By: Ian Harkin and Rona Hunnisett
With the signing window for the Vitality Netball Superleague now closed, and squads confirmed, eyes now turn to the season’s opening fixtures on 22 February. And, while the new format, which sees an additional round of fixtures tacked onto the start of the season, ostensibly as a “made for TV” format, has drawn criticism that it unfairly penalises some teams, it will provide an early look at the form for the 2020 season.
Here is a look at how the teams shape up this year. We were also pleased to get the thoughts of four-time winning Superleague coach, new Scottish Thistles coach and Sky Sports commentator Tamsin Greenway, as she picked out her player to watch from each team.
Last year: Won
2020 Squad: Rebekah Airey, Eleanor Cardwell, Ella Carly-Standring, Amy Carter, Emma Dovey, Laura Malcolm, Elia McCormick, Joyce Mvula, Ashleigh Neal, Loreen Ngwira, Caroline O’Hanlon, Lois Pearson, Berri Samara-Neil, Alicia Scholes, Kathryn Turner. Coach: Karen Greig
It is often said that an individual team can be stronger than a team of individuals. Manchester Thunder’s squad for the 2020 season is, in the main, unchanged from the line up which lifted the title at the end of 2019. As a result, connections across the squad are strong, making it hard to bet against them competing for the title again this year. However, in order to do this, they will need to mitigate for the loss of midcourt general Liana Leota, who was at the heart of the side’s front line for many years, as well as inspirational defender Kerry Almond, who retired at the end of 2020. The black and yellows have recruited well, replacing the departing Leota with Ash Neal from London Pulse and strengthening their defensive line with Malawi’s Loreen Ngwira. Can they score back-to-back titles?
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Fresh off the back of her great international debut, Amy Carter is calm, controlled and smart at centre and wing defence. She’s feisty in defence and creative in the attack end. She may have to fight for court time in a strong Thunder squad, but is only going to go from strength to strength.
Last year: 2nd
2020 Squad: Alexia Baker, Sophia Candappa, Jade Clarke, Iona Christian, Beth Dix, Rachel Dunn, Amy Flanagan, Katie Harris, Ally Housley, Josie Huckle, Hannah Knights, Hannah Leighton, Tamsin Moala, Sienna Rushton, Fran Williams. Coach: Mel Mansfield
Last year’s table-toppers, Wasps Netball, should make the playoffs once again, with a strong squad right across the court and no obvious weaknesses. Losing Bonge Msomi, who has returned to South Africa, could have been an issue for the Wasps front line, but the recruitment of England Rose, Iona Christian will give the emerging international the chance to forge on-court connections with perennial stars Jade Clarke and Rachel Dunn. Sophia Candappa’s return from the birth of her first child will give coach, Mel Mansfield, more options in the midcourt. Hannah Knights and Fran Williams should build on their excellent defensive work from 2019, but much will depend on the continued growth in confidence of goal attack, Katie Harris if Wasps are to win their third title in four years.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Iona Christian has joined Wasps from Stars this season and is a short, sharp, nippy wing attack. Her drive to the circle is difficult to defend and she has a great read of the game. She will be looking to cement her partnership with Rachel Dunn and Jade Clarke as she knocks on England’s door.
Last year: 3rd
2020 Squad: Imogen Allison, Summer Artman, Khanyisa Chawane, Kim Commane, Betsy Creak, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Rachel Fee, Hannah Passmore, Tash Pavelin, Mia Ritchie, Abi Robson, Laura Rudland, Rachel Shaw, Fionnuala Toner. Coach: Jo Vann
Team Bath will start 2020 with a largely settled line-up with their only new additions being Fionnula Toner (London Pulse) and Khanyisa Chawane (South Africa) added to the 2020 squad. However, they do suffer the big loss of Serena Guthrie who is taking a well-earned sabbatical year after a frantic national and international four-year cycle. So, much will depend on the ability of Toner, Mia Ritchie and emerging England star Imogen Allison’s to marshal the midcourt and match the England captain’s drive to the circle edge. Aussie, Kim Commane, and youngster Sophie Drakeford-Lewis utilised the 2019 season to learn and build, and their mobile and accurate shooting combination could well drive the Bath side into contention for playoff spots at the end of the year. On the eve of the season’s start, Eboni Usoro-Brown has just announced she is pregnant. Losing a player of her skill will make things that much tougher.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: After losing Serena Guthrie, Bath had to find a key midcourter, and Khanyisa Chawane could be it. She covers all three positions, is tough defensively and rapid in attack. She’ll be a focus for Bath and they’ll have to find the position that fits. If it’s in attack then she’ll have to adapt quickly to feeding a rotating circle.
Last year: 4th
2020 Squad: Mary Cholhok, Ella Clark, Beth Gabriel, Alice Harvey, Hannah Joseph, Suzie Liverseidge, Sam May, Lauren Nicholls, Jasmin Odeogberin, Vicki Oyesola, Nat Panagarry, Lucy Parize, Annabel Roddy, Jess Shaw, Hannah Williams. Coach: Sara Bayman
The arrival of Sam May from Wasps will give Loughborough Lightning’s defensive lineup a welcome boost, and her versatility will give coach Sara Bayman options to combat a variety of attacking opponents. Bayman will be looking to May, Ella Clark and Natalie Panagarry to apply their experience to inspire the young Loughborough line up. The Lightning team has bags of potential, and it would only be a lack of some matchday “smarts” which would prevent the Midlands-based side making it to the playoffs this year.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Vicki Oyesola is another young English defender in for a big season. Lightning’s issue last season was the amount of goals they leaked. With Mary Cholhok at one end, scoring isn’t an issue, so it’s the defence that needed sorting. Oyesola, with the right partner is lethal, intercepting ball through the court and allowing the goal keeper to thrive. She proved that with Sterling in 2018. With Sam May moving to Lightning from Wasps, Oyesola will be looking to build that partnership quickly.
Last year: 5th
2020 Squad: Stephanie Collard, Sasha Corbin, Kadeen Corbin, Beth Ecuyer-Dale, Chloe Essam, George Fisher, Jodie Gibson, Stephanie Collard, Georgia Lees, Gabby Marshall, Paige McCalla, Razia Quashie, Jo Trip. Coach: Kat Ratnapala
Mavericks will undoubtedly view the 2019 season as the one that got away, with missed opportunities throughout the season costing the Hertfordshire-based side a clear run to the playoffs. Adding Commonwealth gold medallist Jodie Gibson to their line up, after a season out through injury, could be a masterstroke. The utility defender is set to add experience and versatility to the backline, alongside Kiwi Jo Trip and emerging international Razia Quashie. With six internationals in their line up, and the addition of promising youngster Chloe Essam from Wasps, anything less than a playoff spot would be a disappointment for a squad that’s bursting with potential.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Gabby Marshall spent a lot of time injured last season and was unlucky to not get any time during the recent internationals. She is a real winner and has great game sense. She’s the sense of control in a rapid Mavericks attack and will be key for the team to make finals.
Last year: 6th
2020 Squad: Ama Agbeze, Chloe Carchrie, Chloe Cubello, Bethan Dyke, Ellie Gibbons, Lucy Harris, Lucy Herdman, Hannah Howl, Nia Jones, Liana Leota, Ella Powell-Davies, Paige Reed, Georgia Rowe, Jane Taylor, Towera Vinkhumbo. Coach: Melissa Bessell
One of the most intriguing lineups for 2020 comes in the form of the Severn Stars squad. After failing to ignite in the past couple of seasons, the west of England side has made wholesale changes to its lineup for the new season, starting with the recruitment of head coach Melissa Bessell. Her return to the competition has undoubtedly been a draw for players. The signing of Malawi’s Towera Vinkhumbo, Welsh internationals Bethan Dyke, Georgia Rowe and dual code athlete Nia Jones and former England captain Ama Agbeze gives the squad a truly international flavour. The side’s prospects could rest on Bessell’s ability to meld her players’ disparate playing styles into a cohesive unit.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Ella Powell Davis is fiery. She takes no-nonsense on the court for a young player. I actually think Ella could make it all the way as her read of the game is excellent, and who better to keep learning off than Liana Leota who has made the move to Stars. I think she needs to become a master in one position this season rather than play across a few and that will really help her develop.
Last year: 7th
2020 Squad: Dee Bolakoro, Laura Burton, Amy Clinton, Brittany Coleman, Rhian Evans, Lucy Howells, Paige Kindred, Eleri Michael, Sophie Morgan, Shona O’Dwyer, Rebekah Robinson, Abby Tyrrell, Latanya Wilson. Coach: Tania Hoffman
The withdrawal of inspirational shooter Chelsea Lewis (who announced her first pregnancy just weeks out from the start of the season), and the loss of three experienced internationals (Jones and Dyke to Severn Stars and McCollin to New Zealand), may have dealt Celtic Dragons a body blow from which their season may not recover. Jamaicans Rebekah Robinson and Latanya Wilson have been recruited, along with a number of emerging English talents, but can they make up for the talent lost in recent times? Coaching staff will be hoping the new line up establishes strong through-court connections quickly if Dragons are not to spend the season languishing at the foot of the table once again.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: I think we were all impressed with Latanya Wilson’s short performances in the Nations Cup. She partnered well with Sterling in the circle. She’s rangy and physical and I’m looking forward to seeing how she works within the Dragons’ defence and how they get the best out of her.
Last year: 8th
2020 Squad: Mikki Austin (Player-Coach), Karyn Bailey, Niamh Cooper, Charlotte Curtis, Leah Goss, Emily Gulvin, Sophie Hankin, Yasmin Hodge-England, Katy Hughes, Nicole Humphrys, Ellie Kelk, Lorraine Kowalewska, Leah Middleton, Yasmin Parsons, Alima Priest.
Player changes continue at Surrey Storm, with player/coach Mikki Austin adding former Mavericks Sophie Hankin and Karyn Bailey and Northern Ireland’s Niamh Cooper to her squad for 2020. While, on paper, the Storm side may not seem as strong as the club’s title-winning line up of old, Austin proved her coaching credentials last year to develop a team which challenged many of the top sides. The lack of star quality may work against the Surrey side across the season, but they have the talent and energy to provide a few surprises as the year progresses.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Sophie Hankin has been around a while playing at Mavericks and Team Northumbria but has always dipped in and out. Moving to Storm is a new opportunity and her relationship with Karyn Bailey is why I’ve picked her out. Storm struggled at goal attack last season, and with Hankin they may have found their answer. She’s happy to shoot from distance and is elusive around the D. The key for her is consistency.
Last year: 9th
2020 Squad: Gia Abernethy, Emma Barrie, Kelly Boyle, Natalie Bright, Cerys Cairns, Taylor Cullen, Lynsey Gallagher, Bethan Goodwin, Sarah MacPhail, Claire Maxwell, Niamh McCall, Nicola McCleery, Emily Nicholl, Lauren Tait, Zanele Vimbela. Coach: Lesley MacDonald
Sirens will be looking for inspiration from new head coach and former international Lesley MacDonald, and director of netball Karen Atkinson, to change the fortunes of a team which will have hoped for more in previous years. While the majority of the line up is settled from 2019, the addition of promising young England star Taylor Cullen from London Pulse will invigorate the side’s fortunes. Also, signings Zanele Vimbela (South Africa) and Natalie Bright (Australia) will bring much needed international grit and experience to the lineup. The Sirens have to cope with longer match day journey times than other clubs in the competition, thanks to their location, and players’ ability to recover and perform on the court will determine their final table position.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Emma Barrie, a young tall shooter, probably got more court time than expected last year after the departure of Cat Tuivati. However, that gave her a massive opportunity, which she took. Her hold, offloads and strength all improved and with a season under her belt, you’d expect more of her again this year.
Last year: 10th
2020 Squad: Halimat Adio, Sigi Burger, Ashleigh Dekker, Michelle Drayne, Zara Everitt, Funmi Fadoju, Lindsay Keable, Kate Lloyd, Ellie Rattu, Kira Rothwell, Chiara Semple, Olivia Tchine, Emma Thacker, Adean Thomas, Monique Thompson. Coach: Sam Bird
London Pulse had a baptism of fire in their first season in the Netball Superleague, and wholesale changes to the club’s line up have taken place over the offseason, starting with the signing of England Futures coach Sam Bird. A number of key names have joined the franchise, including Mavericks’ Lindsey Keable and Michelle Drayne, Loughborough’s Zara Everitt and Stars’ Halimat Adio. South African shooter Sigi Burger from Surrey Storm and Jamaican international Adean Thomas have also joined the side. Much will depend on Bird’s ability to meld different playing styles and levels of experience into a cohesive unit. It may take time for the wins to come for the London-based side.
Tamsin Greenway’s player to watch: Adean Thomas is another Jamaican making a move to the Superleague. I think she was an unfortunate casualty from Jamaica’s poor World Cup performance, but I really rate her. She’s still very raw, but she has heaps of potential. She’s very powerful and agile, is dangerous in defence and can cut open the attack end. However she needs some structure to her game and a season with pulse could just be the answer for her.
How to Watch the 2020 Vitality Netball Superleague
As a taster, netball fans all around the globe çan watch the season-opening matches, for free, on Sky Sports YouTube channel.
English netball fans can catch the full season matches of the Vitality Netball Superleague on Sky Sports Mix. At the time of publication, Netball Scoop can’t determine if full season broadcast has been finalised. So, it’s best to check your local guides.