Category: Team Bath

VNSL 2021: Loughborough Lightning make history with inaugural premiership

LOUGHBOROUGH Lightning have clinched the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) premiership, defeating Team Bath by 17 goals, 49-32. It was a history-making performance from the Lightning, claiming their first VNSL trophy after being a part of the league for 16 years and playing in three grand finals prior.

Despite having the history books against them the Lightning managed to find a way to wow Team Bath who had not lost a grand final once making it to the final dance. The Lightning got off to a hot start skipping out to a handy lead thanks to an 11-7 first term. Their composure with ball in hand and resilience was on full display, pushing past the defence of Team Bath to control momentum. Mary Cholhok was proving to be a nuisance under the post for Bath who were unable to quell her influence as the Ugandan shooter commanded the ball time and time again. Her connection with Hannah Joseph was becoming increasingly hard to stop as she hit circle edge and opened up the circle to feed into Cholhok with plenty of ease.

The Lightning continued to extend their lead in the second quarter with their four-goal margin quickly turning into an eight-goal lead by half time, shutting out Bath’s offensive skill. Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis were working hard in attack for Bath, with the connection and partnership inside the circle keeping the scoreboard ticking over but they simply could not get enough ball. The Lightning were smothering any silky ball movement through the court with Sam May in her final game before retirement keen to not leave anything in the tank.

With the game slipping away from them, Team Bath came out with a real pep in their step in the third quarter to try and peg back the margin. They started to capitalise off the vital turnovers they were picking up and gained some much needed momentum. But it is not known as the premiership quarter for no reason with Beth Cobden elevating her game for Loughborough. The wing defence came into her own throughout the third with her dynamic movement and closing speed allowing her to get hands to ball, which in turn enabled her to negate the influence of Rachel Shaw in wing attack. Each time Team Bath looked like they found their way back into the contest, Lightning found a way to restore their composure and keep their noses in front.

Despite reducing the margin by a goal at three quarter time the final term did not go to plan for Team Bath who were quite simply shell-shocked. The Lightning could sense a win and with that, put the foot down to control proceedings and dominate play for the final 12 minutes. A blistering 18-8 final term proved to be the nail in the coffin for Team Bath as they were left in the lurch. Nat Panagarry was electric through the midcourt as Ella Clark also impressed under the post to help the Lightning forge ahead. Team Bath looked to the bench for answers and to help stem the bleeding but it was too little, too late as the Lightning ran rampant and secured their inaugural premiership.

Cholhok finished the game with 38 goals to her name and reeled in four rebounds as partner in crime, Clark shot 11 out of her 13 attempts. Panagarry was solid in attack and defence but it was the performance from Cobden that gifted her the MVP for the game racking up three intercepts and five deflections as she constantly bobbed up at the right time. Jasmin Odeogberin was strong in goal defence collecting two intercepts and five deflections as May left nothing to chance with her two rebounds and an intercept. Borger was the main port of call for Team Bath with her 22 goals while Drakeford-Lewis struggled to have a hug influence on the scoreboard only slotting four goals for the game. Serena Guthrie was well held by Panagarry but still managed a deflection while Imogen Allison did not have an overwhelming influence. It was a tough day at the office for Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown as the pair collected plenty of attention from the umpire combining for 26 penalties but did still manage nine deflections in the loss. All in all it was a classy performance from Sara Francis-Bayman‘s Lightning, well and truly earning their first piece of silverware in VNSL history.

Semi-final:

Leeds Rhinos (34) defeated by Manchester Thunder (43)

With the grand final taking centre stage the battle between Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder somewhat flew under the radar, with the game deciding third and fourth spot on the ladder. In the end it was Manchester that reigned supreme, claiming a hard-fought nine-goal win thanks to some crafty work from Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell inside the circle. Caroline O’Hanlon and Amy Carter were up to their usual tricks through the midcourt for the Thunder while Jade Clarke tried hard to keep the Rhinos in the hunt. But defensively the Rhinos were in all sorts of trouble with Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola racking up the penalties.

Photo 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.

ROUND 19 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)

ROUND 19 LADDER

  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.

ROUND 19 COVERAGE

Sunday wrap // Monday wrap

ROUND 20 COVERAGE

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

VNSL 2021: Round 20 – Monday wrap

THE final round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is done and dusted for the season, with two huge upsets completing the home-and-away season on a high. Whilst one matchup saw two sides playing out their final fixtures of the year without any finals in sight, the second saw top four positions at stake in a battle of two of the leading sides, with Loughborough Lightning taking out the win and the minor premiership in the process.

Surrey Storm (39) defeated Wasps Netball (35)

Player of the match: Felisitus Kwangwa (Surrey Storm)

Surrey Storm finished their season on the ultimate high, winning one last match for retiree Karyn Bailey, and in the process handing the Wasps their worst ever ladder finish. It was a huge performance from the Storm, who have struggled to find the offensive pressure this season, but had no issue firing in the final round limiting the Wasps in attack and finding ways around the mess at their own front-end. Despite quiet second and final terms, the work was done in the first for the side to have the half-time ascendancy (22-17) and hold onto that momentum to pile on the pressure during the third once more. Despite a 6-12 final term, the Storm proved far more fired up throughout the contest with nothing to lose, as their defensive end hummed and produced turnovers aplenty.

While the Storm racked up more penalties (15-7) and unforced errors (8-7), they made the most of their turnovers to apply offensive pressure, cleanly transitioning down court. It was a show-stopping performance from Zimbabwean Felisitus Kwangwa, who starred out in goal defence for a second straight match and piled on the pressure alongside Leah Middleton, with the likes of usually composed duo Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn appearing shellshocked by the hunt the defensive combination displayed. Gezelle Allison was also given a run out in goal attack, such was the pressure within the circle, while Storm’s Niamh Cooper and Mikki Austin provided great hands over pressure on the outer, blocking Leah Goss‘ vision on the feed. Amy Flanagan put in the hard yards for two of the Wasps’ three intercepts out in centre, while it was Yasmin Parsons who led the charge in the Storm front-end, threading the needle around reliable Wasps defenders Fran Williams and Josie Huckle, with the two collating two and one turnover apiece in a shaky day for the defensive unit. Bailey finished off her career with a 32-goal haul, ably assisted by Emma Magee (seven goals from nine attempts) in what was a full court effort from the Storm.

Loughborough Lightning (54) defeated by Team Bath (35)

Player of the match: Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning)

An outstanding four quarter effort from the Lightning told the tale of this clash, overcoming an uncharacteristically shaky Team Bath outfit to finish the season. With consistency, firepower and defensive pressure on show, the Lightning came out firing and did not relent throughout the entire matchup, and while Bath were by no means inaccurate, they struggled to find entries to the goal circle at all. The Lightning starred with their clean hands, and despite registering one more penalty (44-43), the side combined for just five unforced errors through the contest as their entire outfit hummed across the court, adding to their tally each quarter and dulling down the usually potent Bath attack. Whilst Bath trailed by just eight at the main change and had their chances, they struggled to return to their first quarter work rate, eventually going down by 19 goals.

Beth Cobden put on a masterclass in wing defence, dulling Rachel Shaw‘s spark and cutting off her every move to block easy access to the circle, finishing with nine deflections and three turnovers. It was a battle of Roses in centre as Serena Guthrie and Nat Panagarry went head-to-head, with both providing excellent defensive backup and neither really winning the battle, while Imogen Allison had her moments but also struggled to contain the speed and energy of Hannah Joseph who earned the upper hand to finish with two turnovers. Mary Cholhok continued on her merry way, in fine form all season and not slowing down here with 40 goals from 45 attempts, while Ella Clark (10 goals) and Suzie Liverseidge (four) had little issue getting on the board. Layla Guscoth was a shining light for Bath, picking off some crucial passes to finish with three turnovers alongside Guthrie, while both Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman took their turn in goal keeper, working to shut down Cholhok to no avail. At the other end, the usually reliable Kim Borger (15 goals from 18 attempts) was unable to have her usual impact credit to the defensive effort of fellow Australian Sam May and goal defence Jas Odeogberin, who well and truly shut down playmaker Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (eight goals), which in turn shook up the Bath attack unit, with Betsy Creak having a bit more success with 12 goals in goal shooter.

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?

SUNDAY, JUNE 20

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

MONDAY, JUNE 21

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.

BUT WHAT DOES THIS PROCESS MEAN FOR THE REST OF THE COMPETITION?

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.

ROUND 17/18 LADDER

  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)

ROUND 19 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)

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.

DRAFT CENTRAL PREDICTED FINAL LADDER:

  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)

ROUND 17/18 COVERAGE

Friday/Saturday wrap // Sunday/Monday wrap

ROUND 19 COVERAGE

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.

VNSL

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 – Sunday wrap

THE penultimate round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is almost done and dusted, with three huge Sunday afternoon clashes playing out rather than the scheduled four due to the Surrey Storm and Wasps Netball clash being postponed following a positive COVID-19 case amongst the Wasps playing group. That match is set to be rescheduled in due time.

Strathclyde Sirens (53) defeated Celtic Dragons (34)

Player of the match: Gia Abernethy (Strathclyde Sirens)

The Strathclyde Sirens got a crucial Round 19 win on the board to take them another step closer to finals content, downing Celtic Dragons by 19-goals in a comprehensive effort. A consistent barrage was required by the Sirens to come away with the points in this clash, and consistent is what they got, adding to their tally each quarter throughout to leave the Dragons behind. Despite improved defensive efforts from the Dragons, the side struggled to hit the scoreboard in the first half, putting up just four goals in the first and trailing 24-11 at the main break. A huge 17-11 third term from the Sirens all but secured victory, as the side rolled out the subs to give developing talent a chance to showcase their wares.

Abigail Tyrell and Annika Lee-Jones had an excellent start, piling on the defensive pressure from the get-go to deny easy chances at goal for Sirens goal shooter Emma Barrie with the tall timber lacking her usual impact to the post finishing with just nine goals. The two Dragons defenders combined for six turnovers and 10 deflections with their high work rate paying off throughout the contest, although the agile movement of Niamh McCall (29 goals from 37 attempts) and Bethan Goodwin (15 from 16) appeared to do the trick as the Sirens took control. Player of the match and Sirens captain Gia Abernethy was hard to stop through the centre, throwing herself at everything to pile on four intercepts and allow Beth Dix to fire on all cylinders in wing attack. The combination of Towera Vinkhumbo and Emily Nicholl continues to shine, as the duo combined for seven intercepts, three deflections and 10 turnovers, while Taylor Cullen was a workhorse shutting down Laura Rudland. Despite their struggles getting ball into the circle, Amy Clinton (20 from 24) and Rebekah Robinson (12 from 13) were on song when they were within range. Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer continue to showcase their defensive nous in the midcourt, combining for two of the Dragons’ three intercepts, with the last snatched by Robinson out in goal attack.

Team Bath (35) defeated by Saracens Mavericks (46)

Player of the match: Ine-Mari Venter (Saracens Mavericks)

Just when Team Bath have been looking unbeatable, the Mavericks have come along once more to knock the ladder-leaders down a peg with a critical win. Whilst many may have expected their first clash victory to be a fluke, the Mavericks well and truly proved what they are capable of with a huge 11-goal victory over Bath to put them in a good position to steal that last remaining finals position. It took a hot start from the Mavs to secure the win, rendering Bath to just 13 goals in the first half to Mavericks’ 23, and firing on all cylinders from thereon out to ensure they did not allow the fired up Bath side to steal momentum. Whilst Bath executed a much more typical second half, the Mavs did not lose a quarter throughout to showcase just how good they can be.

It was a masterclass across the court for the Mavericks, who came out with a point to prove against the ladder-leaders. Ine-Mari Venter may not have had the court time in recent starts but was unstoppable combining with Kadeen Corbin, with the South African plying her trade effectively to finish with 31 goals and prove she was up to the physicality that Eboni Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth were bringing. Corbin shot 15 straight in a classy effort, utilising her footwork and connection with sister Sasha and Beth Ecuyer-Dale to really shake off the defensive pressure from Guscoth, Imogen Allison and Serena Guthrie. Bath speedster Rachel Shaw was well nullified by the ever-smothering Gabby Marshall, whose influence allowed Jodie Gibson and Razia Quashie to fire on all cylinders, with Jo Trip‘s impact also noted. Defensively, Quashie, Gibson and Marshall accounted for six of the side’s eight intercepts with Quashie also creating eight deflections, rendering the usually clean and composed combination of Kim Borger (15 goals from 18 attempts) and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (one goal) to messiness, as Betsy Creak entered the action to pile on 19 goals to the side’s final tally. Guscoth and Guthrie were the only players to register intercepts for Bath, with the usually clinical defensive unit outplayed on this occasion.

London Pulse (42) defeated Severn Stars (40)

Player of the match: Funmi Fadoju (London Pulse)

The London Pulse secured another win to jump up the leaderboard a fraction more, gaining more separation from the Stars in the process with a critical two-goal victory. Whilst not able to make finals, both sides came out hunting for an elusive win and it was the Pulse that managed to execute their fifth for the season, and second straight showcasing their improved form as the season has continued. Whilst the Stars competed well throughout, winning the third term to go into the final quarter on 30 goals apiece, Pulse marginally pipped them at the post going the extra mile under pressure to claim the 42-40 final result.

Pulse’s improved backline continues to impress week on week, with young gun Funmi Fadoju stepping up once more to control proceedings. While she received plenty of whistle – with Fadoju and goal keeper Lindsay Keable combining for 40 – she was a livewire in every sense of the word, able to transition smoothly between attacking the ball and hands outside the circle to having a huge impact inside too, creating five turnovers for her side off the back of 10 deflections and an intercept. That being said, the consistent effort from Georgia Rowe (33 goals from 34 attempts) and Paige Reed (seven goals straight) paid off with the duo combining well and missing just one goal between them. The back trio of Iman ThomasLucy Herdman and Malysha Kelly worked hard to combat easy feeds into Pulse’s Sigi Burger, who finished with 29 goals to go with fellow South African Lefebre Rademan‘s 13, with Thomas racking up four intercepts to lead all comers. The battle between Kyra Jones and Ashleigh Dekker was immense, while Nia Jones put in the hard yards to limit Adean Thomas space to feed into the circle.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 19 preview – Penultimate round sees do-or-die clashes

A HUGE penultimate round of Vitality Netball Superleague action is upon us, with one side in Wasps potentially taking the court for the final time this season as Leeds Rhinos earn the week off and the remaining nine sides go head-to-head, with London Pulse and Saracens Mavericks both taking the court twice.

SUNDAY, JUNE 13

Surrey Storm v. Wasps Netball 

Expect a huge clash between the Storm and the Wasps, with this matchup the Wasps’ final encounter for the home and away season and their last chance of securing enough points to make the finals series. While they are still more than capable of making finals they will really want to put the foot down against the Storm who have been showing some real fighting spirit over the last few rounds and will want to do anything in their power to stop the Wasps from achieving that last finals position.

The real test in this one will be whether Surrey Storm’s developing attack-line can defeat the tough buffer of the Wasps defensive combination in Josie Huckle and Fran Williams. While Karyn Bailey is capable of holding down the goal circle on her own she will need consistent assistance from Emma Magee in goal attack and hard drives from Yasmin Parsons and Mikki Austin to ensure she puts up a sufficient scoreline. Young defender Alima Priest has really come to the fore in the last couple of weeks alongside Leah Middleton although the duo will have their work cut out for them taking on experienced combination Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris, especially given the exciting form of Amy Flanagan and Iona Christian and the viable impact option of Gezelle Allison and injection of Lily-May Catling over the past few rounds.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Celtic Dragons 

Like the Wasps, the Sirens really need a win this weekend and they should achieve that with relative ease over Celtic Dragons. While the Dragons have actually shown some really great intent and hunt for the ball over the past six or so round in particular, the Sirens have a real pep in their step this season after a few seasons towards the bottom end the ladder and will really want to prove that their season has been enough to allow them a chance at finals, especially given their consistency throughout. 

The Sirens have undoubtedly been one one of the most improved teams this season and that is down to their exciting circle combinations. The attack has benefited from a rotating circle with Emma Barrie, Bethan Goodwin and Niamh McCall combining, which will be the real test for the Dragons with Annika Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrell sure to have their work cut out for them. At the other end Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson are capable of turning on the excitement factor for the Dragons, however they will have a really tough time coming up against Towera Vinkhumbo in goalkeeper, especially considering the extra ball-winning ability of Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen out the front, and the drive down court from captain Gia Abernethy.

Team Bath Netball v. Saracens Mavericks 

This could be a do-or-die clash as the Mavericks take on Team Bath, although they do actually come in holding the mantle over Bath as the only side to have defeated the ladder-leading team all season. That being said. Bath certainly did not give the Mavericks the credit they deserved last time they met and are sure to come out firing this time around. The Mavericks have looked switched on over the past few rounds though so do not underestimate the side which is still potentially in with a chance of making finals.

It is safe to say that Serena Guthrie will be the barometer in this matchup with Sasha Corbin and Gabby Marshall having their work cut out for them, although the midcourt duo will be bolstered by a huge defensive line with Jodie Gibson, Razia Quashie and Jo Trip all more than capable of holding their own defensively. At the other end it is safe to say the defensive combination of Imogen Allison, Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown is hard to stop, with each individual a workhorse driving the ball down and combining seamlessly week on week. While the defensive matchup is fairly even, the difference here will likely come down to the goal circle units of both sides with Bath’s tried-and-true combination of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger sure to set the court alight.

London Pulse v. Severn Stars

Expect an intriguing clash between London Pulse and Severn Stars given the shaky season that both teams have had this year. While Stars have had moments of brilliance they have been unable to convert that into consistent four quarter efforts, however it is also safe to say that Pulse have also really missed the mark this year and have struggled to keep up with the teams above them on the ladder. While the Stars are sure to bring the heat, the Pulse are on a roll and will want to ensure that continues as they wrap up their season and try to get a couple more wins on the board.

Both the Stars and Pulse have been showcasing some great upcoming talent with the likes of Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe consistently standing up for the Stars. The experience of Kyra Jones and Liana Leota has consistently stood up while Nia Jones has showcased her plentiful tricks of the trade heading up a young looking back line. In the absence of Halimat Adio, Pulse has had a real chance to showcase the explosiveness of their own defensive line, with Zara Everitt and Funmi Fadoju standing up alongside Lindsay Keable, and even young gun Peace Akinyemi finding her way onto the court last round. The real difference in this match will be the Pulse’s front-end firepower, with Sigi Burger a huge target in the goal circle while Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell work hard out the front to provide an edge. 

Tip: Wasps by 8, Sirens by 15, Bath by 6, Pulse by 3

MONDAY, JUNE 14

London Pulse v. Saracens Mavericks

 Kicking off Monday’s matches is another big match between Pulse and Mavericks as the two sides shape up for their second matches of the round. The Mavericks will be either brimming with confidence or on shaky legs following a huge matchup with Bath, while the Pulse will want to do everything in their power to limit the Mavs of an extra win which could bump them into finals contention. Realistically, the Mavericks need this win here regardless of whether they get the win over Bath to even have a small sniff of making the postseason series.

The Mavericks will want to ensure they use the strength and evasive speed of Britney Clark in the circle in this match with the goal shooter an excellent target and creating a really versatile goal circle alongside Kadeen Corbin and Ine-Mari Venter. While Burger has been a consistent threat for the Pulse, the elevated form of Olivia Tchine has paid off in spades with the goal shooter proving she is more than capable of holding her own in the circle and offering a great impact option. Both sides match up defensively very well with livewires at either end, who are able to spark action with just one aerial leap. It is safe to say Fadoju and Quashie are sure to provide some exciting elements to the big matchup, with plenty of creative flair set to be on show, while Adean Thomas is another excellent feeder who will want to utilise her class and delivery.

Loughborough Lightning v. Manchester Thunder

The final match of the round is a battle between two and three – ultimately one of the most tantalising matches of the entire round. Lightning sit in second with just two losses on the board for the season while Manchester has three losses and sit on a just as comfortable winning streak as the Lightning do. Neither side has a weak spot and both have plenty to prove as they look to showcase just how powerful they are, especially given they could be a finals clash waiting to happen. 

There are a number of hugely important matchups in this match with the midpoint of both sides really coming to the forefront when thinking of where the match will be won and lost. The Thunder boast the likes of Laura Malcolm, Amy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon through the centre, while there is no doubt that they are matched up on very well by Nat Panagarry, Beth Cobden and the likes of Hannah Joseph and Hannah Williams. Defensively, Lightning’s combination of Annabel Roddy, Jas Odeogberin and Sam May will look to make life hard for Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell while the other end expect a huge one-on-one between Mary Cholhok and Kerry Almond as Emma Dovey looks to shut down the easy delivery from Ella Clark. Expect neither side to give an inch throughout a huge contest, with the real proof in the pudding likely coming down to that midcourt and the adaptability of each side.

Tip: Mavericks by 9, Lightning by 2

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography