By: Ian Harkin and Zara Collings
Well, here we are. At times, it looked like we wouldn’t make it, but the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague is about to start. And what a start! Sadly, there will be no fans courtside, but despite that, there will be more people watching than in previous years. Playing all games in just two hub venues (Wakefield and London) has made it possible for the competition’s broadcaster Sky Sports to show all games live, either on television or on their YouTube channel. This kind of blanket coverage is a vast improvement and the sort of thing UK Superleague fans have been dreaming of for many years. In more great news for the sport, Sky has also extended their multi-year agreement with England Netball. It remains to be seen if such wall to wall coverage will continue when the competition returns to a more regular home and away format, but this season is nothing but positive for viewers.
Unfortunately, there is no defending champion this year. The 2020 VNSL, which was looking like an incredible competition, had to be abandoned halfway through the fourth round due to COVID-19. Although most people considered this decision unavoidable at the time, it still left many upset. UK netball fans were in despair, with no netball to help get them through what was a very tough year. All the more reason then to get excited about 2021. So who’s going to win? Will it be Manchester Thunder, the most recent title winners? Or Wasps, who won it for the two previous years? Or will it be Team Bath who’ve won more titles than anybody else? Or maybe Mavericks? Or Lightning? How about Pulse who started so well last year? Or the newest entry to Superleague, Leeds Rhinos. One thing’s for sure. This season looks set to be a cracker. And it all starts on Friday, February 12.
In this preview, Netball Scoop’s Ian Harkin and Zara Collings go through each of the teams, and are then joined by three prominent members of the netball media, Tamsin Greenway, Denise Evans and Sacha Shipway to make predictions and pick out the players to watch for the season ahead…
2021 SUPERLEAGUE TEAM PREVIEWS
2020: Played 3 (0 wins, 3 losses)
The only team which failed to notch a win in last year’s abandoned competition, Celtic Dragons could be forgiven for going into the 2021 season with low expectations. Especially after they lost exciting defender Latanya Wilson to the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the off-season. But even though they may be lacking the big names of some other teams, coach Tania Hoffman has assembled a lineup full of enthusiasm. Dynamic midcourter Sophie Morgan and Jamaican goal attack Rebekah Robinson will share the job of leading the team as co-captains. The other import is Australian Annika Lee-Jones, who replaces Wilson. It may be somewhat of a surprise for those that have followed her Super Netball career, but it’s highly likely Lee-Jones will be used at goal shooter as well as goal keeper. Amy Clinton will also be an important player in the shooting circle, while Laura Rudland has joined from Team Bath, giving the team another attacking option at wing attack/goal attack. Abby Tyrrell is always a very solid performer in defence.
Keys to success: Lee-Jones’s ability to play goal shooter could be vital in ensuring a better start to 2021. With her height and versatility, she could prove a focal point where needed in attack or defence. Dragons have struggled to maintain intensity and consistency throughout matches. They have the potential in Clinton and Robinson to build an exciting and dynamic attack but must ensure they avoid that inconsistency. In defence, they must focus on building pressure and winning clean ball. They’ll need to settle into the season quickly and ensure they are delivering accurate and calm circle feeds and treasuring any ball they get.
2021 Squad: Rebecca Baker, Victoria Booth, Amy Clinton, Morganne Dunn, Lucy Howells, Clare Jones, Annika Lee-Jones, Sophie Morgan (co-capt), Shona O’Dwyer, Annie O’Rourke, Rebekah Robinson (co-capt), Laura Rudland, Christina Shaw, Leila Thomas, Abby Tyrrell. Coach: Tania Hoffman
LEEDS RHINOS NETBALL
It’s the new kids on the block. Yorkshire has a presence in the Superleague again, with the admission of Leeds Rhinos into the competition. And they hit the ground running. Dan Ryan was brought in as the club’s inaugural coach, and they began with some big name signings, including that of England’s most capped player, Jade Clarke. Unfortunately, probably the biggest signing of them all, Australian star Madi Browne, has had to defer her arrival at the club until 2022. This will no doubt hurt the club’s chances and disappoint many fans. There is still reason for optimism though. Clarke will bring much needed experience to the midcourt, as will fellow co-captain Fi Toner and Vicki Oyesola in defence. Another interesting signing is goal shooter Donnell Wallam, who has dominated the WA Netball League in Australia for the past two years. If she can find her feet quickly and get good service from her teammates, she may lead the team to some good wins. But can they still be highly competitive without Browne?
Keys to success: Rhinos begin their debut season with a relatively inexperienced attacking end. Whilst Wallam brings bags of talent, her lack of experience in this league may be a weak spot that teams will look to exploit. Clarke’s ability to maintain a cool, calm head on court and rally the team is going to be a huge factor in determining the success of the side’s maiden season. Coach Ryan has a great track record of developing shooters, so expect Rhinos’ attack to improve continuously throughout the season. Their ability to build upon each result is essential for the club to challenge the League’s top-teams and shake the underdog tag.
2021 Squad: Jade Clarke (co-capt), Britt Coleman, Rhea Dixon, Brie Grierson, Amelia Hall, Rosie Harris, Emily Hollingworth, Tuaine Keenan, Paige Kindred, Michelle Magee, Vicki Oyesola, Sienna Rushton, Fionnuala Toner (co-capt), Donnell Wallam. Coach: Dan Ryan
2020: Played 3 (3 wins, 0 losses)
2020 was tough enough as it was, but imagine you’re coach Sam Bird and her London Pulse team. In just their second year in the Superleague, they started with a bang. Three straight wins, before it all just ground to a halt. The wins may have come against lower ranked teams, but even so, the team showed great promise. Now it’s time to back that up, and if anything, this year’s team appears even stronger thanks to the signing of creative South African goal attack Lefebre Rademan. She’ll partner countrywoman Sigi Burger in a powerful shooting circle, and they’ll be fed by Jamaican midcourt dynamo Adean Thomas. When you add co-captains Halimat Adio and Lindsay Keable in defence, and vice-captain Michelle Drayne in midcourt, the team begins to take on a settled look. The core of the squad however remains an exciting group of possible future England Roses. One such player is exciting 18 year old defender Funmi Fadoju. It will be interesting to see how she and the other youngsters progress in 2021.
Keys to success: Retaining the majority of their squad and continuing to train virtually through the off-season, Pulse have the connections to make an impact in 2021. With some of the brightest young defenders in England with the speed and agility to turn over a lot of ball, Pulse must ensure they remain level-headed in their through court play and capitalise on any ball they pick up. Rademann and Burger are the likely starting shooting combo, but with great depth on the bench, Pulse are able to mix up their attack. Burger’s high accuracy could prove vital for the London team, should a place in the top four come down to the wire.
2021 Squad: Halimat Adio (co-capt), Sigi Burger, Ashleigh Dekker, Michelle Drayne, Zara Everitt, Funmi Fadoju, Lindsay Keable (co-capt), Lefebre Rademan, Ellie Rattu, Kira Rothwell, Isabel Stibbs, Olivia Tchine, Emma Thacker, Adean Thomas, Monique Thompson. Coach: Sam Bird
2020: Played 3 (1 win, 2 losses)
She’s back. After two troubled and injury-plagued years in Australia, fan favourite Beth Cobden returns. Hopefully, the injuries are behind her now as she is a world class wing defence when at her best. She was a major part of the Lightning team that made the grand final in both 2017 and 2018. Captain on both of those occasions was midcourt star Nat Panagarry, and she is back to lead the side once again in her sixth season in purple. Coach Sara Bayman has at her disposal a talented list of athletes capable of challenging for a spot in the semi-finals. Spearheading the attack is Ugandan international Mary Cholhok, the tallest player in the competition. Her partner in the circle will be dual international Ella Clark. Between the two of them, there should be no problem for Lightning scoring goals, and plenty of them. It’s just a matter of stopping them at the other end. Fresh from a terrific performance for the Superleague All Stars in the recent series against England, Sam May is in the perfect form to do just that.
Keys to success: Lightning are looking strong throughout the court, spearheaded by Cholhok, who ended the 2020 season on the highest number of goals per game across the League. Cholhok’s height and combination with fellow tall timber Clark is one of the Lightning’s greatest assets. However, they must not get complacent and rely only on their height. They may need to vary their attacking set-up to avoid becoming predictable. With Panagarry and Cobden both fighting for a spot in the Roses’ Commonwealth Games team, expect this duo to be firing each match in a bid to impress, bringing plenty of guts to the Lightning midcourt.
2021 Squad: Ella Clark, Beth Cobden, Mary Cholhok, Beth Gabriel, Alice Harvey, Hannah Joseph, Suzie Liverseidge, Sam May, Lauren Nicholls, Jas Odeogberin, Nat Panagarry (capt), Lucy Parize, Annabel Roddy, Hannah Williams. Coach: Sara Bayman
2020: Played 4 (4 wins, 0 losses)
Having started strongly as defending champions, Thunder was openly disappointed with the abandonment of the 2020 season. No doubt they’ll be fired up to start well again. A familiar face returns in title-winning coach Tracey Neville, who will assist Karen Greig in coaching the team, led by Emma Dovey. Another Thunder legend returning is Kerry Almond who has come out of retirement to replace Loreen Ngwira who had to return to Malawi. Regular goal attack Kathryn Turner will be missing, having stepped away from the game to have a baby. Her absence is likely to see Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula share the circle, instead of fighting over the goal shooter bib. Or will rookie Lois Pearson get a run at goal attack instead? Whatever the case, they’ll be on the end of the slick work of an international midcourt, with Northern Ireland’s irrepressible Caroline O’Hanlon joined by England duo Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter. Over the past decade, the Manchester-based team has been consistently strong. 2021 should be no different.
Keys to success: After standout performances from Mvula and Cardwell in the recent All-Star series, it’s clear that Thunder has no shortage of talent at goal shooter. But with Turner taking the season off, Thunder must decide whether to give youngster Pearson a baptism of fire and hand her a spot in the seven, or push Cardwell out to goal attack, where she may perhaps have less impact. The lack of an experienced natural goal attack could prove a sticking point and pressure will fall on the midcourt. With Carter, Malcolm and O’Hanlon all able to cover multiple midcourt positions, Thunder should have the variety available to navigate this.
2021 Squad: Rebecca Airey, Kerry Almond, Eleanor Cardwell, Amy Carter, Emma Dovey (capt), Laura Malcolm, Elia McCormick, Joyce Mvula, Berri Neil, Caroline O’Hanlon, Lois Pearson, Emilia Roscoe, Millie Sanders, Alicia Scholes, Ella Standring. Coach: Karen Greig
2020: Played 3 (2 wins, 1 loss)
Defence, defence, defence. That is one of the major reasons that Kat Ratnapala’s Mavericks team are being talked up as a possible contender this year. Razia Quashie has just come off a series for England where she absolutely starred at goal keeper. Meanwhile, kiwi Jo Trip was consistently one of the best performers for the opposing All Stars team. Putting those two together, and then adding Roses defender Jodie Gibson for good measure, sees the team with a fantastic defensive set up. Captain Sasha Corbin leads the team well from wing attack, alongside the impressive Gabby Marshall at centre. It’s in the shooting circle where the big change has occurred. South African Ine-Mari Venter has been brought in to replace George Fisher who signed on to play in the ANZ Premiership this year. Venter had a disappointing run in Super Netball last year, getting little court time and she will be keen to show what she can do. She will partner Kadeen Corbin and the performance of these two will be vital to the team’s chances.
Keys to success: Losing star shooter Fisher to Southern Steel could have been a huge blow for Mavericks, but Venter may prove to be the adjustment that is needed to take them all the way to the final in 2021. In goal attack, Corbin has the capability to provide slick and crafty ball movement, but sometimes lets this impact her accuracy under the post. If she can maintain a cool head, her combination with Venter could be lethal. In defence, Quashie has been player of the match in two of her last three outings for the Roses and is one of the League’s most exciting goal keepers. Her elevation and ability to read the play will be key.
2021 Squad: Bella Baylis, Steph Collard, Kadeen Corbin, Sasha Corbin (capt), Beth Ecuyer-Dale, Chloe Essam, Jodie Gibson, Georgia Lees, Gabby Marshall, Dani McFarlane, Britney Pringle-Clarke, Razia Quashie, Jo Trip, Ine-Mari Venter, Aliyah Zaranyika. Coach: Kat Ratnapala
2020: played 4 (1 win, 3 losses)
Kiwi midcourt maestro Liana Leota was the overwhelming fan favourite during the recent series between the VNSL All Stars and England. Viewers were in awe of her skills and court craft. Well, now, she’s back to lead Melissa Bissell’s Severn Stars team, and she’ll be trying to transfer that form to the Superleague. Stars finished off 2020 in style, with a tremendous victory over Wasps in their last game before the abandonment of the season. Ever-improving goal shooter Georgia Rowe shot 47/48 in that match, and she is understandably the target of much of the Stars attack. She is supported well by Paige Reed at goal attack. There has been a big turnover in personnel at the other end of the court, where one player to watch will be Lucy Herdman. Better known previously as a shooter, she is now playing more predominantly as a defender. Former Jamaican captain Malysha Kelly also comes into the side to shore up the defence end, while as ever, wing defence Nia Jones will be doing her best to disrupt opposition attacks.
Keys to success: Although competitive, Stars have struggled to maintain consistency and perform for the full 60 minutes in matches, never placing higher than sixth since their inception. But with plenty of young talent sticking with the franchise, and under the leadership of internationals Leota and Jones, there is no reason they cannot finish higher. Leota is a mastermind in attack and her flair and creativity is unmatched on court. With Rowe able to provide a focal point in the circle, her relationship with Reed continues to develop and if both can remain focused and firing for all four quarters, Stars have a chance to shine in 2021.
2021 Squad: Adi Bolakoro, Chloe Carchrie, Bethan Dyke, Issy Eaton, Ellie Gibbons, Lucy Harris, Lucy Herdman, Hannah Howl, Nia Jones, Malysha Kelly, Liana Leota (capt), Paige Reed, Georgia Rowe, Jane Taylor, Iman Thomas. Coach: Melissa Bessell
2020: Played 3 (1 win, 2 losses)
It’s been a tricky off season for Lesley MacDonald and her Sirens. After initially signing on for 2021, two key players had to withdraw from the squad, and for very different reasons. Firstly, Scottish stalwart Claire Maxwell is having a baby. She will step away from playing to take up an assistant coach’s role. While this is joyous news for her, it leaves a big hole in the midcourt. Captain Gia Abernethy has a vital role to play there. Then, just days after Maxwell’s announcement, South African defender Zanele Vimbela also had to withdraw due to a serious knee injury. This is another big loss as she starred for Sirens in the three matches they were able to play last year. Malawi international Towera Vinkhumbo comes into the side for Vimbela and is likely to combine with Sarah MacPhail and Emily Nicholl in defence. In the shooting circle, there are two promising goal shooters to choose from in Emma Barrie and Beth Goodwin. Their partnership with goal attack Lynsey Gallagher will go a long way to deciding the Sirens’ fate.
Keys to success: Maxwell’s drive, determination and leadership will be missed on court. Captain Abernethy must stand up if the Scottish side are hoping to challenge the top teams. Goodwin and Barrie have proven their composure at both club and international level and partner well with Gallagher, who brings energy to the goal attack position. Without Vimbela and Lauren Tait, the Sirens look a little light defensively and may struggle to halt the league’s more dominant shooters. Despite not being the tallest circle defenders, McPhail and Nicholl must step up and use their game-smarts and footwork to prevent blow-outs.
2021 Squad: Gia Abernethy (capt), Emma Barrie, Rachel Conway, Taylor Cullen, Beth Dix, Lynsey Gallagher, Bethan Goodwin, Emma Love, Sarah MacPhail, Niamh McCall, Nicola McCleery, Emily Nicholl, Caitlin Pringle, Towera Vinkhumbo. Coach: Lesley MacDonald
2020: Played 4 (1 win, 3 losses)
Midcourt dynamo Mikki Austin is back for her third year as Storm’s playing coach, and she will be looking for a move up the ladder from her squad. But they will have to do that without stalwart defender and captain of the past two seasons, Katy Hughes, who has retired. Effectively replacing Hughes in the team will be Storm’s biggest off-season signing, Zimbabwean defender and captain, Felisitus Kwangwa. She is the first player from her country to play in the Superleague, and after a tremendous performance in the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool, big things are expected of her this year. Also in defence, former Australian junior representative Leah Middleton has been very impressive in the pre-season and looks set for a breakout season. Partnering Austin in the midcourt will be Yasmin Parsons, who along with her playmaking ability, will be relied upon to take a greater leadership role. Karyn Bailey will spearhead the team in the shooting circle, along with Ellie Kelk, and Frankie Wells who’s returned to Storm after three years away.
Keys to success: Surrey Storm enter the 2021 season with a real international mix in their defensive end as Zimbabwean Kwangwa joins Aussie Middleton in defence, along with Alima Priest and Northern Ireland’s Niamh Cooper. If they can merge their styles to build a cohesive unit, Storm can create enough confusion to turn over ball. They must capitalise on this to really compete with the top teams. With plenty of options throughout the midcourt, substitutions could prove key for Storm to ensure they are able to put out a complete performance and prevent late match fade-outs that have happened on occasions in previous seasons.
2021 Squad: Mikki Austin, Karyn Bailey, Niamh Cooper, Emily Gulvin, Nicole Humphreys, Ashleigh Jay, Ellie Kelk, Sophie Kelly, Felisitus Kwangwa, Emma Magee, Leah Middleton, Yasmin Parsons (capt), Alima Priest, Grace Sullivan, Frankie Wells. Coach: Mikki Austin
2020: Played 3 (3 wins, 0 losses)
Team Bath is the most successful club in Superleague history, having won five titles. But the last of those was eight years ago. The talent assembled this year suggests that Anna Stembridge’s team have an excellent shot at winning number six. England midcourt maestro Serena Guthrie returns and her mere presence at centre immediately gives the team a more imposing look, in attack and defence. Another returning international is Layla Guscoth, who joins a star studded Bath defensive lineup. First choice goal keeper Eboni Usoro-Brown gave birth in August, and is working her way back to full fitness. But Summer Artman is more than capable of filling her role if needed. Meanwhile, Imogen Allison should hold down the wing defence position, making up a back four full of England Roses. At the shooting end, Australian Kim Borger combines with another top young England talent in Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. All in all, this is an incredibly strong team and it would be a surprise if they weren’t right there at the pointy end.
Keys to success: Bath have English Roses scattered throughout the court and some key players making their Superleague return. One of the strongest defensive units in the league, they will have the ability to generate turnovers and win a lot of ball. With Guthrie able to play a defensive role at centre, the through-court pressure will prove difficult to crack. Key to attack will be the creativity brought by Drakeford-Lewis who must continue to co-ordinate play whilst maintaining a high percentage. Having fallen short in recent years and failed to reach the final, Bath must ensure they carry momentum to the end of the season.
2021 Squad: Imogen Allison, Summer Artman, Kim Borger (co-capt), Betsy Creak, Chartie Curtis, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Layla Guscoth, Serena Guthrie (co-capt), Kirsty Harris, Hannah Passmore, Tash Pavelin, Abi Robson, Jess Shaw, Rachel Shaw, Eboni Usoro-Brown (co-capt). Coach: Anna Stembridge
2020: Played 4 (1 win, 3 losses)
Two-time VNSL champions Wasps have a short but proud history to uphold. They will be looking to improve on an underwhelming start to last year’s abandoned competition. But they’ll have to do it without a couple of familiar faces, Jade Clarke and Hannah Knights. Knights has been a part of all fifteen Superleague seasons, and has led Wasps during all of their short but successful existence. In her absence, Sophia Candappa will take over the leadership of a strong and experienced lineup, coached by Mel Mansfield. With over 200 appearances to her credit, the ever reliable Rachel Dunn is back again, spearheading the team at goal shooter. Jamaican Gezelle Allison has joined the team this season, and is likely to partner Dunn in the circle, although Katie Harris is a strong option too. Other important members of the team are England Roses, Fran Williams in defence and Iona Christian in the midcourt. It is a well balanced team, but after last year’s poor start, people will be asking if Wasps can recapture past glories.
Keys to success: Wasps head into 2021 missing a couple of key players in Clarke and Knights. However, this shouldn’t be a problem for the side with the likes of English Rose Williams stepping up to join the leadership team after breakout performances on the international stage. Her ability to take a well-timed intercept can turn a game. Wasps should not find themselves short of goals as both Dunn and Allison can shoot from distance. Newly appointed captain Candappa returning after the birth of her first child, must step up and lead by example. Her performance could be key in ensuring Wasps are once again finals contenders.
2021 Squad: Gezelle Allison, Sophia Candappa (capt), Lily-May Catling, Iona Christian, Rachel Dunn, Amy Flanagan, Leah Goss, Katie Harris, Ally Housley, Josie Huckle, Ruth Hughes, Hannah Leighton, Ella Powell-Davies, Megan Thorne, Fran Williams. Coach: Mel Mansfield
OUR PREDICTIONS – WHO WILL MAKE THE TOP FOUR?
IAN HARKIN (Netball Scoop)
Manchester Thunder – Thunder has an incredible record of consistency in the Superleague. Discounting last year’s abandoned season (when they were undefeated), the last time Thunder failed to make the semi-finals was way back in the 2008-09 season. And with the talent they have, I’m confident they won’t be missing this year either.
Team Bath – With the return of Serena Guthrie and Layla Guscoth, and just a stacked side all round, expect to see Bath right up there challenging for the title. The defence is extremely strong with a likely back four of all English Roses. It will just be a matter of converting opportunities at the other end.
Saracens Mavericks – The first two teams I think are quite clear cut. Now it gets trickier. I’ve gone for Mavericks in third spot because of their defence. In Razia Quashie, Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip, they are going to win so much ball. Just like Bath, it will then be up to the shooters to convert. This I’m less confident about.
Loughborough Lightning – This was incredibly difficult. It was a toss up between Lightning and Wasps. In the end I just plumped for Lightning because they’ve been consistently around the mark in recent years and with the return of Beth Cobden, I think perhaps they’re on the up whereas Wasps may be on the way down? Famous last words.
ZARA COLLINGS (Netball Scoop)
Team Bath – Bath have dominating players throughout the court and for me, are a sure pick for the finals this year. Star players like Guscoth and Guthrie can take the snazzy intercepts whilst also putting in the hard yards, and if Sophie Drakeford-Lewis can ride the confidence she gained during the recent Legends Series, then they really do have the full package.
Manchester Thunder – It would be bold not to assume the reigning champions would not be there or there abouts when it comes to finals. With another year of experience and guided by veteran O’Hanlon, Thunder have one of the most dynamic and versatile midcourt in the league and I think this is what will drive them into the Top 4.
Saracens Mavericks – You simply cannot overlook the incredible form that Razia Quashie is in right now and the Mavs’ defensive wall is up there with Bath’s as the strongest in the league. If Mavs can solidify the partnership between Corbin and Venter and maintain a high season average percentage, they are looking good for a finals spot.
London Pulse – Pulse are somewhat of a wildcard pick, but I believe they have the speed and flair to cause a lot of upsets this year and this might just see them squeeze into the Top 4. With strong attacking and defensive units, I think it is Pulse’s midcourt that needs to step up in order to push for finals.
TAMSIN GREENWAY (Sky Sports / Scottish Thistles coach)
Team Bath – They say defence wins you championships and Bath’s line up should and could certainly do that. With Usoro-Brown, Guscoth, Allison and Guthrie in their starting 7, they have to be in the finals come crunch time. The sticking point for them is whether they can score enough goals. They were definitely starting to find Borger better at the start of last season but she isn’t the same sort of target some of the other teams have.
Manchester Thunder – 2019 champions and a team that are always tough to beat, they should once again be in the mix. Standouts include Ellie Cardwell who is playing exceptionally well right now, Laura Malcolm who can play across all 3 mid court positions and one of the best C’s in the league Caroline O’Hanlon. Their only issues will be where to play players, with Mvula and Carter sitting in GS and WD, arguably Cardwell and Malcolm’s strongest positions. They also have a very young inexperienced bench.
Loughborough Lightning – A team with a point to prove, Panagarry, Clark, Cobden and Joseph want the title they’ve come so close to winning in the past few seasons. Throw in the fact that Mary Cholhok gets stronger every year, their biggest concern has been their defence end. Losing Oyesola is big news but they’ve been working hard with their youngsters and Odeogberin has really started to shine, alongside May who impressed in the recent legends series.
Wasps Netball – 4th choice is tough and I was torn between Mavericks, Pulse and Wasps – all contenders but I’ve stuck with Wasps. They know how to win and with Rach Dunn under the post they are always going to score goals. Candappa back in the middle is one of the best in touch and vision in the league and that combination with Dunn will be key. Link that with Williams and Flanagan who turn ball over effortlessly just when the team needs it – I think they’ll be up there when it matters.
DENISE EVANS (Journalist / Writer)
Manchester Thunder – I just can’t see past Thunder finishing in the top four. They have the most balanced, settled squad with some high quality training partners to push the regulars for a spot in the match-day squads. Caroline O’Hanlon is one of the fittest and most consistent centres in the league, while England players Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter complete a centre court with both flair and stamina.
Team Bath – The additions of England captain Serena Guthrie and a fit-again Layla Guscoth will solidify Team Bath. They have a number of inexperienced, youth players who have rightfully played themselves into the big time, so as a result I expect some erratic but exciting performances from the five-time champions.
Saracens Mavericks – For one reason or another, Mavericks have fallen short of their promise for the past few seasons. But with full pre-season training behind them, strength and experience at both ends, I expect them to challenge for the title. New import Ine-Mari Venter joins Kadeen Corbin in a dangerous shooting circle, while Jodie Gibson is back from injury to share the defence end with in-form pair Razia Quashie and Jo Trip.
Loughborough Lightning – I toyed with Wasps and new outfit Leeds making it to the semis, but I expect the Rhinos to struggle against the more established sides, while Wasps’ squad just doesn’t excite me as much as that of Lightning. Sara Bayman has both recruited well and sustained the players she needs to put out a balanced squad across court. Superleague stalwarts Nat Panagarry, Beth Cobden, Sam May, Lauren Nicholls, Hannah Joseph and Mary Cholhok are the backbone of the team, with academy players slotting in nicely to add flair.
SACHA SHIPWAY (The Netball Show)
Manchester Thunder – With former England Netball Coach, Tracey Neville back in the mix, along with Karen Greig, Thunder will certainly be ones to watch. If we discount last year, they are the reigning Superleague Champions so with such a forceful coaching team, in addition to all the on-court talent, they could clinch “back-to-back” titles.
Team Bath – Two words. Layla. Guscoth. Defender and doctor Guscoth entering back into the British Superleague after a stint for the Adelaide Thunderbird’s is massive. It’ll be exciting to see her play with Serena Guthrie as well as defenders Eboni Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman. These players as well as superstar Sophie Drakeford-Lewis will give this Team Bath squad a real chance at taking the title.
Leeds Rhinos – Dan Ryan meant business when he signed legendary Aussie player Madi Browne to the Yorkshire team for their inaugural season. Although the superstar will no-longer be able to make it to the UK this year, this team still has some impressive names. Not least, England’s MOST-capped player of all time, Jade Clarke in addition to the recent signing to Tuaine Keenan and Northern Ireland international Fi Toner. I think it could take them a few rounds to warm up, but there’s a lot of talent in there and they could be fierce competitors for the title.
Loughborough Lightning – Lightning could strike this year as Cobden returns to the side. Her link with Nat Panagarry will be key to their success. Plus, you can’t overlook the inevitable strength Sara Bayman will give the side as head coach. I think they’ll have learnt a lot in previous seasons and could be in with a chance of taking the title this year.
OUR SUPERLEAGUE PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2021
IAN HARKIN (Netball Scoop)
Eleanor Cardwell – While of course much better known as a goal shooter, I think Cardwell is underrated as a goal attack, and this year I think she will get the chance to show just how well she can play the position. In a strong Thunder team, she will get plenty of opportunities and her combination with Mvula will be key.
Funmi Fadoju – I was impressed with her the very first time I saw her play which was in a Netball Europe tournament. And then I found out her age! Unbelievable. I’ve followed her since and she continues to impress. She starred when given opportunities for the Pulse last season. She’s still only 18, but if she doesn’t turn out to be an absolute gun for the Roses in years to come, I will be stunned.
Serena Guthrie – Watching Guthrie in 2019 when she returned to play in England, she was simply everywhere in attack and defence. If anything, she was maybe trying to do a bit too much to get her team over the line. This year’s Bath lineup looks stronger all round than that one, and that should allow Guthrie the freedom to just do what she does best. Opponents be wary.
Razia Quashie – Her form has been simply outstanding in the recent matches for England, winning ball for fun. There’s no reason she won’t just continue on in the same vein for Mavericks. For a while now, English netball fans have been worried about life after Geva Mentor. Maybe the answer has been found.
Donnell Wallam – Wallam’s first pre-season appearance for Rhinos was a little underwhelming. But it was only a week after landing in the UK. The connections just weren’t there at that stage, and that’s only to be expected. If she can develop a better understanding with the Rhinos feeders over the course of the year, expect her to dominate some games in the same manner that she has in Western Australia.
ZARA COLLINGS (Netball Scoop)
Layla Guscoth – Making her return to the Superleague after two seasons with Adelaide Thunderbirds, Guscoth is a huge addition to Team Bath. Her immense hands over pressure at WD and great elevation when back in the circle at GD makes her one of the stand-out players on court.
Halimat Adio – Adio is one of the most exciting young defenders in England with innate ability to cover the court and take a flying intercept. I expect her to have a breakthrough season this year with Pulse, after a few seasons developing in the England Futures and VNSL setup.
Lefebre Rademann – Rademann’s first year in the VNSL is set to be an exciting one as she lines up alongside Proteas teammate Sigi Burger at London Pulse. Her short and punchy drives across the circle and ability to shoot from range makes her a great addition to the League and she will only grow as the season unfolds.
Razia Quashie – Quashie is one of the most in-form defenders in England right now and I was so impressed with her performances on the international stage with England at the Cabdury and Legends series. Her ability to read the play and timing is excellent and she is continuing to develop the footwork required to absolutely dominate the circle.
Laura Malcolm – Whilst Malcolm is traditionally a C/WD, it is likely that this season will see her step into the WA role at Thunder, which will test her creativity and netball game smarts. This could be a huge season for her if she is able to take control of feeding the circle whilst putting on her trademark defensive pressure.
TAMSIN GREENWAY (Sky Sports / Scottish Thistles coach)
Donnell Wallam – Playing at Rhinos, she’s one of those players I’ve heard so much about but know so little about. Anyone that matches up to Courtney Bruce will be worth a watch
Adean Thomas – I’m a massive fan of hers and I’m so glad she’s in the league. She’s getting better every time I see her and not only has she got all the flair and physical attributes, she’s learning how to lead too. She is just what Jamaica need moving forward and she’s learning her trade here
Felisitus Kwangwa – Signed for Storm, I loved watching her at World Cup playing for Zimbabwe. I’m hoping we not only get to see her ability but also her passion and personality that their whole team had on the world stage. It’s a great chance for her to take her game to the next level
Razia Quashie – She’s just playing incredibly well. She’s stepped up for England and causes all kinds of headaches for the opposition. She’s so talented and exciting to watch, it’s time to make the most of her as I’m not sure she’ll be in our league much longer
Funmi Fadoju – With so many young talented English defenders in the mix at the moment it’s hard to believe there’s another one. But Fadoju is going to be one incredible player. With her brief stints for Pulse, she has shown her potential, intercepting, deflecting and making life very difficult for the opposition. Hoping we see lots more of her this season as she is a going to be good. Really good.
DENISE EVANS (Journalist / Writer)
Donnell Wallam – Rhinos head coach Dan Ryan has really hyped up “hidden gem” Wallam and I have to admit it has had an impact on me. I discovered some videos of the Aussie shooter playing for the West Coast Warriors and she’s got a style that will suit Superleague’s brand of netball.
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis – She has been on the fringes of the Bath side for a couple of seasons, but whenever she gets her chance on court, she’s consistent and quietly goes about her business. Her showing in New Zealand for England shows she is also a threat on the international scene and a good showing this season should earn her a place in Jess Thirlby’s Commonwealth Games squad.
Beth Cobden – Following a couple of years in Australia – and another horrible lengthy injury lay-off – it’s brilliant to see Cobden back because she is one of the best wing defence players in the world at her best
Eleanor Cardwell – This is a big season for Cardwell, who I expect to see play more regularly at goal attack with Kathryn Turner on maternity leave.
Ine-Mari Venter – It’s usually players going from Superleague to Super Netball, but Venter, who is yet to truly showcase what she can do, brings skills and secrets she has picked up in Australia’s elite league, and that can only benefit Mavericks and UK netball.
Felisitus Kwangwa – Zimbabwe were the surprise package at the 2019 Netball World Cup and their captain was a huge part of that. I expect her to come away with some of the best defensive stats at the end of the season.
SACHA SHIPWAY (The Netball Show)
Beth Cobden – This WD is at the top of my list. Beth was one of the integral players who helped England to Commonwealth Games gold in 2018 when she was still fairly early on in her career. Since then she suffered not one, but two ACL injuries in the space of a year. Her opportunity to shine in the Suncorp Super Netball League was hampered because of this, I think she’ll relish being back with Loughborough Lightning and I imagine she’ll be better than ever after a tough stint in the game.
Ellie Kelk – Perhaps a surprise pick. Surrey Storm shooter Kelk impressed during the British Fast 5 All Stars a few years ago. Since then she’s come back from injury but she’s on my ones-to-watch list. A young player, with a bright future ahead. Look out for those beautiful long-bombs.
Razia Quashie – England defender Quashie has impressed on the international stage and she’ll certainly do the same for Saracens Mavericks. Known for picking off balls when it matters, she could be key for Mavs in crucial stages of a game.
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis – Her name might not roll off the tongue, regardless, she’s the player people can’t stop talking about. Sophie’s most recent performance with Helen Housby was impressive and she has a bright future internationally. So, it’ll be great to see her continue to carve out her shooting skills with Team Bath alongside Kim Borger.