Category: Wasps Netball

VNSL 2021: Team review – Wasps Netball

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season is officially done and dusted meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Wasps Netball are up next, having finished in their lowest standings in history following some shaky performances and the loss of their captain midway through the season due to pregnancy.

Season form: 10-9-1 (7th)

While it was an overall disappointing season for the Wasps, it was by no means doom and gloom for the star-studded side who were so close to making finals, but were bumped out of the top four in the last couple of rounds. The Wasps started out their season strongly, with just a couple of close losses to Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning putting a dent in their early form before a couple of comprehensive wins brought back a wealth of confidence. But a draw with Sirens saw the side’s confidence falter, while the loss of captain Sophia Candappa to pregnancy only a few weeks later appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, finishing their season with four straight losses. Despite their issues with consistency, there was no doubt the side was hugely powerful to post with Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris one of the most threatening combinations around, while Iona Christian had an outstanding season, stepping up when Candappa left as Amy Flanagan improved her versatility. Defensively, Fran Williams and Josie Huckle were not necessarily flashy but were fairly consistent with hard work and smothering pressure the name of their game, while it was bench depth that really appeared to be the Wasps’ issue with no one to turn to when the going got tough.

Best win: Def. Manchester Thunder 53-44, Round 5/6

With 10 wins to their name in 2021, the Wasps had no shortage of impressive moments. One to go back and re-watch however, is the Round 5/6 defensive masterclass from the Wasps, which saw them hand a nine-goal loss to the Thunder, kicking the side while they were down and proving hard to stop. Whilst the side still had the services of Candappa at the time and struggled to generate the same firepower without their resident wing attack, the Wasps showed just what they were capable of, and a shadow of the side that earned the minor premiership in 2019. The four quarter effort from the Wasps proved to be the real kicker, as Dunn (31 goals) and Harris (22 goals) worked in tandem to pile on the offensive pressure at a high accuracy, while Huckle was impressive piling on five turnovers (five deflections, three intercepts) and Candappa and Flanagan both added two intercepts. Other significant performances included a one-goal loss to Lightning back in Round 1/2, as well as close four and five goal deficits to Bath. 

Standout player: Rachel Dunn

Most Improved: Iona Christian

The efforts of the Wasps may have been fairly even across the board, but the reliability of Dunn proved critical on a number of occasions with the veteran goal shooter silent but deadly in her approach to the game. With a lithe build and great wingspan, Dunn could not be left alone in the goal third with an innate read of the play and ability to score quickly. Like much of the Wasps outfit Dunn does not inject a whole heap of flair into her game, however it is her calm demeanour and ability to pile on goals despite the heavy attention of her opposition that makes her such a threatening goaler with great footwork and aerial work to boot. With just 13 unforced errors to her name across the entire season she was clean with ball in hand, and most importantly she was exceptionally accurate finishing the season with an overall accuracy of 93 per cent. When it comes to Christian, it is the composure with ball in hand that makes her such a threat with the small speedster relentless across the court. Christian really stepped up alongside the likes of Flanagan to improve her endurance and hunt across the full four quarters, adjusting quickly from centre, to wing attack and back again, and all the while wreaked havoc with her speed, aerial leap and hunt on the ball. 

 

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

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

VNSL 2021: Round 17/18 ladder update

FANS always knew that this season of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action was set to be a cracker, but it is safe to say that the competitiveness of the season, and in turn the ladder, has made the last few rounds a real race to the finish. In this new series, each week Draft Central will compare the most recent ladders given how quickly things can change, and delve into how each round of fixturing can change up positions based on the amount of matches each side has played.

ROUND 16 LADDER

  1. Team Bath (16-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (14-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (13-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (10-7-1)
  5. Leeds Rhinos (9-7)
  6. Strathclyde Sirens (8-6-2)
  7. Saracens Mavericks (8-6-1)
  8. London Pulse (3-13)
  9. Severn Stars (3-13)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-14)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-14)

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)

Looking at this week’s ladder, things do not seem too different with only the win counts changing and no excessive movement as we have seen creeping in over the past few rounds. But one thing this round’s ladder update does boast, is another look in at the race for the final spot in the top four, after Manchester Thunder officially sewed up the third spot with two hefty wins on the weekend.

Unsurprisingly, it is still Team Bath sitting atop the ladder, as they have for majority of the season. With two matches remaining – against Saracens Mavericks and Loughborough Lightning, respectively, it should be an interesting few weeks with the Mavs coming into their Round 19 clash as the only team to claim a win over the blue and gold side thus far. The Lightning are realistically one of the only other sides capable of doing so and will look to test Bath thoroughly in a blockbuster final match to finish off the home and away season, which could ultimately be a grand final preview.

Lightning are in a very similar position to Bath, with a Round 19 matchup waiting against Manchester Thunder, who will be looking to gain ground and slip into second, which could then put more pressure on the Lightning side heading into the final round. For Manchester, a final round matchup with Strathclyde Sirens could prove interesting, with the Scotland-based side requiring a win here but potentially out of the running for a top four position in the hours following their encounter.

The race for the top four continues, with Wasps’ loss to Mavericks on the weekend proving crucial for both sides – meaning Wasps need a win this week given it is their final match of the home and away season, and Mavericks need to ensure they claim points in all three of their remaining games to challenge the Rhinos for the final spot. While the Wasps’ final match should be a fairly comprehensive victory taking on Surrey Storm, their opposition put out two four-quarter performances over the weekend and will certainly look to test the Wasps.

Rhinos face the bye this week, so will know following Round 19 whether they are capable of swinging into the final position on the ladder, with two – fairly simple – matchups facing them in the final round and plenty to be excited for. Given the Rhinos have the most favourable draw remaining, they are the only side that could realistically nab the fourth spot in finals from the Wasps, with both Sirens and Mavericks requiring a clean sweep of wins to finish the season, and only really guaranteed one from two (Sirens) and two from three (Mavericks) respectively.

RACE TO TOP FOUR CONTENTION:

WASPS NETBALL: 4th | Played 19

W 10 | L 9 | D 1

Round 19: Surrey Storm
Round 20: BYE

STRATHCLYDE SIRENS: 6th | Played 18

W 9 | L 7 | D 2

Round 19: Celtic Dragons
Round 20: Manchester Thunder

LEEDS RHINOS: 5th | Played 18

W 10 | L 8 | D 0

Round 19: BYE
Round 20: London Pulse, Celtic Dragons

SARACENS MAVERICKS: 7th | Played 17

W 9 | L 7 | D 1

Round 19: Team Bath, London Pulse
Round 20: Surrey Storm

The bottom end of the ladder has not changed too much for the majority of the season, with London Pulse claiming a fourth win over the weekend to retain eighth position on the ladder, while Severn Stars (three wins), Surrey Storm (two) and Celtic Dragons (one) all looking unlikely to claim an upset to finish the season, although they will look to test one another in the coming rounds with Pulse and Stars facing off this weekend, before Dragons and Stars go head-to-head in the final round.

ROUND 16 COVERAGE

Sunday wrap // Monday wrap

ROUND 17/18 COVERAGE

Friday/Saturday wrap // Sunday/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

 

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 17/18 – Sunday/Monday wrap

A HUGE end to the final double round of Vitality Netball Superleague action saw five matches play out across Sunday and Monday, with Manchester Thunder officially earning its entry to the finals series and both Leeds Rhinos and Saracens Mavericks winning critical matches heading into the final rounds.

Loughborough Lightning (59) defeated Leeds Rhinos (51)

Player of the match: Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning)

It took a huge third term for the Lightning to overcome the rampaging Rhinos in a huge top five clash, with the second ranked Lightning eventually claiming an eight-goal victory. But it was a testament to the Rhinos for remaining in the contest for majority of the clash, sitting 26-apiece at half-time but unable to rally in the final quarter to claim the comeback win. The Lightning’s defence was tight forcing more missed attempts than usual from the typically accurate Rhinos, in turn forcing errors down the court in a classy finish.

Player of the Match Mary Cholhok was critical for the Lightning, piling on 50 goals and rendering Tuaine Keenan out of the contest with the goal keeper unable to keep the Ugandan away from the post. Both Suzie Liverseidge and Ella Clark earned court time out in goal attack and played a great assisting role, feeding with ease to Cholhok as Hannah Joseph had a similarly critical role in wing attack. Fi Toner was influential marking Joseph and keeping her away from circle edge, although a caution to Vicki Oyesola did the side no favours with the goal defence on fire but not boasting her usual cleanliness. The match saw another impressive performance from Australian Donnell Wallam who piled on 48 goals, but missed eight of her attempts and created four unforced errors as Rhea Dixon struggled to impact credit to the work ethic of Jas Odeogberin. Roses talents Nat Panagarry and Jade Clarke forged a huge battle through the midcourt, at times evening the other out, while Sam May had a game to remember with five turnovers from her eight deflections.

Saracens Mavericks (35) defeated by Strathclyde Sirens (41)

Player of the match: Beth Dix (Strathclyde Sirens)

A huge clash was always expected between the Mavericks and Sirens, with both sides vying for an elusive top four spot and a draw in the bank from their last encounter. A highly defensive first quarter was what kept the Sirens ahead throughout the contest, limiting the Mavs to just six goals in the opening term before they bit back in the second, trailing 16-19 at the main change. This time it was the Sirens who got bragging rights though, controlling the second half to cement the 41-35 victory and creating turnovers aplenty – and most importantly capitalising off them – to claim a crucial victory in the scheme of finals.

It was the Sirens’ 19-9 ration for turnovers, with six of the seven starters putting their defensive cap on to earn at least one to their name. Defensively, it was another impressive effort with Towera Vinkhumbo‘s five intercepts contributing to her eight turnovers as Emily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen continued their excellent form to combine for seven turnovers and piling on the pressure against Kadeen CorbinChloe Essam, Britney Clarke and Georgia Lees out the front. The return of Razia Quashie to the starting seven was crucial and the goal keeper impressed in combination with Jodie Gibson, forcing a couple of missed attempts from Niamh McCall and Emma Barrie, although the two goalers appeared to have sticky fingers relinquishing just one unforced error apiece. The difference was Sirens’ Beth Dix who was excellent on the assist, finding circle edge with ease to continually propel ball into the circle and earn Player of the Match for her efforts.

Manchester Thunder (57) defeated Surrey Storm (41)

Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

It was one of the Storm’s better performances for the season in their 16-goal loss to Manchester, but a huge loss nonetheless as the Thunder ran away with victory credit to a consistent four quarter performance to officially lock down their spot in the finals. It was a well deserved victory the way of the Thunder though, who were clinical throughout only registering five unforced errors throughout the contest, but will be concerned at their huge penalty count registering 50 to the Storm’s 22, with the away side to their credit staying in the contest as much as possible.

It was the Joyce Mvula show out the front for the Thunder, with the goal shooter piling on the offensive pressure with 44 goals from 48 attempts credit to her ability to position to advantage of her feeders in Caroline O’Hanlon, Ellie Cardwell (11 from 13) and Amy Carter. That did not mean it was not a tight contest between Mvula and Alima Priest though, with the Storm goal keeper only relinquishing nine penalties throughout the full four quarters, registering five turnovers from her three rebounds and two intercepts, using her excellent reach and cleanliness to have an impact time and time again. Karyn Bailey was consistent as ever piling on 33 goals from 35 attempts, as both Frankie Wells and Emma Magee had their turn in goal attack but were tested by the ever-impressive backend duo of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey, who combined for eight turnovers, as Carter impressed with three intercepts.

Leeds Rhinos (49) defeated Surrey Storm (39)

Player of the match: Emily Hollingworth (Leeds Rhinos)

This matchup between Rhinos and Storm was another tight clash from the get-go, with both sides coming in off the back of a loss and carrying plenty of energy and intensity from the starting whistle. But it was the classy Rhinos that pressured their way through the contest to register a 10-goal victory, staying ahead at every turn but in particular putting on the accelerator in the second and never turning back. Defensively, the Rhinos were on fire and retained their hunt for the ball throughout the entire encounter, while the Storm put on another excellent performance showcasing just what they’re capable of, despite sitting at the bottom end of the ladder.

It was another comprehensive effort from Wallam, with the goal shooter finding form from the get-go and piling on the offensive pressure as Felisitus Kwangwa brought plenty of energy to the back-end as Clarke and Mikki Austin created an exciting midcourt battle in transition. Oyesola and Keenan created a huge battle at the other end with Bailey and Well under a wealth of pressure from the get-go, while a game-changing effort from Emily Hollingworth made all the difference for the Rhinos with Toner sitting out, well and truly proving how capable she is picking up the wing defence bib and getting on with it. Hollingworth registered four intercepts, three turnovers and two deflections in an excellent effort out the front, having a day out against the ever-reliable Yasmin Parsons, who by no means had a shaky game, and showcasing the depth of talent across the competition.

Saracens Mavericks (41) defeated Wasps Netball (37)

Player of the match: Gabby Marshall (Saracens Mavericks)

It was the Mavericks who claimed the must-win encounter to finish the blockbuster round of action, upsetting the Wasps who required a victory here to ensure their entry to finals contention. It was a come from behind effort from the Mavericks who trailed at every change, and four at three quarter time, but forged ahead in a massive 13-5 final quarter effort to put a damper on the Wasps’ spirits to claim the four-goal victory. It was a historic maiden win over the Wasps, with a full court effort allowing the side to remain in the hunt for the finals.

The Mavericks goal circle continues to rotate, with Corbin and Clarke starting and finishing in goal attack and goal shooter respectively, retaining control throughout the contest. Despite a wealth of pressure applied by the likes of Fran Williams and Josie Huckle, the Mavs attack line worked in overdrive to make use of turnovers effectively and keep ahead of the Wasps’ movement. That being said, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris starred out the front for their own side, continuously putting goals up and boasting plenty of experience to keep doing so, testing Gibson, Quashie and Jo Trip for speed time and again. Gabby Marshall was a revelation, starting in wing defence before standing up even better in centre, and was a real catalyst in the dying stages of the match alongside Sasha Corbin, creating something out of nothing to produce turnovers aplenty to steal the victory.

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

VNSL 2021: Round 17/18 preview – Crowds return as last double round arrives

CROWDS return to the Vitality Netball Superleague for the first time this season in a blockbuster double round of action, as the ladder continues to heat up with just one spot within the top four still up for grabs. There is no doubt plenty to play for this round, with home fans expected in droves and hoping to sway the results their way. With 10 matches playing out across the final double round of netball for the season, expect plenty of excitement across the court.

FRIDAY, MAY 28

Celtic Dragons v. London Pulse

An intriguing battle with wage between the Dragons and Pulse with both sides sitting at the bottom end of the ladder but showing some promising signs towards the latter stages of the season. Whilst the Dragons have only won one match this season, they have a real chance here against the Pulse who certainly have not hit the heights expected of them this year, especially in front of a home crowd. That being said, the Pulse still boast some hugely influential players who can turn the tides of a match with ease, and should still have the class to get their fourth win on the board for the season this week.

For the Dragons, the attacking combination of Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson has really stood up in recent weeks, not only with their willingness to go to post, but also convert from range. That being said, Pulse’s defensive unit has not taken a backwards step since losing Halimat Adio and have tightened up immensely in her absence, as Funmi Fadoju continues to star rotating through wing defence and goal defence, aided by Lindsay Keable and Zara Everitt and looking to really test the Dragons front-end. Expect an intriguing contest at the opposite end as Annika Lee-Jones takes on the Pulse front-line, with Olivia Tchine showcasing some great form in Sigi Burger‘s absence, while both Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell have been playing a significant role out the front.

Severn Stars v. Team Bath

Team Bath has not skipped a beat this season, and this round should be no different as they take on the Stars. While the Stars have had patches of form and boast some exciting players, Bath has no shortage of class or depth and most importantly, has remained consistent throughout the entire season. Whilst Bath has already more than secured its finals position, the side will want to win the remainder of its matches as Lightning is gaining on them. Stars will want to put out a consistent four quarter effort here to get in the head of Bath.

While there are some intriguing battles across the court, one to watch is New Zealand veteran Liana Leota taking on Bath livewire Imogen Allison, with both players known for not giving an inch. Leota has been finding Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe inside the circle with ease, although the two goalers will have their work cut out for them against Roses duo Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown. The real test for the Stars will be in stopping the tried and true combination of Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, with the two goalers rarely stopped to post, especially given the speed in transition down court from Serena Guthrie which does not allow defensive units to set up. The Stars have struggled with finding a consistent duo to man the goal circle each round, instead relying on a rolling selection to catch attackers off guard.

Tip: Pulse by 9, Bath by 17

SATURDAY, MAY 29

Loughborough Lightning v. Celtic Dragons

The Dragons have a much bigger test ahead of them when they face the Lightning, who are on the hunt for every single win they can get as they chase down Team Bath in top spot. In a battle between second and last on the table, this matchup looms as a fairly simple task for the Lightning, and while Dragons have shown some real intent and improved form, it is unlikely they will be able to get the chocolates here with so little winning experience in comparison.

Lightning’s front-end has fired on all cylinders all season, and is unlikely to let up any time soon with the like of Mary Cholhok continuing to star out the front. Ella Clark continues to play a significant assisting role, as does Suzie Liverseidge, while the Dragons’ midcourt will really have to kick up a gear in this encounter given the impact Beth CobdenNat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph can have. It will be up to Laura RudlandShona O’Dwyer and Clare Jones to make it hard for the Lightning mids to find circle edge, and take off some of the pressure off Lee-Jones and Abigail Tyrell. Defensively, Lightning’s Alice Harvey, Sam May and Jas Odeogberin will look to make life hard for Clinton and Robinson and render the duo inaccurate.

Manchester Thunder v. Severn Stars

Expect Thunder to leave no stone unturned in this matchup, as they look to keep pressing their agenda within the top four, while the Stars have laboured away toward the bottom end of the ladder for majority of the season. They are just one win behind Lightning and will be doing everything in their power to take the Lightning out of second on the ladder, and this matchup with the Stars should go a long way for the Thunder in their chances of doing just that.

Thunder have star players punctuating each third of the court, with the combination between Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula one of the most influential in the competition, and certainly piling a heap of pressure onto the defensive unit of the Stars, with Lucy HerdmanAdi BolakoroMalysha Kelly and Iman Thomas all viable options to slot in the back-end. While all four players provide a different element to the defensive unit, Cardwell and Mvula are highly versatile players who flourish under pressure, so will need to be stopped from the get-go if the Stars are of any chance  of giving Thunder a scare. Stars’ returnee Kyra Jones will look to have an impact if required, while Jane Taylor is a viable option to slot into goal attack if the likes of Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey can get inside the head of Reed and Rowe.

Strathclyde Sirens v. Team Bath

Expect another huge matchup here, not only in terms of talent but also in terms of form and ladder positioning. While Bath have certainly been one of the benchmark sides in the competition this season, the Sirens are on the verge of their first ever VNSL finals foray and will not go down without a fight. The Sirens realistically need to win all four of their remaining matches to make it there, and while it will be hard, they are not out of the race yet. That being said, Bath have been in scintillating form and will not want to relent to the up and coming Sirens.

Bath’s defensive approach to the game will be their weapon in this matchup, as the back unit of Guscoth, Usoro-Brown and Allison – and to an extent Guthrie and Tash Pavelin – work to keep the likes of Emma BarrieNiamh McCall and Bethan Goodwin quiet to post. All three goalers have proven more than capable of piling on offensive pressure from range, while Gia Abernethy and Beth Dix‘s precise passes into the circle have been crucial. At the other end, the Sirens’ backend in Towera VinkhumboEmily Nicholl and Taylor Cullen will look to really shut down the efficient movement of Borger and Drakeford-Lewis, as well as the ability for the likes of Rachel or Jess Shaw to find circle edge.

Tip: Lightning by 18, Thunder by 16, Bath by 6

SUNDAY, MAY 30

Loughborough Lightning v. Leeds Rhinos

This matchup is a crucial one for both Lightning and Rhinos, with the hosts still on the hunt for top spot, though Rhinos have had an excellent second half to the season and are more than capable of stealing the last position in the final four. Last time these sides met the Rhinos still had significant injuries plaguing them, with that match nowhere near an indicator of the blockbuster this matchup should be. While Lightning will have the home crowd behind them and the consistency to take out this one, the Rhinos are charging for a spot in the finals and will not go down easy.

Cholhok will look to be her usual impactful self for the Lightning, although she should be well attended to by the likes of Rhinos defenders Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola who are unafraid of a bit of physicality, so will look to really get in Cholhok’s head. Expect star-studded matchups across the court with Jade Clarke expected to go head-to-head with Panagarry, while Brie Grierson has been in great form out the front for Rhinos and takes on Cobden in a huge test. The real test for Lightning will be limiting the huge impact of Donnell Wallam at the post, with no prior experience against the Australian goal shooter. Whilst the defensive unit has had plenty of time to practice on Cholhok, Wallam has a very different take on the position and in turn provides a difficult task, especially if Rhea Dixon is firing out in goal attack.

Saracens Mavericks v. Strathclyde Sirens

Expect a hard fought battle between the Mavericks and Sirens, as they go head to head in what could be a do-or-die battle when it comes to finals chances. Sitting in seventh and sixth heading into this round, there is plenty on the line with their last encounter finishing in a draw showcasing just how tight the matchup should be this time around. Both sides have everything to lose and plenty of gamechangers across the court even despite a couple of injuries that could throw a spanner in the works, making for a huge battle and what could be one of the matches of the round.

For the Mavericks, Jodie Gibson has really stepped up over the last few rounds, especially in the absence of Razia Quashie. Her combination with Stephanie Collard and Jo Trip continues to test opposition sides, something that will be critical when they face Barrie and McCall at the post, with McCall in particular very adept from range. Gibson’s newfound versatility speaks a lot for the form of the team though, with many players able to adjust accordingly, as Gabby MarshallGeorgia Lees and Sasha Corbin look to command the midcourt, lining up fairly well against Abernethy, Dix and Cullen. Expect the real test for the Mavericks to be in their attack, with the circle not quite gelling consistently and seeing regular changes across Ine-Mari VenterBritney Clarke and Kadeen Corbin, which could let in chances for Vinkhumbo to fly for intercepts amongst the confusion.

Manchester Thunder v. Surrey Storm

Whilst this match should go the way of the Manchester Thunder, it could also bump them into second on the ladder dependant on the Lightning versus Rhinos matchup earlier in the day, making this contest all the more important. In comparison, the Storm have struggled to string consecutive performances together this season and will have their work cut out for them this round with Thunder’s class and composure with ball in hand presenting a real test for the 10th ranked side.

The Storm will really look to their experienced heads in this matchup, with Karyn Bailey and Mikki Austin required to step up across the court. They will also hope to have another Australian in Leah Middleton back to add another layer to their defence, with Thunder’s combination of Mvula and Cardwell sure to cause a heap of issues down back for the Storm. Alima Priest has stepped up in recent rounds, as did Felisitus Kwangwa in Round 16 with Middleton unavailable, while Niamh Cooper will want to really stand up against the highly experienced Caroline O’Hanlon, who has pushed forward with Amy Carter standing strong in centre and Laura Malcolm wreaking havoc from wing defence, and Rebekah Airey also a viable option rotating between wing and goal defence. What makes the midcourt unit so influential is their ability to change up roles and still provide an impact, making this section of the court the real test for the Storm.

Tip: Lightning by 1, Sirens by 3, Thunder by 10

MONDAY, MAY 31

Leeds Rhinos v. Surrey Storm

The Rhinos will look to really cement their finals chances in this matchup with the Storm, with the two sides only separated by five positions on the ladder but realistically on opposite ends in terms of form. Rhinos went through a rough patch but have become a really threatening side with their ability to score quickly and efficiently, whilst the Storm are also a solid attacking side, but have failed to hold up defensively to really test offensive-minded sides. Expect the Rhinos to come away with this one fairly convincingly, although the Storm will be hoping to test them across the court.

Rhinos will want to back up with another win here, especially against the Storm who have struggled to put consistent performances together. Both sides boast tall-timbered Australians to post as well as players with plenty of flair. Expect Dixon and Wallam to be up to their usual tricks out the front, while Sienna Rushton has proved to be more than capable of stepping up where required. No doubt Priest will look to continue her exciting run of form down back, pairing well with both Kwangwa and Middleton to find plenty of turnover ball. Emily Hollingworth will likely be tasked with shutting down the likes of Yasmin Parsons or Austin, while Bailey will command attention at the other end of the court and looks to hold strong in goal shooter for the Storm, able to combine well with any rotation of Emma Magee or Frankie Wells, with both goal attacks able to slot in fairly easily.

Saracens Mavericks v. Wasps Netball

This is the Wasps penultimate match for the season and one of their last chances to make a stand for their position on the ladder, meaning this is ultimately another do-or-die encounter with the Mavs realistically needing a win here too to remain in the hunt. The two sides have already played out a close-fought and low-scoring battle this season proving just how strong they both are defensively, and they match up very well across the court. the Mavs will be hoping they can go on a run here to finish off, while Wasps will hope they can make use of the Mavericks’ fatigue coming in off the back of another game.

The Wasps have really missed the leadership of Sophia Candappa out the front, however the form of Iona Christian is paying off in spades with the midcourter pushing forward a lot more and looking to really challenge Marshall with the duo fairly well matched for speed and intensity. Meanwhile, Amy Flanagan and Lily-May Catling also line up fairly well against the Mavs, although the challenge will be whether their transitional play down court converts to goals with Katie HarrisRachel Dunn and Gezelle Allison sure to be well held by the versatile Mavericks defensive unit. At the other end, Josie Huckle and Fran Williams will look to really bring the heat against the Mavericks’ attack, with Catling’s reach outside the circle sure to test the Mavs’ ability to finding easy avenues to goal.

Tip: Rhinos by 15, Wasps by 3

Picture credit: Morgan Harlow

VNSL 2021: Round 16 ladder update

A MONUMENTAL round of Vitality Netball Superleague action was had over the weekend, with Round 16 complete and the final stretch of the season in sight. A couple of sides are gaining on the top four whilst two franchises have officially booked their finals berths, creating plenty of intrigue with just a few more rounds to go and the final double round for the season coming in hot next week. In this new series, each week Draft Central will compare the most recent ladders given how quickly things can change, and delve into how each round of fixturing can change up positions based on the amount of matches each side has played.

ROUND 15 LADDER

  1. Team Bath (14-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (13-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (11-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (10-5-1)
  5. Saracens Mavericks (8-5-1)
  6. Leeds Rhinos (8-7)
  7. Strathclyde Sirens (7-6-2)
  8. London Pulse (3-12)
  9. Severn Stars (3-12)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-13)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-14)

ROUND 15 LADDER

  1. Team Bath (16-1)
  2. Loughborough Lightning (14-2)
  3. Manchester Thunder (13-3)
  4. Wasps Netball (10-7-1)
  5. Leeds Rhinos (9-7)
  6. Strathclyde Sirens (8-6-2)
  7. Saracens Mavericks (8-6-1)
  8. London Pulse (3-13)
  9. Severn Stars (3-13)
  10. Surrey Storm (2-14)
  11. Celtic Dragons (1-14)

It was the Celtic Dragons that had a much-deserved week off during Round 16, seeing the top sides battle it out as the top half of the ladder continues to heat up. Whilst ladder leaders Team Bath, Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder all predictably continued their winning form, the latter two certainly did not have it easy in a tough round of VNSL action. That being said, Bath and Lightning have officially secured their respective post-season finals berths with another win apiece, while Thunder is within touching distance give it is two and a half wins ahead of Wasps in fourth. The Wasps frankly had a shocking round of action, falling at the hands of both Strathclyde Sirens and Thunder, effectively allowing the Sirens a sniff at a finals chance with eight wins on the board. The Sirens sit just half a win behind the Leeds Rhinos, who could well be in for a chance at finals in their maiden season, with both sides having leaped the Saracens Mavericks this round to really push for that top four position and test the Wasps.

But all that is not to say the Mavericks are out of the race, with their shaky form this round coming against the Thunder, and a whopping five games in the bank heading into the last three weekends of home-and-away season action. Speaking of remaining matches, this is where the intrigue comes in with different amounts of matches played; Wasps currently sit in fourth, but have just two matches remaining for the season so realistically need to claim both by a significant margin to guarantee a spot in the top four. Both Rhinos and Sirens have four remaining, with the Sirens’ final four arguably the tougher draw of the two, whilst Mavericks’ five includes Wasps and Sirens so could well spoil the party for both sides and pave the way for the Rhinos. Both Rhinos and Mavs will face the Lightning, who have been in excellent form, while only Sirens are set to play Bath in the remaining rounds, though all four sides should realistically get an easy win on the board apiece with either Surrey Storm or Celtic Dragons ahead – or both, if its the Rhinos in question, with a matchup against London Pulse also on the cards.

RACE TO TOP FOUR CONTENTION:

WASPS NETBALL: 4th | Played 18

W 10 | L 7 | D 1

Round 17/18: Saracens Mavericks
Round 19: Surrey Storm
Round 20: BYE

STRATHCLYDE SIRENS: 6th | Played 16

W 8 | L 6 | D 2

Round 17/18: Team Bath, Saracens Mavericks
Round 19: Celtic Dragons
Round 20: Manchester Thunder

LEEDS RHINOS: 5th | Played 16

W 9 | L 8 | D 0

Round 17/18: Loughborough Lightning, Surrey Storm
Round 19: BYE
Round 20: London Pulse, Celtic Dragons

SARACENS MAVERICKS: 7th | Played 15

W 8 | L 6 | D 1

Round 17/18: Strathclyde Sirens, Wasps Netball
Round 19: Team Bath, London Pulse
Round 20: Surrey Storm

With all that being said, it is safe to say the remaining three rounds will be chock full of action as all four sides contend for what is realistically just one finals position, given Thunder have four matches left for the season and should win two of them fairly comfortably to secure third.

The remaining four positions on the ladder go to London Pulse, Severn Stars, Surrey Storm and Celtic Dragons, with none of the four sides getting wins on the board during Round 16 and unlikely to really challenge for a mid-table position given their respective seasons. That being said, London Pulse have been creating some exciting efforts over the past few rounds and Dragons have had some improved form, so all four teams could potentially spoil the party for some of the higher teams with finals hopes.

Looking to the double round, and all 11 teams will have an extra week to prepare for the final stretch with this weekend off. There are plenty of enticing contests to look forward to on the weekend of May 29th, namely a blockbuster matchup between Lightning and Rhinos, as well as Mavericks’ two matches against Sirens and Wasps, which are effectively do-or-die encounters for all three teams. Sirens will also test themselves against Bath, while Pulse and Dragons will shape up for a bottom-end match that could see plenty of exciting young talent on show and guarantee a side another win.

ROUND 15 COVERAGE

Sunday wrap // Monday wrap

ROUND 16 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

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography