This year marks the 13th instalment of the Superleague in the U.K. and from the outside season 2018 looks set to be its best yet. Last year the competition expanded from eight to 10 franchises through an application process that, well, isn’t entirely crystal clear.
Along with the controversial and unpopular removal of Yorkshire Jets, three new teams were added to the league – Severn Stars, Scottish Sirens and Wasps.
The increase in teams has allowed for further opportunities for aspiring players, which can only be a good thing for the development of the game. This year each roster comprises of 15 players, with an average of three imports per team.
Coverage from Sky Sports is steadily improving and crowds have started to swell, meaning matches are being played at bigger venues. All roads point to continued success in an increasingly challenging sporting landscape.
Although there are several positive signs, one has to wonder just how much this year’s Superleague will affect players anticipating to compete at the Commonwealth Games. Both the Suncorp Super Netball and ANZ Premiership don’t begin until nearly two weeks after the Gold Coast gold medal has been won.
The Superleague breaks at the completion of Round 7 on March 18, leaving just over two weeks for import players to fly home for any training camps, and to hit the Gold Coast for the Opening Ceremony on April 4. How much that will affect preparations can’t really be determined, but it could impact some countries more than others.
The Sunshine Girls’ Shamera Stirling (Loughborough Lightning) and Malawi Queens Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder) and Loreen Ngwira (Team Northumbria) are also expected to contest the Taini Jamison Series in New Zealand prior to the Games and have just a matter of days to arrive in Auckland before the series begins on March 21.
That aside, the 2018 Vitality Netball Superleague is shaping up to be the toughest and closest on record.
The Celtic Dragons have gone through turmoil recently, following the recent sacking of franchise and Welsh head coach Trish Wilcox. The Dragons won just two games last season and Wales failed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool last month at the Netball Europe Qualifiers.
There is enough experience within the Dragons team to be competitive, but their list lacks international stars. Georgia Rowe returns from a year at Northumbria, however they failed to retained the services of Kiwi midcourter Stacey Peters and Kalifa McCollin (Mavericks) from Trinidad and Tobago.
Team Northumbria will miss Leah Kennedy (Sirens) and Tuaine Keenan (ruptured achillies), though they’ll be bolstered defensively by Scottish international Hayley Mulheron and Australian Toni Anderson. Look for Loreen Ngwira and Northern Ireland’s Lisa Bowman to make an impact in the shooting circle along with Chiara Semple and Sophie Hankin. One downside to the squad is the lack of midcourt options, particularly at wing defence.
Te Aroha Keenan again has the reins, with fellow Kiwi and former Welsh head coach Melissa Hyndman joins the staff in a specialist capacity.
Former Australian Diamonds defender Mo’onia Gerrard lead the Severn Stars in their inaugural season, but had to settle for eighth spot on the ladder after struggling for most of the year. Sam Bird has jumped from Mavericks to take the head coach role for 2018.
The Stars will be buoyed by the signings of South Africa’s Maryka Holtzhausen and Phumza Maweni. Both are no strangers to the Superleague, having teamed up at Loughborough Lightning in 2015. Rosie Allison returns to elite netball after a two year absence and with Jodie Gibson, Laura Malcom and Ellie Cardwell on the books, the club should be pushing for a finals appearance.
Once a competition powerhouse, last year Hertfordshire Mavericks finished seventh – their worst ever placing – having lost Layla Guscoth, Georgia Fisher and Sam May to Wasps and Sam Wallace to the NSW Swifts. Joline Johansson (nee Henry) also suffered an ACL injury mid-season.
Kalifa McCollin has moved across from the Dragons, Karyn Bailey arrives from via Australia from the Adelaide Thunderbirds and Sasha Corbin return after a season with the Northern Mystics. There’s an evenness about the squad, one that is far stronger than 2017 and the results should follow.
A top four spot was the vocal aim for the Sirens in their first year of competition, but missed the finals by two wins and settled for sixth. There was plenty of promise, winning half their games, but didn’t have enough strength defensively and conceded far too many goals.
Former sacked Central Pulse coach and Silver Ferns great Tanya Dearns joins as coach, with Gail Parata focusing solely on the Scottish Thistles program in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup.
Leah Kennedy (Northumbria) and Bethany Sutherland (Storm) will serve grunt to either end of the court and Sara Bayman returns from a season at the Central Pulse, adding a wealth of experience. It could be enough to give them the extra couple of wins required to make the final four.
It’s intriguing to note that Nicole Aiken-Pinnock, Vanessa Walker and Shantal Slater haven’t been selected in Jamaica’s 15-player squad for the Taini Jamison Series in New Zealand. It’s not known whether they didn’t trial or simply aren’t in the mix for Commonwealth Games selection. Neither of the three were part of the last Fast5 Netball World Series team.
Surrey Storm started last season well, but eventually faded to just miss the finals as opposition clubs found ways to counteract 203cm shooter, Megan Craig. Sigrid Burger joins the side from South Africa, effectively replacing of Craig, bar 9cm in height. Proteas shooting teammate Charmaine Baard will team up with Burger in her first taste of the Superleague.
Jo Trip (Lightning) is a welcome addition following the retirement of Naida Hutchinson at the end of last season. Fijian Adi Bolakoro will bolster the defensive unit of Katy Holland and Yasmin Parsons.
After a shaky start to 2017, victors in just four of their first ten matches, Team Bath recorded seven wins in a row to finish fourth, before losing both finals matches. The side has been strengthened with the signing of Josie Janz-Dawson and Kadeen Corbin returns from a season with Tactix in the ANZ Premiership.
Bath have an impressive history, winning five of the first eight Superleague titles, but have failed to make to make the Grand Final since 2014.
Largely unchanged from last year, Manchester Thunder could face an uphill battle against franchises who have added depth to their squads. Thunder have made every finals campaign since the 2008/09 season.
Gone is Gaby Marshall (Mavericks), but former Silver Fern Liana Leota has re-signed and have picked up Caroline O’Hanlon from Northern Ireland. Kerry Almond has signed on for her 10th season, with Emma Dovey and Kathryn Turner rounding out an experienced leadership group.
In the past three seasons, Loughborough Lightning have had a meteoric rise, leaping from eighth to sixth to second. Their sole defeat in the 2017 regular season came at the hand of the Wasps and by season’s end, the two teams were clearly the strongest in the league.
Again led by Natalie Panagarry, Lightning will look to continue last years’ impressive run. Beth Cobden should again star and the side will be spearheaded by prolific Ugandan shooter Peace Proscovia. Shamera Stirling has been touted as one to watch since her stunning performance during the 2016 test series between Jamaica and England and fills the void left by Jo Trip (Storm).
Wasps recruited so well in their inaugural year, that anything less than a Grand Final appearance would have been seen as a failure. Although they’ve lost Bongiwe Msomi to the Adelaide Thunderbirds, they’ve gained Jade Clarke in somewhat of a compromising swap.
Francesca Williams captained the England 21U side at last years’ World Youth Cup in Botswana and will be looking to push for a starting seven position. Georgia Fisher will have a fight on her hands for court time with veteran Rachel Dunn and Natalie Haythornthwaite.
Much like coach Tamsin Greenway, stalwart Hannah Reid will be chasing her fourth consecutive Superleague title, both having won back-to-back titles with Surrey Storm prior to the maiden championships win with Wasps last year.
2018 team lists
Suzy Drane (c), Kelly Morgan (vc), Sara Bell, Fern Davies, Bethan Dyke, Clare Jones, Kyra Jones, Nia Jones, Sarah Llewelyn, Cara Lea Moseley, Megan Powell, Eleanor Roberts, Georgia Rowe, Leila Thomas, Amanda Varey. Coach: Natalie Peperell.
Toni Anderson, Lisa Bowman, Alice Currie, Francine Hall, Sophie Hankin, Emily Hollingworth, Paige Kindred, Holly Linighan, Tamsin Moala, Hayley Mulheron, Jenny Mrozik, Ash Neal, Loreen Ngwira, Chiara Semple, Iman Thomas. Coach: Te Aroha Keenan.
Laura Malcolm (c), Rosie Allison, Ellie Cardwell, Sophie Carter, Samantha Cook, Iona Darroch, Amanda Davis, Dominique Ford-Gordon, Jodie Gibson, Maryka Holtzhausen, Phumza Maweni, Becky Oatley, Shona O’Dwyer, Ella Powell-Davies, Laura Rudland. Coach: Sam Bird
Sacha Corbin (c), Summer Artman, Karyn Bailey, Steph Collard, Clare Drakeford, Michelle Drayne, Beth Ecuyer Dale, Zara Everitt, Lindsay Keable, Ellie Kelk, Kalifa McCollin, Gabby Marshall, Razia Quashie, Alice Travis, Frankie Wells. Coach: Kat Ratnapala
Claire Brownie (c), Nicole Aiken-Pinnock, Sara Bayman, Kelly Boyle, Lynsey Gallagher, Ella Gibbons, Bethan Goodwin, Leah Kennedy, Nicola McCleery, Sam Murphy, Jo Pettitt, Emily Nicholl, Shantal Slater, Bethany Sutherland, Vanessa Walker. Coach: Tanya Dearns
Katy Holland (c), Mikki Austin, Charmaine Baard, Adi Bolakoro, Sigi Burger, Rhea Dixon, Jade Forbes-Wattley, Emily Gulvin, Kate Harris, Tallisa Haynes, Lorraine Kowalewska, Georgia Lees, Yaz Parsons, Emily Porter, Jo Trip. Coach: Tania Hoffman.
Eboni Beckford-Chambers (c), Imogen Allison, Kadeen Corbin, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Asha Francis, Layla Guscoth, Josie Janz-Dawson, Chelsea Lewis, Tash Pavelin, Paige Reed, Mia Ritchie, Abi Robson, Rachel Shaw, Jess Shaw, Jazz Scott. Coach: Anna Stembridge.
Emma Dovey (c), Kerry Almond (vc), Kathryn Turner (vc), Dani Bloomfield, Amy Carter, Amy Clinton, Taylor Cullen, Beccy Hoult, Liana Leota, Sophie Morgan, Joyce Mvula, Caroline O’Hanlon, Bea Skingsley, Ally Thomas, Abby Tyrrell. Coach: Karen Greig.
Natalie Panagarry (c), Rebekah Airey, Susie Armstrong, Ella Clark, Beth Cobden, Brittany Coleman, Chloe Essam, Brie Grierson, Rosie Harris, Hannah Joseph, Lauren Nicholls, Vicki Oyesola, Peace Proscovia, Shamera Sterling, Anya Wood. Coach: Anna Carter.
Halimat Adio, Sophia Candappa, Jade Clarke, Rachel Dunn, George Fisher, Amy Flanagan, Lucy Harris, Natalie Haythornthwaite, Josie Huckle, Sam May, Hannah Reid, Renske Stoltz, Monique Thompson, Francesca Williams. Coach: Tamsin Greenway.
Netball Scoop predictions
|Michael Hutchinson||Ian Harkin||Rona Hunnisett|
|Netball Scoop Chair||Netball Scoop writer||Netball Scoop UK writer|
|1. Wasps||1. Wasps||1. Wasps|
|2. Bath||2. Lightning||2. Bath|
|3. Lightning||3. Bath||3. Lightning|
|4. Thunder||4. Thunder||4. Mavericks|
|5. Stars||5. Mavericks||5. Sirens|
|6. Mavericks||6. Stars||6. Thunder|
|7. Storm||7. Storm||7. Stars|
|8. Sirens||8. Sirens||8. Storm|
|9. Northumbria||9. Northumbria||9. Northumbria|
|10. Dragons||10. Dragons||10. Dragons|
By Michael Hutchinson, with Ian Harkin.