Tag: ellie cardwell

Netball fantasy teams: VNSL Roses v. VNSL International All Stars

FOLLOWING the huge success of the thrilling Diamonds vs All Stars Bushfire Relief game in March, it got us thinking about another hypothetical exhibition match, with international Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) players facing up to the top England Roses squad members who are currently plying their trade in the UK.

VNSL Roses:

GK: Razia Quashie (Saracens Mavericks)
GD: Fran Williams (Wasps Netball)
WD: Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder)
C: Jade Clarke (Wasps Netball)
WA: Gabby Marshall (Saracens Mavericks)
GA: Ellie Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
GS: George Fisher (Saracens Mavericks)

BENCH: Sophie Drakeford-Lewis (Team Bath), Nat Panagarry (Loughborough Lightning), Jodie Gibson (Saracens Mavericks)

This Roses fantasy squad has a huge amount of experience and depth across all areas of the court. In the 2020 Netball Nations Cup, we saw the emergence of a new England shooting partnership between Ellie Cardwell and George Fisher – nicknamed “Fishwell”. Whilst Cardwell is usually seen wearing the goal shooter bib, in goal attack she opened up the shooting circle nicely for Fisher and can sink a sweet long bomb herself. This partnership would certainly give any defensive lineup a lot of headaches, especially given Fisher’s clever footwork and shooting accuracy. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis also plays more of the traditional goal attack role with her speed and strong drives and could provide another look for the shooting end. Whilst Drakeford-Lewis is at the beginning of her international career, she would be well supported in this lineup. She is likely to become a key option for England in the future – especially given she can also move into wing attack if needed, much like a versatile Nat Haythornthwaite or Kiera Austin.

In the midcourt, a balance of experience and youth creates this formidable unit. Youngster Gabby Marshall has great vision at wing attack and can keep any wing defence busy so they don’t go looking for trouble. Marshall is backed up by the veteran Jade Clarke who can keep a cool head in the middle and dictate play with ease. Tenacious tagger Laura Malcolm completes this midcourt lineup. Though she spent some time away from the England setup, her recent performances in the red dress have been outstanding. Nat Panagarry proved herself capable at the Netball World Cup 2019, showing that she is a confident team-player and can have an impact when needed. She has a good read of the game and her infectious energy can really lift a team.

The defensive end is where this team gets exciting. Whilst you have the reliable and gutsy Fran Williams out the front causing havoc, you also have one of the most threatening defenders coming up the England ranks in Razia Quashie at the back. Whilst Quashie is not the tallest defender in the game, she clearly has the athletic ability and pure strength to be a game-changer. With this defensive end, the difficulty may be the partnerships. As we saw in the Bushfire Relief game, putting two defending superstars out on court together doesn’t always mean they gel easily. I would love to see this combination out on court for England more as Quashie and Williams have such complementary styles of play. Given time together they could become a lethal partnership. Jodie Gibson is another versatile and experienced defender, providing a sparky and reliable option at the back should the defensive end need to change tactics.

VNSL International All Stars:

GK: Zanele Vimbela (Sirens, SA)
GD: Latanya Wilson (Dragons, JAM)
WD: Nia Jones (Stars, WAL)
C: Caroline O’Hanlon (Thunder, NI)
WA: Liana Leota (Stars, NZ)
GA: Alexia Baker (Wasps, AUS)
GS: Sigi Burger (Pulse, SA)

BENCH: Kim Commane (Bath, AUS), Adean Thomas (Pulse, JAM), Jo Trip (Mavericks, NZ)

This International All Stars side is undoubtedly stacked with talent. At the shooting end, it’s hard to ignore the threat of Sigi Burger under the post, given her 98% shooting average after three rounds of the 2020 VNSL Season. New to the VNSL, Alexia Baker is no stranger to high-quality netball, having been a Queensland Firebirds training partner. She knows how to feed a holding shooter like Burger and can also provide a solid option to goal. Kim Commane had an outstanding start to the 2020 season, ending up in the top five goal scorers, and she provides another different style of play to keep the defenders guessing. While this shooting end has very few international caps between them, these players have demonstrated their skills domestically and wouldn’t shy away from an opportunity on a bigger stage.

Liana Leota is a typical wing attack, extremely crafty and with a wealth of tools in her arsenal to feed the goal circle effectively. In the centre position, Caroline O’Hanlon is so impressive, not only due to her insane fitness but also her defensive pressure and a cool head. Leota and O’Hanlon combined effectively to secure Manchester Thunder’s Grand Final win last season, and could easily replicate this successful chemistry. Supported by Nia Jones in wing defence, the position where she is arguably her strongest, this midcourt unit would have no issues with transition play and swift goal conversion. Adean Thomas has also demonstrated her flair and skill, both at the VNSL and for Jamaica. Thomas is unpredictable, exciting and would be a great impact player in this lineup.

In the defensive circle, Latanya Wilson has been compared to a young Shamera Sterling and this glowing comparison is not undue. Wilson has fantastic aerial ability and was sitting on 14 intercepts when the VNSL was cancelled. This was just one behind the leader in Quashie, and Wilson racked up this impressive tally despite the fact she was suspended for one game due to dangerous play. Whilst discipline is an area to improve on, her surprising gameplay and rangy limbs would be a valuable asset in goal defence for the All Stars. Teaming up with Wilson is South African, Zanele Vimbela. Vimbela has proven her worth internationally and is surely next in line to the goal keeper bib for South Africa after Phumza Maweni. She is a fearless defender who attacks the ball and provides consistent pressure to unnerve the opposition feeders. Able to cover both positions effectively is Mavericks stalwart Jo Trip. Her height and experience mean she can make a difference in close games and would be a valuable addition to the All Stars.

Who would win?

The International All Stars have a tremendous amount of talent and a really diverse range of playing styles. However, the Roses consistency and familiarity with each other would most likely mean they would take the win. The battle would be lost and won in the midcourt, as the two sides are fairly evenly matched at both ends – with the Roses’ shooting circle slightly superior to the All Stars’. This would be a great spectacle of VNSL talent, but it’s likely the Roses would be able to edge out the All Stars.

What if… the next England International window clashed with the VNSL?

WITH ongoing uncertainty around the timing of future international fixtures for the Roses, Draft Central considers what would happen if England matches overlapped with the upcoming 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season. Which teams would find they had key players missing from their starting lineups, and which youngsters could take the opportunity to show what they are made of? The below is purely opinion-based, with a potential England squad based on recent selections. Unsurprisingly, the top five teams from last year would be the most heavily impacted if their Roses were called away on International duty.

Loughborough Lightning struggled when gutsy midcourter, captain and Vitality Rose Nat Panagarry was injured during the first game of the 2020 season. She provides a ton of experience to an otherwise fairly junior Lightning lineup. This lack of leadership on court, unfortunately, showed in their 14 goal loss to Team Bath at the season opener, and a narrow loss to Manchester Thunder two rounds later. The likes of Jess Shaw and Hannah Williams were required to step up to replace their captain and provide a link through court. Whilst they demonstrated plenty of zip and confidence in attack, Loughborough still missed the dogged defence of Panagarry during these games and would likely suffer as a result if she were to be absent again in the future.

Next, we take a look at reigning champions Manchester ThunderEllie Cardwell and Laura Malcolm both proved they deserve court time in the red dress during the 2020 Netball Nations Cup and would be high on the list for England selection. Luckily for Thunder, they have a fantastic goal shooter in Malawi international Joyce Mvula, who maintained 87 per cent accuracy in the opening rounds of the 2020 season. Thunder would certainly miss Cardwell’s clever footwork and ability to shoot from range, however Mvula provides a strong and reliable option. Manchester also has a tenacious midcourter in Amy Carter, who is capable of switching between centre and wing defence with ease. She provides a huge amount of energy and defensive pressure through court and could easily slide into the gap left by Malcolm. In the next few years, we will surely see this exciting youngster earn a starting spot in the Roses, and fingers crossed in Season 2021 she will benefit from further court time.

One team that would be heavily impacted by a scheduling clash is the talent stacked Saracens Mavericks. They are peppered with Roses talent across all three areas of the court, from George Fisher to Gabby Marshall, not to mention Jodie Gibson and Razia Quashie. Losing a holding shooter of the calibre of Fisher, even for one match, would heap pressure on someone like Kadeen Corbin to provide a clear option in the goal circle. In the midcourt, Marshall is an engine and provides support to Sasha Corbin and Georgia Lees, often coming on as an impact player. Although we haven’t seen Gibson on court for Mavericks yet due to injury, she will no doubt become a starting defender next season. Losing gold medal winner Gibson to England duties, combined with the absence of Quashie, would be a huge loss for Mavs. Quashie collected the highest tally of intercepts in the first three rounds and without her Jo Trip would have to bear a heavier defensive load than she is used to.

In contrast, Team Bath has a wealth of depth and experience across the squad. Despite starting the 2020 season without Serena Guthrie or Eboni Usuro-Brown the youngsters in this side have already proved they can step up when their big names are away. Co-captains Summer Artman and Kim Commane are rock solid, supported by versatile Fi Toner and exciting South African international Khanyisa Chawane. Not to mention Imogen Allison who really rose to the challenge in the first three games of 2020 and proved she has a bright future ahead. Artman and Allison have cemented themselves as future Roses, and after a fantastic start to 2020 they will be looking forward to plenty of court time next season.

Wasps Netball is another team that benefits from an experienced lineup. Although in this scenario they would most likely be without Fran Williams (who ranks in the top five for intercepts and deflections), the likes of Hannah Knights and Josie Huckle both have an excellent read of the game and the athleticism to back it up. The main issue would be if Wasps were without England veterans Jade Clarke and Rachel Dunn. Dunn has won more domestic titles than Geva Mentor and Clarke has over 170 caps for England. Wasps would struggle without these two game changers and whilst Katie Harris and Amy Flanagan have plenty of Superleague experience between them, it is likely the team would still miss the impact of the seasoned duo of Clarke and Dunn.

Celtic DragonsLondon PulseSevern StarsStrathclyde Sirens and Surrey Storm don’t currently have players in their squad who would be likely to be called up for England selection. However, the World Youth Cup is scheduled for June 2021. If all squads stay the same, Pulse would be missing several key bench players including Kira RothwellFunmi Fadoju and Olivia Tchine. This will certainly be something for Superleague coaches to consider when choosing how to balance their squads for next season.

Compare the Pair: Rachel Dunn and Eleanor Cardwell

THE next instalment in the Draft Central Compare the Pair series will aim to analyse two fan favourites from across the netball world, with the next showcasing England Roses goal shooters, Rachel Dunn and Ellie Cardwell.

With so many talented goalers at the Roses’ disposal, two of the more under-recognised goalers are Dunn and Cardwell who have been consistent to a tee but not necessarily received the game time in recent years. While the pair have entirely different play styles – Cardwell typically playing a holding role while Dunn takes a moving circle approach – they can both have that immediate impact with a shared ability to turn and shoot with ease. Both are crucial goalers for their respective teams in the Vitality Netball Superleague, with Cardwell’s Manchester Thunder reigning supreme over Dunn’s Wasps Netball in the 2019 grand final.

A veteran of the Roses, 37-year-old Dunn debuted in 2004 and despite only being part of the Roses camp part-time, she is one of those players who can make a big difference in a short amount of time with her silky movement and clean hands. Despite her smaller frame, Dunn can line up against the best of them, able to use her quick footwork to evade her defenders and edge closer to the goals. Dunn was a key part of the Roses outfit which defeated Australia in the Quad Series match, cementing the goaler as a threatening option to come in and turn a game on its head with ease, and proving that the Roses have much more depth through their squad than many initially expected.

Cardwell’s clean hands and ability to rebound are what make her such a threat in the circle, and while she is relatively unassuming to post her cleanliness and speed put her at a real advantage. Her ability to share the goaling load and switch up her game depending on her fellow goaler is testament to her vision of the play while her clean footwork allows her to work her way around defenders with ease to find the goals with ease and post a hefty total. Cardwell’s can-do attitude and willingness to do whatever is required for her team has proven critical over the years, always up for a challenge and at 25-years-old has plenty left in the tank to continue with the Roses and gain precious court time.

Rachel Dunn
92 caps, 2004-present

Eleanor Cardwell
27 caps, 2016-present

Which England Roses shooter would you pick?
Rachel Dunn
Eleanor Cardwell
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Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 4 – Bath and Pulse face off for top spot

ROUND 4 of the Vitality Netball Superleague will see an unprecedented top-of-the-table clash on Monday night to finish off the round, with Team Bath and London Pulse facing off for top spot. On the other end of the spectrum, eighth ranked 2019 finalists Wasps Netball will take on ninth-placed Severn Stars in the opening match of the round in what will be a real test for Stars and a real make-or-break game for Wasps.

Severn Stars  v. Wasps Netball
Worcester Arena

In a massive start to Round 4, Wasps will look to redeem themselves from a slow start to the season, with the side sitting in eighth on only one win and two losses for the season already after only conceding the four losses overall in 2019. While the opening rounds don’t necessarily speak for the season, the Wasps will want to take advantage of taking on a side lower than them and use this opportunity to work their way up the ladder. Stars are in the unprecedented position of being only one behind Wasps on the ladder but will know not to come into this match too cocky or expectant, with the Wasps known for their cleanliness and consistency in defence. Interestingly, both sides have come up against two of the same sides at this early stage, with both teams going down to Manchester Thunder, Wasps by seven goals and Stars by nine, making for an intriguing battle if Stars can stay close. The real difference however is the sides’ different reactions to taking on the Mavericks, with Stars going down twice with big margins compared to Wasps’ four goal victory. Rachel Dunn has been the key player for Wasps this season with all attention turned toward the veteran goal shooter with accuracy and precision. Meanwhile, Iona Christian in wing attack has been a handy addition to the side, slotting in smoothly with Jade Clarke and Dunn. Stars’ Towera Vinkhumbo may not be the cleanest player but has certainly had an impact in defence, working well with Ella Powell-Davies while the likes of Ama Agbeze can enter the contest when required and have an immediate impact. In goals, Georgia Rowe has been the main target for Stars with the experience of Liana Leota in wing attack able to provide pinpoint feeds into the circle. 

Surrey Storm v. Manchester Thunder
Surrey Sports Park

Manchester Thunder will look to go four from four with a win in this match, with the potential of moving to the top of the ladder if results on Monday go their way, making this a big match for the reigning premiers. Surrey Storm on the other hand have had a shaky start to the season with only the one win on the board back in Round 1, and that was only by the one goal over Celtic Dragons. Storm’s Lorraine Kowalewska and Katy Hughes will be in for a tough one against the attacking combination of Joyce Mvula, Kathryn Turner and Ellie Cardwell, with the trio creating a massive threat for Thunder. The three shooters have combined seamlessly across the opening rounds, sharing the load in goals and all offering different options which is what makes them such a difficult opposition. In goals for Storm are Karyn Bailey and Sophie Hankin who have had a fairly solid start to the season, and while Hankin’s accuracy has left something to be desired, Bailey’s height has proven useful with her rebounding ability. The midcourt battle is set to be an interesting one with Mikki Austin at Storm’s helm, leading from the front with her agility and footwork, taking on the likes of Amy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon, with both players able to have an impact through the midcourt. Defensively, the consistency of Emma Dovey and Rebekah Airey will be tough for Storm to break through, especially with the likes of Loreen Ngwira also in the mix and able to switch up the circle monumentally. Meanwhile, the calm but consistent effort of Laura Malcolm in wing defence is sure to keep the pressure on.

Loughborough Lightning v. Saracens Mavericks
Sir David Wallace Arena 

The match between Lightning and Mavericks is set to be a real interesting one, with both sides impressive in their own right though Lightning – just like last season – have struggled to put their skill and pressure out on the court at this early stage of the season. While the Mavericks sit in the top four on two wins from three matches, Lightning sit in seventh on only one win but having lost to ladder-leaders Team Bath and 2019 premiers, Manchester Thunder, making this a relatively even contest. Meanwhile, Mavericks have played Surrey Storm twice in as many weeks meaning they haven’t had a real opportunity to prove themselves thus far thanks to match scheduling. Mavericks’ Razia Quashie will have the tough task of taking on Lightning goal shooter Mary Cholhok, who is as imposing as they get with her height and strength making her a key cog for Lightning’s defence. Quashie is just as impressive with her aerial ability making her an exciting player to watch, able to create intercepts out of nothing and lead from the back. The midcourt battle will be a real interesting one with the sides relatively well matched through the centre, though the real test for Lightning will be stopping the likes of Georgia Lees who has a tried and true combination with George Fisher and Kadeen Corbin in goals, with the duo continuing to be a threat. Lightning will rely on leadership from Nat Panagarry through the midcourt, while Lightning’s constant defensive rotation could come in handy against a side like Mavericks which relies on poking holes in defensive units, though could also go the opposite way entirely if Mavericks can take advantage early.

Celtic Dragons v. Strathclyde Sirens
Sports Wales National Centre

The Dragons come into this match sitting at the bottom of the ladder, with a one week suspension to key pickup Latanya Wilson making for a rough start to the season. While the Sirens have only got the one win on the board for the season, it is more about their lack of four quarter effort that sees them losing so far rather than an inability to win, as displayed by an impressive effort over Surrey Storm last round. While the Dragons have only gotten close to a win in the one match so far this season, they went without a goalkeeper for part of their Round 2 encounter with Team Bath and then missed Wilson’s pressure and presence on Monday against Pulse – the current top two sides. Dragons’ Amy Clinton and Rebekah Robinson did a solid job sharing the load last round but were in short supply of ball into circle, meaning the likes of Shona O’Dwyer and Sophie Morgan will want to be right on circle edge this round against a much more even competitor in Sirens. Defensively, Wilson will want to heed the warnings she’s had in past rounds to ensure she doesn’t leave her side in the lurch again this round, while Dee Bolakoro and Abigail Tyrrell will also want to maintain constant pressure in the circle. Sirens’ Bethan Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher impressed at the post last week with their cleanliness and ability to find the ball in the goal circle, with the circle work from Nicola McCleery and Gia Abernethy critical for the side in attack. Natalie Bright and Zanele Vimbela have created a formidable defensive unit, with Emily Nicholl a handy inclusion from the bench if need be. 

Team Bath v. London Pulse
Team Bath Arena

Wrapping up the round is one of the more exciting matches to start the season, with both Team Bath and London Pulse undefeated thus far in 2020. While Pulse had an unsuccessful start to their Superleague campaign, only getting two wins on the board in their inaugural 2019 season, the side has already surpassed last years form with three wins on the board and will look to run down an impressive Team Bath this round. While Bath made it to finals last season they had a somewhat rocky season, finding some solid form in patches but ultimately unable to push all the way. This season however they have proven considerably more consistent, winning by an average of 15 goals across the first three rounds of the season. While Pulse also remains undefeated, they only got over the line by a two and one-point margin in Rounds 1 and 2, making for an interesting battle. Pulse will be in for an interesting time against the dominant defensive pressure of Bath, with the likes of Imogen Allison, Khanyisa Chawane, Tash Pavelin and Summer Artman working flawlessly through defence to apply pressure and deny easy ball into the circle. Up the other end, the combination of Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis has improved tenfold since the 2019 season, making the side a real force to be reckoned with. Bath’s real problem will be limiting the impact of star Pulse shooter Sigi Burger, whose offensive pressure and height under the post makes her a critical name in the lineup. Burger’s movement for her height is impressive, making it easy for the likes of Michelle Drayne, Adean Thomas and Ashleigh Dekker to feed into the circle and run the ball down while defensively the likes of Lindsay Keable, Halimat Adio and Funmi Fadoju have put in some impressive efforts this season so far.

2020 Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 2 – Mavericks look to topple Wasps to stay on top

THE Vitality Netball Superleague is back for Round 2 this week after a massive opening round saw five big matches play out with plenty of new names joining the fray and proving they have what it takes to dominate in the competition. With three games on Saturday and two on Monday, Round 2 of the Superleague is set to mix things up.

Severn Stars v. Manchester Thunder
Worcester Arena

The Severn Stars will have their work cut out for them this round, coming up against the reigning premiers in Manchester Thunder off the back of a disappointing Round 1 effort. The Thunder are sure to come out flying after a stellar performance last round saw them continue their streak over last season’s minor premiers Wasps, while the Stars will really need to lift their game after struggling against the wrath of the Mavericks. Stars key pickup Liana Leota will take on her former side after jumping ship at the end of last season, so will need to really prove her point through the midcourt to ensure the Thunder know what they’re missing through the midcourt. Thunder have their own weapons however, with Caroline O’Hanlon, Amy Carter and Laura Malcolm more than up to the task through the centre third, able to transition from defence to attack with ease, especially safe in the knowledge that Joyce Mvula, Ellie Cardwell and Kathryn Turner are able to have an impact to post. Stars have a plethora of options in defence, with Malawian, Towera Vinkhumbo proving she has what it takes in the Superleague last round while the likes of Ama Agbeze, Nia Jones and Ella Powell-Davies all have plenty to offer with experience and cleanliness alike. Georgia Rowe was a real target at the post last week with her height and clean hands, while Paige Reed provided a handy option when required to open up the circle and switch up the rotation.

Loughborough Lightning v. Strathclyde Sirens
Sir David Wallace Arena

With both sides heading in this round winless and sitting toward the bottom of the ladder, both Lightning and Sirens will want to up their game in Round 2. Despite a disappointing loss to Team Bath last round, the Lightning will likely still come into this match as the favourites against the Sirens, meaning the Sirens will really need to prove themselves as contenders and test the Lightning by applying pressure on key shooter, Mary Cholhok, who relies on her height to get the ball. Fellow Lightning goaler, Ella Clark will need to really inject herself into this game after going missing last round, while the likes of Nat Panagarry will want to lead from the front alongside Hannah Joseph and Vicki Oyesola transitioning through defence to propel the ball forward and prevent easy turnovers. Something the Sirens have going for them is the ability of their goalers to share the load, with Bethan Goodwin and Lynsey Gallagher shooting relatively evenly last week and getting ready to welcome young gun Emma Barrie back into the fray after a breakout 2019 season. Sirens pickup Zanele Vimbela was a handy inclusion on the court last week with six intercepts so will want to mirror that effort against an ultimately stronger side than their Round 1 opposition.

Celtic Dragons v. Team Bath
Cardiff Met University

Celtic Dragons did not get the strong start they were after last round with a frustrating one-goal loss to Surrey Storm, while Team Bath continued their streak over Loughborough Lightning with a solid 14-goal win putting them into second on the ladder. Despite missing star centre Serena Guthrie this season, Bath proved they have got the guts, determination and skill to get the job done with the defensive minded side dominating last round, making for a really tough competitor for the Dragons who had patches of greatness last week but to no avail. Kim Commane was a revelation at the post for Bath last round, shooting 55 goals to be the top scorer of the week so the Dragons will need to be at their best to shut down the quick moving Aussie. Dee Bolakoro and Latanya Wilson will be set the task of shutting Commane down. Dragons’ midcourt will need to really stand up defensively to deny access to the circle. For Bath, the defensive effort through the midcourt was their real focus last season making for one of the toughest defensive units in the competition, so the likes of Summer Artman and Imogen Allison will need to hold that up with the likes of Eboni Usoro-Brown no longer joining the fray due to maternity leave.

Surrey Storm v. London Pulse
Surrey Sports Park

The first of two Monday matches, this game between Storm and Pulse will be a real test to see which side can capitalise off a strong start last week with both sides coming into this game off the back of a tight victory. Both teams picked up key players over the off season so expect the goaling battle to be a big one, with internationals Sigi Burger (South Africa) and Karyn Bailey (Australia) lining up in goal shooter for their respective sides. A big question mark hanging over this match will be a matter of cleanliness, with these sides picking up a combined six cautions and one warning in Round 1. Both teams will want to clean up their act, though the intensity from both sides should make for a relatively contest across the court with some real interesting battles set to take place. The likes of Mikki Austin and Lorraine Kowalewska will be key cogs for Storm with their respective ability to change the game quickly a real  testament to their skill and timing. Kowalewska will have her work cut out for her against Burger who shot at 100 per cent last week, while Austin is sure to inject experience wherever she plays, taking on the likes of Ashleigh Dekker, Adean Thomas and Michelle Drayne through the midcourt.

Wasps Netball v. Saracens Mavericks
Ricoh Arena

Mavericks will be in for a tough one this round coming up against last season’s runner up in the Wasps, who are coming into this week off the back of a seven goal loss in Round 1. The Mavs will look to capitalise on their own massive start to the season after a 21 goal win over Severn Stars last week, making for a tough battle between two real contenders. These two sides stayed relatively similar over the off-season, not losing or gaining many key players, meaning the Mavericks will really need to build off their pre-season after going down to Wasps in close encounters twice last season. Both sides have key players across the court, with Wasps goalers Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris able to share the load evenly and accurately to post. It’s a different story for the Mavericks, with George Fisher shouldering a lot of the load in goal shooter while Kadeen Corbin works the circle and plays more of a feeder role, but can also turn and shoot to be a real threat. The feeding ability of Georgia Lees will be key for the Mavs, but with the experience of Jade Clarke and Amy Flanagan able to rotate through both centre and wing defence for the Wasps, the Mavs could be really tested. Defensively, the aerial ability of Razia Quashie in goal keeper will be key to produce turnover ball, though the real key will be to balance staying on the body of Dunn to deny entry to the circle and moving off to hunt loose ball in the goal third. Meanwhile, the likes of Josie Huckle and Fran Williams will be doing everything in their power to deny Fisher the ball.

2020 Nations Cup preview: Round 3

ROUND 3 of the inaugural Nations Cup is set to shake things up, with this thee last opportunity for each country to cement their chances in the final series on Sunday. Only New Zealand is undefeated so far, while both Jamaica and England have one win on the board each and South Africa is yet to win a match.

New Zealand vs. South Africa

New Zealand will look to make it a clean sweep heading into this match against South Africa, and while both sides boast a wealth of talent the Ferns are more likely than not to get another solid win on the board thanks to their form and creativity with ball in hand. While South Africa has an impressive lineup, given the physicality of the Silver Ferns they will need to lift their game to not get left behind in this one. The Spar Proteas challenged both England and Jamaica this week already so will have some form behind them coming into this one, but given both sides lost fairly convincingly to the Ferns, New Zealand will be full of confidence. With key cogs across the court for the Proteas, the Ferns will want to use their defensive prowess to hunt every ball, with the likes of Phoenix Karaka and Jane Watson leading the charge from the back end. South Africa will have plenty in their defensive arsenal however, with high flying Karla Pretorius able to create something out of nothing. Through the midcourt, look for an intriguing battle with plenty of players from both sides able to rotate through to have an impact in short spurts, with the likes of Whitney Souness and Gina Crampton able to feed seamlessly for the Ferns, while the speed of Bongi Msomi out in front will help to take the Proteas up to the next level. Both sides have impressive talent at the post, with Ferns captain, Ameliaranne Ekenasio and South Africa’s Lenize Potgieter able to impact wherever required, with accuracy and game smarts to boot. While fellow South African goalers in Ine-Mari Venter and Sigi Burger have plenty of height, what Watson and Karaka lack will be made up by their ability to apply hands  over pressure and deny entry to the goal circle with their respective vision and timing to intercept the ball. 

England vs. Jamaica

With one win apiece for the tournament so far, this is the last opportunity for a side to put a second win on the board to finish well. Both sides were challenged by South Africa but ultimately did not survive the wrath of the Ferns, making for a tighter contest as the winner heads into the finals to take on New Zealand once more. Jamaica have been error-ridden to say the least throughout the series while England are feeling out a relatively inexperienced line-up of players, making for an interesting battle of determination and talent abounds. A player with talent oozing is Jamaica’s Shamera Sterling, but with her long reach and aerial ability comes a massive penalty count that England will want to take advantage of in this matchup. Likely to come up against Sterling are George Fisher and Ellie Cardwell, with both players able to switch up their positioning to create a more versatile line-up, rotating through goal attack with their clever movement despite standing at 188cm and 186cm respectively. Captain, Nat Haythornthwaite will want the Roses to continue their solid run after a good win over the Proteas yesterday, while fellow midcourter Jade Clarke will hope to lead from the front in centre, but will have an interesting time through the midcourt with plenty of inexperienced Jamaican talent able to rotate through where required. The real question for the Roses is if they will be able to stop Jamaican captain and shooting sensation Jhaniele Fowler, whose height and ability to find space in the circle is key for the side’s success. Newly capped Kate Shimmin may be tasked with the goal keeper bib given she has experience against Fowler in the Suncorp Super Netball, and with plenty of talent in Razia Quashie, Stacey Francis and Fran Williams, the side will hope to reign supreme this time around.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Grand Final

IN such a big season of the Vitality Netball Superleague, it is no wonder the biggest game of the season went down to the wire. Despite a hard and fast start from Wasps Netball, Manchester Thunder came back from a six-goal buffer to win by five goals, with an exceptional shared goaling accuracy of 89 per cent all but cementing the victory. Meanwhile, Team Bath bumped off Loughborough Lightning in the third place playoff, finishing the finals series in the same position they started at.

It was Manchester Thunder legend, Kerry Almond’s final game before retirement, and it was a fitting way to leave the competition – with a third Grand Final victory under her belt. The Wasps started off strong with a solid 16 goal to 11 first quarter, speeding away to an early lead as they shot four goals nil early in the first before Thunder got a goal on the board. Thunder’s patience through the midcourt is a key component of their play, however the Wasps took control of the movement early to limit options in attack and close space through the centre third. Wasps shooters, Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn were exceptional early, finding the post and space in the circle with ease, poking holes in Thunder’s defensive unit. Defensively, the likes of Almond and Emma Dovey seemed unable to bring their usual flair to the match, focusing more on preventing entry to the goal circle than generating excitement around the ring. However, it was not the lack of skill defensively for the Thunder that had the side chasing early, but instead the impeccable defensive work from Wasps’ Fran Williams and Hannah Knights, creating confusion for feeders as they battled relentlessly on Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula.

The second quarter saw a momentum switch as the Thunder put on the accelerator, shooting 18 goals to 11 to have a two goal lead at half time. Thunder’s composure settled as they finally took control, finding space in the goal third as Turner and Mvula started to come into their own, slotting goal after goal courtesy of pinpoint feeds around the circle. Forced errors across the court from the Wasps cost them, while the defensive unit seemed to take their foot off the pedal as Thunder’s confidence began to grow. Caroline O’Hanlon came into her own to start winning the centre court battle against dominant defensive midcourter, Jade Clarke, finding the ball better through the middle of the court and feeding well at the centre pass, switching it up as the Wasps fought for turnovers. Turner and Mvula continued to fight it out in the circle, gaining some ground and putting shots up from all over the ring.

But while a second half push from the Thunder seemed imminent, Wasps would not go down without a fight as an 18 goal to 10 third quarter saw the Wasps wrestle back control of the match to lead by six at three quarter time. Amy Flanagan was stellar in wing defence against speedy New Zealander, Liana Leota, limiting her space and reducing her role as Thunder struggled once again to move the ball through attack, missing the fluidity they gained in the second term. Leota’s ability to find the circle edge with ease was nullified by Flanagan’s brand of defence, causing issues as the circle defenders gained confidence once more, picking off the loose ball. Thunder’s errors started to creep back up as Wasps once again took the game by storm, with the likes of Bongi Msomi skilfully feeding lightning-fast passes into the circle under pressure.

The final quarter saw both sides battle for control, with Thunder wing defence, Laura Malcolm standing up and producing some of her best defensive work for the season against Msomi as the match came down to the wire. A spanner in the works midway through the final quarter saw dominant Thunder and Malawi Queens goal shooter, Mvula go down with a knee injury, causing an injury time-out for the side as Ellie Cardwell took the court in goals. In what many thought could be the straw to break the camel’s back, Cardwell stepped up to the plate and brought her own skill and exceptional footwork to the position, finding space and shooting at close to 100 per cent accuracy. The switch in goals seemed to spur on the Thunder, once again swinging the momentum in their favour and holding on despite the exceptional defensive efforts across the board from the Wasps, limiting the usually dominant side to only seven goals in the final term as Thunder ran away with it. Exceptional composure and skill under pressure saw Manchester Thunder win their third Superleague title, 52 – 57, fighting back and proving they were well deserving of the victory.

THIRD/FOURTH PLAYOFF: Loughborough Lightning v. Team Bath

In the pre-Grand Final opener it was down to the wire for the tough tussle between Bath and Lightning, with Bath coming out on top after a stellar second half shooting effort was too much for the Lightning (56 – 62). Down by one goal at the final change, Bath turned a corner to come out on top, shooting 19 goals to 12 to win the match and prove the dominant form they have displayed for majority of the season. Player of the match, Imogen Allison was well deserving of her title in wing defence, causing upsets around the court and making it difficult for Lightning to feed the ball into the circle. The likes of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Commane were exceptional at the post, retaining their dominant shooting accuracy as they put up shot after shot. Defenders, Summer Artman and Eboni Usoro-Brown were spot-on in the second half, causing issues in the goal circle as Lightning’s Ella Clark and Mary Cholhok struggled under pressure. Artman and Usoro-Brown did what they do best, creating turnovers and moving the ball back through the midcourt with speed and precision courtesy of Serena Guthrie in centre. Nat Panagarry was a shining light through the midcourt for Lightning, doing well early to disrupt movement and flow, while Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan took control early through defence to disrupt Bath’s rhythm in attack. However it was not enough, with Team Bath ultimately pulling back Lightning’s early lead to win by six goals.

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Grand Final

SATURDAY’S Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final is set to be a big one, with the two highest scoring teams of the season raring to go in the biggest match of the league at London’s Copper Box Arena. Wasps Netball will defend their Superleague title and attempt their third victory in a row, while Manchester Thunder last won a premiership in 2015 so will be ready for a tough fight against the Wasps. Meanwhile, Loughborough Lightning will host Team Bath in a playoff for third as an opener to the Grand Final.

WASPS NETBALL vs. MANCHESTER THUNDER
5:30 pm

Thunder will come into this match with confidence coming off the back of two high pressure wins over the Wasps this season in Rounds 2 and 11. Both sides have shown time and time again this season that they can stand up to the pressure when the moment arrives, so this grand final is sure to finish with a bang. In what is expected to be a big final match of the season for both teams, it is likely to be the midcourt play that has a significant effect on results, with Thunder’s Caroline O’Hanlan, Liana Leota and Laura Malcolm likely lining up against the highly skilled Jade Clarke, Bongi Msomi and Amy Flanagan. In what is a fairly mixed offensive-defensive midcourt battle, it will be down to who removes their opponent from the match and is able to produce scoring opportunities under pressure. With the likes of Leota and goal shooter, Joyce Mvula appearing to have the ball on a string against Team Bath in the semi finals, Wasps are likely to look to the defensive unit of Clarke and Flanagan to shut down Leota’s skilled feeds and reduce scoring opportunities before the ball enters the circle. For Wasps, the skilled rotation and footwork of Hannah Knights, Fran Williams and Josie Huckle will prove vital as they fight to keep the ball out of the hands of their opposition in Mvula, Ellie Cardwell and Kathryn Turner. Thunder will have a similar issue through their defence, with speedster, Msomi almost unstoppable with ball in hand, especially with the likes of prolific shooters, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris at the post to share the load. The defensive partnership of captain, Emma Dovey and retiree, Kerry Almond will be key in this match, with the pair needing to be at their absolute highest calibre to ensure they limit the Wasps from putting shots up, while Rebekah Airey has the ability to come off the sidelines and have an immediate impact.

LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING vs. TEAM BATH
3:00 pm

In what is a slightly lower stakes game on Grand Final day, Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath will take the court one last time for the 2019 season as they fight to finish third on the VNSL ladder. Team Bath, like Manchester, will come into this matchup with a leg up, having beaten the Lightning on both occasions this season. However, Lightning will be raring to go given their big loss against Wasps in the semi final, so will want to come out strong against the defensive pressure of Bath. Last time they met, Bath only come out on top by two goals, so are likely to fight tooth and nail to ensure they get a third win in a row. Bath’s aerial defensive unit of Summer Artman and Eboni Usoro-Brown will have a task ahead of them as they take on tall goalers, Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark, while down the other end Lightning’s defence will also need to be on fine form as they take on the likes of Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, whose partnership and volume has improved with every match together. The matchup between England Roses’, Serena Guthrie and Nat Panagarry is sure to be one to watch, with both players ready and willing to put their body on the line to ensure victory for their side.

Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Semi Finals

THE first round of Vitality Netball Superleague finals for 2019 starts this weekend, with all four 2018 finalists backing up their dominant season last year with a fantastic effort again. With both matches played back-to-back on Saturday – albeit at different venues, teams will know early who their grand final opposition will be. Wasps Netball in first will host their 2018 Grand Final rivals, Loughborough Lightning at 5pm at Ricoh Arena for what is sure to be a big match, while Manchester Thunder will host Team Bath at 7pm at Belle Vue as both teams fight for glory.

A stellar start to the season saw Wasps Netball go undefeated for seven matches before three losses in the space of a month put a blip on the radar, forcing the Wasps to re-evaluate as Manchester Thunder overtook them on the ladder. Thunder were another side that had a strong start to the season with four wins in a row, always one step behind the Wasps as their defensive pressure consistently smothered their opposition. Loughborough Lightning had an average start to the season, winning only two from five in the opening rounds before lifting with a big win over Thunder, boosting their work rate and continuing their good form with a seven game winning streak from there. Team Bath have also had a shaky season, ultimately finishing strong but struggling with consistency across the board before settling and winning seven of their past nine matches to make finals for the thirteenth time in 14 years.

Semi-Final 1: Wasps Netball (1) vs. Loughborough Lightning (4)

This matchup is set to be a big one, with both sides overcoming rough patches early in the year to make finals, also maintaining strong winning streaks for periods of the season. The match could go either way, with both sides winning one of their two matches this season, though Lightning’s Round 10 victory by one goal after a 20 goal deficit in the opening match of the season is more likely to be an indicator of how this match could go. That being said, Wasps finished two games clear on top of the ladder, meaning the match could effectively go either way. Both sides will need to be at their best defensively, as both sides have the ability to shoot a large volume in a short amount of time credit to the speed and strength of their respective feeders. The likes of Wasps’ Rachel Dunn and Lightning’s Mary Cholhok are the ones to watch, with both in spectacular form as they head into finals despite their vastly different styles of play – Cholhok a primary shooter, holding at the post, while Dunn shares the load with fellow goaler, Katie Harris. Lightning goal attack, Ella Clark will need to be in on the action from the get-go, with her long bomb accuracy a key part of Lightning’s flow in attack. For Lightning to take home a win this week they will need to shut down the exceptional speed and skill of the Wasps’ midcourt, with the likes of Bongi Msomi and Jade Clarke able to cause havoc if left alone. Lightning pair, Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph have solidified well this season, so the midcourt battle is sure to be one to watch. Defensively, both teams have the ability to turn the tide of the match if their defensive players are on fire, with the likes of Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola big ball winners for the Lightning, while the tactical rotation of Fran Williams, Josie Huckle and Hannah Williams for the Wasps has proved to be a key defensive play for a large part of the season.

Semi-Final 2: Manchester Thunder (2) vs. Team Bath (3)

Though Manchester enter this semi-final with a home advantage, Bath will come into this matchup with the confidence and upper hand, having beat Thunder on both occasions this season, albeit by close margins. Given Bath won their second match against Thunder less than two weeks ago, Thunder are sure to come in hard and fast to win back the points. This match is sure to be a defensive showcase, with both teams playing a predominantly defensive game credit to their full court pressure and ability to gather turnover ball to advantage. Bath has arguably one of the best defensive lineups in the competition, with Summer Artman, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Imogen Allison leading the charge, well backed up by defensive midcourter, Serena Guthrie, whose run and carry through the centre court is unrivalled. For Thunder, the combinations between captain Emma Dovey, Kerry Almond and Rebekah Airey are key in defence, with all three players fantastic at applying pressure on and off the ball and able to create turnovers out of thin air. With both Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter able to enter the match and create a stir, the likes of Mia Ritchie and Rachel Shaw will need to ensure their connections forward to sharpshooters, Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis have pinpoint accuracy. Bath’s defensive unit will need to keep a keen eye on New Zealander, Liana Leota, another player who can have a big impact in a short period of time credit to her drives to circle edge and crafty feeds. With Leota on fire, the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula should have no issue receiving the pass to put up shots, though Bath’s smooth and skilful circle movement will do anything they can to disrupt the space.

Vitality Netball Superleague wrap: Round 18

IT has been a big season of Vitality Netball Superleague action, and with 18 rounds under their belts every team has come away with some big wins and disappointing losses. In one of the closest and most exciting VNSL seasons yet, four big-name clubs ran over the rest of the competition and put on some dazzling performances across the board to be well-deserving of a finals position. With all five matches played at the same time on Saturday, every team had to fight for a win to maintain their position on the ladder, while some teams were in desperate need of results out of their hands. The final round for 2019 saw two games come down to five point margins, while Wasps Netball, Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning finished off the home and away season with a bang with another strong win in the books. The Saracens Mavericks have missed out on finals by the skin of their teeth, putting their twelfth win on the board but needing a loss from one of the top four – all of which came out on top in their respective matches.

Loughborough Lightning slotted their thirteenth win of the season, beating Celtic Dragons by 11 goals in the must-win match and finishing in fourth to guarantee a finals position. In veteran, Kyra Jones’ final match for the Dragons, Lightning came out strong from the get-go, putting 20 goals on the board in the first term before the Dragons put on a strong defensive effort in the second to even up the ledger with 14 goals apiece, though still down by six at half time. A more consistent effort from the Lightning in the second half saw the Dragons fade out towards the end, however the Dragons managed to keep the margin lower than their last match to finish the season on a good note. The likes of Hannah Joseph and Ella Clark worked seamlessly around the circle, while the connection between Clark and goal shooter, Mary Cholhok was strong as ever as the pair put up shot after shot and consistently producing options in goal. Chelsea Lewis and Kalifa McCollin did their job well at the post, however Lightning’s intent was too much as defensive efforts from Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola forced turnovers at every opportunity.

Saracens Mavericks have suffered a blow in the final round of the season, securing a five goal win over Strathclyde Sirens but missing out on finals after an inconsistent season saw the side relying on losses in the top four to make it through. Sirens have finished the season with only three wins on the board, however are sure to be content with a solid effort in the final match of the year, ready to build on their form ahead of next season. Sirens kept Mavericks on their toes throughout the match, likely giving the Mavericks a scare as they came out firing and stayed in the match until the bitter end, only down by three goals at three quarter time. Though never taking the lead, the Sirens pushed the Mavericks and put on a strong four-quarter effort to try and ruin finals chances for their opposition. Player of the match, Sasha Corbin put on a show through the midcourt, while defensive efforts from Sirens defenders, Emily Nicholl and Emma Gibbons forced dominant goaler, George Fisher to the bench as Corbin’s efforts were wasted in attack. A strong defensive push from Razia Quashie and Jo Trip saw the Mavericks take advantage of any loose ball across the court, creating turnovers and doubt in the Sirens’ minds as they crept closer, giving the Mavericks a vital surge to get the job done. Young sharpshooter, Emma Barrie put in the hard yards despite constant pressure from the likes of Quashie, while centre, Gia Abernethy was exceptional placing the ball to advantage.

Team Bath had a fantastic finish to the season, comfortably running over the resilient London Pulse by 22 goals and securing a finals berth against Manchester Thunder on Saturday. Bath started out strong against the Pulse, shooting 39 goals to 23 in the first half to all but guarantee a win against the competition newcomers. The hard and fast start saw the side slow down in the third, with Pulse showing some intensity and taking two goals off the half-time margin, before a 20 goal to 11 final term saw Bath take a confident win in front of a 1300 strong home crowd and retain their position in third ahead of finals. Player of the match, Kim Commane was stellar at the post for Bath, shooting the lights out and putting her side at an eight goal to nil lead early in the first. Interestingly, Pulse chose to start youngster, Bea Skingsley in goal defence, only bringing on captain, Ama Agbeze in the second term in an attempt to tag out speedy Bath goal attack, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. Despite strong efforts at the post from Pulse shooters, Shantal Slater and Chiara Semple, who have settled well into their partnership since the beginning of the season, Bath’s defensive efforts were just too strong with the likes of Summer Artman, Eboni Usoro-Brown and Imogen Allison maintaining their strong form and consistently producing turnovers to feed back forward.

The Wasps were the one team guaranteed a finals spot after Round 18, but that did not stop the side from putting on another phenomenal performance to finish the home and away season on a high, managing a 15 goal victory over Severn Stars. In true Wasps form, the side came out strong in the opening term, putting shots up and denying goals at the other end as they relegated the Stars to only nine goals in the first. Despite a strong effort through the second and third quarters from the Stars, the Wasps pulled off a stellar final quarter to open the margin again and shoot 15 goals to six for their fifteenth win of the season. With the likes of Bongi Msomi and Jade Clarke generating plenty of turnover ball and creating opportunities in attack, goalers Katie Harris and Rachel Dunn had no issue putting shots up to maintain the lead. Credit to the defensive efforts of the Stars, with Sam Cook and Ella Powell-Davies putting in the hard yards to work back possession, reducing the Wasps to only 12 goals in the third quarter as clean ball movement through the midcourt provided plenty of options for the likes of Georgia Rowe at the post.

In a surprisingly close finish Manchester Thunder guaranteed a finals berth, beating a fired up Surrey Storm by only five goals after being down by one at three quarter time. It was a match of two halves, as Storm came out hard and fast to limit the usually clinical Thunder to only nine goals in the first term before being restricted to nine goals in the second as the Thunder overcame Storm’s tough defence and shot 19 goals to be up by six at half time. Storm reset at half time, flying out of the blocks to shoot 21 goals for their best quarter score of the season, once again limiting Thunder’s shooting efforts. However a strong defensive effort from Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond in the final term pulled back the margin once again, seeing the Thunder settle through the midcourt and take a much needed win to secure a home semi-final. While Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell were solid in the goal circle, shooting with great composure to keep ahead of the Storm, the likes of Sigi Burger, Rhea Dixon and Yasmin Hodge-England were just as cool, calm and collected for Storm, settling the ball against the phenomenal defensive efforts of Almond and Dovey.

Final Ladder: 2019
1. Wasps Netball (15-3)
2. Manchester Thunder (13-5)
3. Team Bath (13-5)
4. Loughborough Lightning (13-5)
5. Saracens Mavericks (12-6)
6. Severn Stars (7-11)
7. Celtic Dragons (6-12)
8. Surrey Storm (6-12)
9. Strathclyde Sirens (3-15)
10. London Pulse (2-16)