by Zara Collings
If you’re anything like me, the end of the Vitality Netball Super League 2021 season meant only one thing – it was time to start thinking about the 2022 season and all the excitement of the signing window. The signing window is a fascinating time, where every one of us can pretend to be a coach and discuss who we would bring in to which squad to ensure they were title contenders next year. We can fantasise about our dream combos and flick through last season’s stats in the hope of calling it correctly to our hearts content. After what feels like an eternity since VNSL action was last on our screens, we are edging ever closer to finding out who is moving where for 2022.
After completing the 2021 season under the most difficult of circumstances, we could see some players look to establish themselves as starting players and make the move for more court time. With the Central Bargaining Agreement now confirmed for the Suncorp Super Netball League, there is also the chance that some of our Australian-based Roses may make a triumphant return back to the UK in order to be closer to the ground heading into the Commonwealth Games. Conversely, with only a few contracted players announced in Australia, could some of our VNSL stars make the move across the world? With much to discuss and talk about, let’s dive into some prime speculation and transfer gossip by considering what certain teams may be looking for to secure success in 2022.
I want to start with our fifth placed team in 2021 Saracen’s Mavericks. As we acknowledged many times throughout the year, Mavericks were a team plagued by inconsistency. With a star studded line up including the internationally experienced Corbin sisters Sasha and Kadeen, Spar Proteas Ine-Marie Venter and up and coming Roses superstars Razia Quashie and Gabby Marshall, many tipped Mavericks to make it to the finals. However the same tenacity and flair that ensures they are among some of the best on court, can also be their downfall. With the retirement of Jo Tripp, some erratic through court movement and the inability to treasure possession, Mavericks will be in the market for a couple of players to really bolster their ranks. If Quashie is available for 2022 in full health, she will naturally be the starting Goal Keeper as an English Rose on the rise. Jodie Gibson’s triumphant return to Superleague saw her make her mark in the defensive end, most notably at Goal Defence, so a solid option to bolster this defensive partnership could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Mavericks.
With Eboni Usuro-Brown and Layla Gusgoth proving to be an insurmountable defence for the majority of the season, a lack of court time at Team Bath may see Summer Artman be a good option for a Mavericks team looking to build their defensive unit. Artman is an excellent alternative to Quashie, offering a taller defensive figure whilst also able to step into the Goal Defence position. This could be exactly the move needed to reinvigorate her playing career and push her back into the mind’s of the Roses Selectors. Looking further afield, will a return home be on the cards for Stacey Francis-Bayman? The uncertainties of Covid have been wreaking havoc in Australia and with the opportunity to spend more time with her wife Sara Francis-Bayman, Mavericks might also be an enticing option for the English Rose. Partnering Razia Quashie in the circle would stand both in great stead heading into selection for the Commonwealth Games, something which will be not too far from these player’s minds as they put pen to paper for 2022.
Heading up North, Strathclyde Sirens really were the biggest surprise package this year – a surprise that is, unless you were part of the Sirens camp! The belief this team had in each other and the trust from their coaching staff was clear to see each and every week and it was a belief that led the Scottish franchise to their highest ever finish in the club’s history. With the early injury to Scottish Goal Attack Lynsey Gallagher, young shooter Niamh McCall was thrust into the limelight, an opportunity she grabbed with both hands. I’d hope to see McCall retain her starting position due to her strong connections with both Scottish shooters in Emma Barrie and Bethan Goodwin, with the experience of Gallagher able to mix things up out front. This was an exciting squad with plenty of talent on court, yet it was the lack of depth on their bench that at times cost Sirens this season. Without a veteran or experienced player to bring on for impact, when Sirens were missing one of their starting seven, we saw the team struggle to maintain that punch and energy that characterised their season. It’s at this point that it becomes a question of whether Sirens are a pathway for the Scottish Thistles, in which case you would naturally want a bench filled with up and coming Scottish talent, or an independent team gunning for finals. You want players who know how to thrive in the pressure situations that can come on and win you a game. Therefore, it is their bench that I would look to strengthen in the off season. This is a problem that the selectors may not have to try too hard to solve with a plethora of experienced players poised to return to court in 2022. The potential return of Clare Maxwell could also bolster the Sirens defensive midcourt ranks and her versatility and experience could be enough for Sirens to push their way into the top four in 2022 without having to make any wholesale squad changes. Alongside Goal Attack Gallagher and midcourter Maxwell, Siren’s may also wish to pick up one of the talented defenders that are finding themselves on the bench at other clubs.
Finishing in sixth place was not what two-time champions Wasps would have been looking for in 2021. As a club that holds themselves to a very high standard, Head Coach Mel Mansfield appeared somewhat despondent at the inconsistency and lack of energy on court that we saw from the black and gold last season. In defence, the partnership between Josie Huckle and Fran Williams continued to develop and if Wasps can retain the services of both, will only grow stronger in 2022. With Sophia Candappa unlikely to be available for the 2022 season as she takes maternity leave, Wasps could do with a strong boost in their midcourt. The return of English Rose Natalie Haythornthwaite to the VNSL has caused plenty of excitement, yet the question arises as to whether the Premiership winning Swift would head back to her old club, or seek pastures new to continue her development. We also saw Wasps share the shooting load between Rachel Dunn, Katie Harris and Jamaican import Gizelle Allison, yet this was a combination that struggled to connect on court. Wasps should be looking to mix things up in the shooting circle, so I expect some changes to be made after such a disappointing season. Haythornthwaite has played in the Wasps circle before and has the long-standing connection with Rachel Dunn, so this could be a logical move for the Roses Captain. Yet, after sixteen years in the league, is a retirement or move on the cards for the shooting stalwart Dunn, who balances her netball career with her job as a geneticist. Could Wasps look to bring in a fresh young shooter to mix things up? Perhaps the likes of Sigi Burger from Pulse or Dragon’s Amy Clinton could soothe Wasps’s shooting pains.
For London Pulse, this season will also be considered a disappointment as many, including myself, tipped their talented young roster to make the top four. Struggling to find a settled starting seven, it took Pulse until the second half of the season to really cement their combinations and see these results on court. In the circle, the defensive combination of Halimat Adio, Fumni Fadoju and Zara Everitt proved to be the winning formula, which saw co-captain Lindsay Keeble sidelined for much of the latter half of the season. If Pulse can retain this young trio, their connection and energy will only improve in 2022. At the other end of the court, we saw four talented shooters battle for court time, with Olivia Tschine, Lefebre Rademann, Kira Rothwell and Sigi Burger all chasing two starting bibs. Moving forward, it is likely that one or two of these athletes will seek a starting seven spot elsewhere as all four are worthy of being on court. With Donnell Wallam not returning to the UK and Karyn Bailey announcing her retirement, could we see VNSL fan favourite Sigi Burger return to Surrey Storm or perhaps pop up at Leeds Rhinos to partner with newly named English Rose Rhea Dixon? Or, will a short and nippy Goal Attack/Wing Attack like Rothwell or Rademann be what the doctors ordered for Wasps or Mavericks. After failing to deliver across the past three seasons and the announcement of Lisa Alexander joining the coaching ranks, I’m expecting some to see some major changes in the Pulse roster.
Wallam’s departure from Rhinos has meant that signing an experienced shooter will be top of the to-do list for the new Head Coach, whomever they may be. With the Head Coach announcement still under wraps, it is certainly worth considering who could be looking to step up into the main position. Dan Ryan built an extremely successful club culture, so Rhinos will be looking for a strong leader who can come in and maintain and build upon this. After a year coaching with her good friend Karen Grieg, is this the opportunity Tracey Neville needs to move back into the Head Coach position? If so, which players does she look to surround herself with to continue the Yorkshire side’s momentum from 2021?
Haythornthwaite would certainly be attracted by the opportunity to work with her former Roses coach and could be tempted by a move closer to home. Her flexibility to play both WA and GA would allow her to mentor Brie Grierson, who can also swing through both positions despite spending the majority of her time in the midcourt. Pulse Goal Shooter Sigi Burger could also look to make the move for more court time and could provide a great target in the circle for Rhinos.
Surrey Storm are also a team in need of wholesale changes, struggling to capitalise on the talent in their ranks and ending the season as one of the most heavily penalised defensive units. Alima Priest shone in the second half of the season and would certainly be a great pickup for any team looking to bolster their defensive ranks, however I would love to see her stay at Storm to really build upon the defensive structures that were starting to connect in the latter rounds of 2021. Felisitus Kwangwa did not get the court time many of us expected, sharing her bib with Leah Middleton in Goal Defence. If Storm can keep these three on the roster and work on cutting down those penalties, they would certainly be a force to be reckoned with moving into 2022. To supplement the trio, a change up in the Wing Defence position will ensure that the through court pressure remains high. After a stunning season, Beth Cobden would likely be on every coaches wishlist, yet it is unlikely she would move from her beloved Loughborough Lightning after enjoying such a successful year. Perhaps Francis-Bayman could be headed for the duck egg blue to provide that height in the midcourt, or Lightning’s breakthrough star Jas Odeogberin could be a great pickup for the unit, tending to play an off body style that keeps her out of penalty trouble. Team Bath’s Tash Pavelin also proved why she was deserving of a starting seven bib in 2021 with a breakout season. If Bath are able to retain the services of both Layla Gusgoth and Eboni Usuro-Brown, Pavelin may wish to look elsewhere to get some much deserved court time and joining Surrey Storm could certainly be a good option.
The retirement of Karyn Bailey does leave Storm with a gaping hole in the starting Goal Shooter spot, one which I would love to see filled by Amy Clinton from Celtic Dragons. A strong holding shooter that is able to add movement when needed and shoot from long range could be the key to unlocking Storm’s potential. With young shooters Sophie Kelly, Emma Magee and the experience of Frankie Wells, Clinton could add some valuable height and range in the circle. To compliment Clinton and add further experience to the lineup, I would also look for Storm to sign an experienced Wing Attack. As a free agent, the return of Chelsea Pitman to VNSL is looking likely and signing with Surrey Storm would be a huge pickup for the club, who have struggled to challenge since they won back to back championships in 2015&16. This could also be a huge pickup for Storm and would allow Clinton to get the service she deserves as such a talented athlete.
When looking at Severn Stars and Celtic Dragons, both had a season they would wish to forget. Despite being plagued with injuries, Severn Stars did look to be the more cohesive of the two, yet with Liana Leota stepping up into an England coaching role, her future as a player at the club remains unlikely. Securing the services of a high profile Wing Attack like Pitman or Haythornthwaite would certainly be a huge boost for Stars, yet their problems lie throughout the court and one individual signing will not initiate enough of a shift. For Stars, I would like to see some work done on the shooting circle as Georgia Rowe, Paige Reed and Helen Taylor certainly have talent, but at times lack the punch to really spur their team on to a win. In defence, Lucy Harris had a great season in Goal Keeper after making the transition from Goal Shooter. The key to unlocking her further defensive potential, would be finding a settled line up to run in front of her. This will allow her to really hone her defensive game and could see Stars secure more wins in 2022.
With a new coach coming in to Celtic Dragons, Danni Titmuss may look to hold on to some of the key players that performed for the side in 2021. Clare Jones and Abbie Tyrrell were standout in green, yet it remains uncertain if Annika Lee-Jones will return to the UK after heading home to Australia for the Summer. If Dragon’s could secure a couple of big names to bolster their ranks, they should certainly perform better in 2022. Without any squad changes, it could be another difficult and long year for the Welsh franchise.
At the top of the table, I expect very little to change with Team Bath, Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder. All three showed strong signs of depth and commitment to their pathways, as we saw the likes of Suzie Liverseidge, Betsy Creak, Lois Pearson, Berri Neal and Elia McCormick get plenty of court time and exposure in 2021. These franchises will be keen to hold on to this talent to ensure that they continue to build their benches and should look to give these players even more exposure in 2022. If Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning can hold on to the talent of Alice Harvey, Jas Odeogberin and Tash Pavelin next season too, whilst continuing to develop their younger talent, I expect both these teams to once again challenge for the title.
With no signings announced yet, there has certainly been plenty of speculation surrounding who would move where within the league, yet there are also murmurings that some players may make the move to the other side of the world, to ply their trade elsewhere. After witnessing the success that George Fisher achieved in her first season with the Southern Steel in the ANZ Championship, could some of our other English Roses be tempted by the bright lights down under? Eleanor Cardwell has shone in recent international series, with her strength and ability to play both Goal Attack and Goal Shooter attracting plenty of applause. Her accuracy from range would make her a very strong pick up for any SSN franchise looking to secure a long bomb specialist. Conversely, we have seen Caitlin Bassett and Kaylia Stanton both announce they are not resigning with the WBOP Magic and Melbourne Vixens respectively. Could a move to the VNSL be on the cards for either? Leeds Rhinos and Surrey Storm are both without their starting Goal Shooter from 2021 and with plenty of movement elsewhere within the league, opportunities exist for both players to make their mark. The appointment of former Diamonds Coach Lisa Alexander to London Pulse will not harm efforts to bring over Australian talent, meaning this could be a very interesting signing period indeed.
Be sure to share your thoughts and predictions with us on socials about who you would like to see move where and be sure to check back on our VNSL signings page for all the latest information.