumbing to a season-ending potential Achilles injury the match prior. While the Mavs looked the goods still heading into the matchup, the Pulse came out with a point to prove and extended their winning form to three, ultimately putting a huge stop to the Mavericks’ finals chances now with just one match left to play. Whilst the Mavericks got off to a hot start to lead at the first break, the Pulse flew out of the blocks in the second and continued adding to their scoreline throughout to knock the Mavs down a peg. The Mavs failed to score double digit quarters after the first testament to the Pulse’s defensive effort and ability to force errors from the attack, seeing the Pulse claim the huge 13-goal victory.

It was an absolute feeding showcase from Ashleigh Dekker, earning player of the match accolades for her ability to spot the combination of Olivia Tchine and Lefebre Rademan inside the goal circle. The tactical decision for Sigi Burger to sit out following her effort on Sunday proved how impressive Tchine has been this season, taking over the goal shooter role seamlessly, adding 35 goals straight to her tally while Rademan assisted well with 11 from 13 attempts. Defensively, the Mavericks struggled missing their pillar of Quashie, with Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip piling on the pressure but unable to faze the goalers to post. Gabby Marshall was her usual workhorse self but could not have an impact on Dekker, while Ine-Mari Venter and Kadeen Corbin failed to fire on all cylinders under the heavy workrate of Lindsay Keable and Funmi Fadoju, with Zara Everitt showcasing her long arms out the front blocking Georgia Lees‘ vision on circle edge.

Loughborough Lightning (46) defeated by Manchester Thunder (60)

Player of the match: Kerry Almond (Manchester Thunder)

The second match of the day saw just as surprising a result as the first, however in a very different way as the Thunder blew the Lightning out of the water from the get-go. It was the Thunder’s ability to keep the foot on the pedal that allowed them to retain the lead throughout the entire encounter, with the 30-20 first half speaking for the huge amount of defensive pressure the Thunder piled on. With both sides’ final berths secured already, this match was all about bragging rights, and sets up a huge final round with both teams now in a position to hunt for top spot on the ladder, or at the very least change up positions within the top four ahead of finals in a couple weeks.

Defensively, the Thunder starred limiting Mary Cholhok‘s impact in the goal circle and forcing Ella Clark and Suzie Liverseidge to step up. Kerry Almond was instrumental and was a deserved recipient of the player of the match award credit to her ability to cause a nuisance for the towering Cholhok, who still managed 32 goals but at a lower accuracy than usual, as Clark and Liverseidge combined for 14 from 18 attempts. Almond’s five turnovers from three intercepts and five deflections were critical, while Emma Dovey played her role well out the front in tandem with both Rebekah Airey and Elia McCormick. At the other end, the attack was huge proved by the rotation of both Berri Neal and Emilia Roscoe at times, with Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell able to share the shooting load with 29 and 23 goals respectively. Just Nat Panagarry and Sam May picked up an intercept for the Lightning, with Beth Cobden‘s usual ball-winning ability and defensive presence nullified by the workrate of Caroline O’Hanlon.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography