NS PREVIEW: Vitality Netball Superleague 2022

NS PREVIEW: Vitality Netball Superleague 2022

The Vitality Netball Superleague is ready to go for another year. After a terrific 2021 season, and some exciting player movement in the off-season, Eve Cobbett goes through each team and looks at the changes and their prospects for the year ahead.

 

 

Shooter Georgia Rowe has been lured back to Celtic Dragons from Severn Stars in 2022. Image: England Netball

CELTIC DRAGONS

Squad: Shaquanda Greene-Noel, Claire Jones, Nia Jones, Hannah Leighton, Shona O’Dwyer, Louise Marsden, Lefébre Rademan, Annabel Roddy, Laura Rudland, Georgia Rowe, Katarina Short, Leila Thomas. Training partners:  Celyn Emanuel, Lucy Howells, Eleanor Roberts

The Celtic Dragons are a whole new entity this season, and that is super exciting! Coach Dannii Titmuss-Morris has managed to bring together into one team some exceptional talent from her Pulse days, numerous exciting up-and-comers, and rock-solid familiar Welsh faces from the Dragons of old. This Dragons team may seem completely new on first look, but it is a squad littered with already forged connections. Lefébre Rademan has worked with Titmuss-Morris previously, the two clearly having a strong connection, with Rademan making the move to Cardiff with the former Pulse assistant coach.

Then there are Nia Jones and Georgia Rowe, former Dragons-turned-Stars who have played together for both club and country for years now. Looking at the lesser-known names in the squad, there is Katerina Short and Louise Marsden, University of Birmingham teammates and partners in the shooting circle. Add in the likes of Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer who shone in Dragons’ disappointing 2021 season, and already play regularly with Welsh teammates Jones and Rowe, and there is a squad who look good to go from the first whistle of the 2022 season.

The Dragons’ strength lies in that whilst they’ll have connections on court, so many players being new to the club means they’ll have an opportunity to break from the past and forge their own path. This, plus the mix of new, young players hungry to make their mark and Welsh returners looking to deliver some glory for the club makes for a hugely exciting prospect.

Big ins: Lefébre Rademan (London Pulse), Annabel Roddy (Loughborough Lightning) 

 

 

Leeds Rhinos’ goal attack Rhea Dixon was one of the stars of the 2021 season, and will be looking to improve again. Credit: Vitality Netball Super League

LEEDS RHINOS

Squad: Rebekah Airey, Sigi Burger, Jade Clarke, Amy Clinton, Rhea Dixon, Brie Grierson, Amelia Hall, Emily Hollingworth, Paige Kindred, Vicki Oyesola, Sienna Rushton, Tuaine Keenan. Training partners: Brit Coleman, Michelle Magee, Lydia Walker

Whilst Celtic Dragons are all change, Leeds Rhinos are all about keeping things the same. They have gone for continuity with added strength in specific areas for 2022, and if the 2021 season is anything to go by, it’s going to work for them. Rhinos have brought in Amy Clinton and Sigi Burger to the shooting end, adding some extra height and strength to the circle. Donnell Wallam returning to Australia was a huge loss for the Rhinos, however Amy Clinton held the Celtic Dragons together at times last season and she will be hungry to prove she can be one of VNSL’s most dominant shooters.

Her inclusion suggests Rhea Dixon will retain the GA bib and also means Sienna Rushton can continue her development without being forced into the position of starting goal shooter before she is ready. Mirroring the addition of height up the other end of the court, Rhinos have recruited ex-Manchester Thunder defender Rebekah Airey. Airey is incredibly versatile, and it remains to be seen whether she will partner Tuaine Keenan or Vicki Oyesola in the defensive circle, or go out front as wing defence.

The exciting thing about this Rhinos squad is all three defenders could switch between all three defensive positions, which makes them an unpredictable but frightening prospect. Whilst we will have to wait to see how new coach Tracey Robinson settles into coaching in the VNSL, Rhinos pre-season win against EMMNA National Champions London Giants suggests Rhinos are here for another impressive season.

Big ins: Amy Clinton (Dragons), Rebekah Airey (Manchester Thunder)

 

 

Former Australian coach Lisa Alexander is the new Performance Director at London Pulse. Image: Simon Leonard

LONDON PULSE

Squad: Ashleigh Dekker, Zara Everitt, Funmi Fadoju, Tayla Honey, Lindsay Keable, Sacha McDonald, Berri Neil, Jasmin Odeogberin, Ellie Rattu, Kira Rothwell, Alicia Scholes, Olivia Tchine. Training partners: Peace Akinyemi, Jayda Pechova, Isobell Stibbs

VNSL fans asked for an exciting signing period and London Pulse understood the assignment. Pulse didn’t just stop at bringing in Aussie young guns Tayla Honey and Sacha McDonald, they then raided Manchester Thunder’s roster and brought Mancunian youngsters Alicia Scholes and Berri Neil into the fold, and as if that wasn’t enough, signed up one of the stand-out players of the 2021 season in Jasmin Odeogberin. Why stop there though? If you have superstars on the court they deserve a superstar Performance Director, and who bigger than Lisa Alexander, Netball World Cup and Commonwealth Games-winning coach?

With all the newness in the Pulse camp it is easy to overlook who has remained with the club. The likes of Liv Tchine, Funmi Fadoju and Lindsay Keable have already proven they can mix it with the best, and the added Aussie flair and extra talent injected onto the court will only enhance the club’s chances of success. Whilst it’s fair to say Pulse performed below expectations in the 2021 season, the winning mentality of Lisa Alexander is sure to see this team reach new heights in 2022.

If the team is to succeed however, they will have to do it without star defender Halimat Adio as she has unfortunately been ruled out with injury. 

Big ins: Tayla Honey, Sacha McDonald (Melbourne Vixens), Jasmin Odeogberin (Loughborough Lightning)

 

 

Coach Sara Francis-Bayman led Loughborough Lightning to the 2021 title, but won’t be there in 2022. Image Ben Lumley

 * Check out our recent profile on Sara Francis-Bayman from Jenny Sinclair here

LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING

Squad: Ella Bowen, Mary Cholhok, Ella Clark, Beth Cobden, Alice Harvey, Hannah Joseph, Suzie Liverseidge, Nat Panagarry, Emma Thacker, Fran Williams, Hannah Williams, Zanele Vimbela. Training partners: Georgia Brock-Taylor, Jess Haynes, Clara Miles

The 2021 VNSL Champions have kept things much the same for the upcoming season, retaining the majority of their title winning-squad and bringing in 2 huge defensive names. The addition of Zanele Vimbela and Fran Williams to the defensive circle will make up for the loss of Jasmine Odeogberin and the retirement of Sam May. That being said, there is an unanswered question over how they will fit in with Alice Harvey – a headache for the Lightning coaching team but a very pleasant headache to have.

The biggest change for Lightning in 2022 lies off the court with the shock announcement that Sara Francis-Bayman is taking a temporary leave of absence to head to Australia with wife and West Coast Fever player Stacey Francis-Bayman. In her absence Victoria Burgess will step into the Director of Netball role, having already held the positions of assistant coach and head of Lightning’s pathway.

The loss of Francis-Bayman is undoubtedly huge, but Lightning are champions for a reason and whilst they may have a new coach, this squad retains all the connections and experience that won them the 2021 crown in the first place. They still have the dominant force of Mary Cholhok up front, as well as the experience and leadership of season MVP Beth Cobden and captain Nat Panagarry in the midcourt. Add to this the underrated talents of Ella Clark and Hannah Joseph, and this team should be expected to contend for the title once again. 

Big ins: Zanele Vimbela (unsigned) Fran Williams (Wasps) 

 

 

Nat Metcalf (Haythornthwaite) in action for the NSW Swifts. She is a big signing for Manchester Thunder in 2022. Image: May Bailey

MANCHESTER THUNDER

Squad: Kerry Almond, Eleanor Cardwell, Nat Metcalf, Laura Malcolm, Elia McCormick, Joyce Mvula, Caroline O’Hanlon, Lois Pearson, Emma Rayner, Yasmin Roebuck, Millie Sanders, Shadine van Der Merwe. Training partners: Yomi Eza-Wilson, Emilia Roscoe, Stacey Tankoua

Manchester Thunder wasted no time in the off-season, bringing in huge new signings to make their 2022 squad perhaps the most intimidating the Vitality Netball Superleague has ever seen. Whilst Thunder lost Berri Neil and Alicia Scholes from their attacking end to London Pulse, they brought in Nat Metcalf to replace them. The current England Roses vice-captain, 2 x SSN title winning, Commonwealth Games gold medallist is a first class alternative.

Metcalf also brings with her a wealth of experience playing with Thunder’s Eleanor Cardwell and after seeing their performances in the recent Quad Series, VNSL’s defenders will no doubt be quaking in their boots. Thunder’s attacking end looks to be their real strength in the 2022 season and many will be sceptical that any defensive end in the league can stop the ferocity of a Joyce Mvula, Cardwell, Metcalf attacking line. With Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm also joining them, the team has a star studded look. 

At the other end, Thunder have strengthened an already ferocious defence with former Adelaide Thunderbird Shadine van der Merwe, a versatile defender who can play across wing defence and goal defence. Van der Merwe adds extra resilience to the already frightening Thunder defensive line up, her signing suggestive that Head Coach Karen Greig believes only minor tweaks are needed to bring success to Manchester in 2022.

Thunder will be unhappy with how they finished their 2021 campaign, falling easily to Team Bath in the semi-final, and it is clear they are adamant that will not happen again in 2022. 

Big ins: Nat Metcalf (NSW Swifts)

 

 

Coach Kat Ratnapala and the Mavericks bench react as their team upsets Wasps in 2021. They’ll be hoping for more of the same in 2022. Image: England Netball

SARACENS MAVERICKS 

Squad: Britney Clarke, Kadeen Corbin, Sacha Corbin, Beth Ecuyer-Dale, Chloe Essam, Jodie Gibson, Georgia Lees, Jameela McCarthy, Gabby Marshall, Razia Quashie, Ine-Mari Venter, Aaliyah Zaranyika. Training partners: Bella Baylis, Yasmin Hodge-England, Bea Skingsley

For Mavericks players, coaches and fans it was a disappointing season for the club in 2021. Whilst they had masses of talent they seemed unable to work out what to do with that talent or how to get the best out of it. It was unsurprising, therefore, that the Saracens Mavericks’ lineup remained relatively unchanged for the 2022 season. This could be their strength, however, with Mavs’ players now all having connections with each other and being able to draw on their disappointment at the 2021 season as motivation to ensure they do not finish 2022 disappointed again.

Injury to Raz Quashie also marred the end of 2021 for Mavs and it remains to be seen whether she will be fit to play by Round 1. This is no longer such a worry, however, after the recruitment of Jameela McCarthy. McCarthy has impressed in preseason and her energy and desire to win ball will no doubt prove to be a strength for Mavs in 2022.

Much will be expected of shooter Ine-Mari Venter who had a breakout tournament in the recent Quad Series, where she was possibly South Africa’s best player. The Corbin sisters are both back again, and there is also the talents of Gabby Marshall and Jodie Gibson. Whilst there is no doubt scepticism over whether this team can go all the way, having failed to do so last season, the continuity and faith coach Kat Ratnapala has placed in each player to deliver will no doubt see them reaching for greater heights in 2022. 

Big ins: Jameela McCarthy (unsigned)

 

 

Liana Leota is back for another season with Severn Stars and this time she’ll be teaming up with fellow kiwi star, Cat Tuivaiti. Image: England Netball

SEVERN STARS

Squad: Summer Artman, Adi Bolakoro, Michelle Drayne, Bethan Dyke, Issy Eaton, Katie Harris, Lucy Herdman, Nicole Humphrys, Liana Leota, Paige Reed, Iman Thomas, Cat Tuivaiti. Training partners: Chloe Carchrie, Elisha New, Jane Taylor

Severn Stars will be looking to turn their fortunes around in 2022, having recorded just 4 wins out of 20 games in 2021. Despite this, they showed real promise in 2021 and have strengthened their squad in every area of the court. Summer Artman’s inclusion, formerly of Team Bath, will no doubt see Stars win significantly more ball this season. Michelle Drayne, former London Pulse powerhouse is also a huge get in the midcourt. Stars often struggled to convert the ball they won in defence into goals in 2021, so an experienced midcourter like Drayne is sure to solve that issue.

Superstar shooter Cat Tuivaiti concludes the club’s exciting signings and is guaranteed to add flair and excitement into Severn Stars’ play. It will be interesting to see Tuivaiti combine with fellow kiwi playmaker Liana Leota. It is somewhat of a mystery how Stars will shape up for the new season, many of their likely starting-7 never having played together before, but it is this unpredictability that will be Stars’ greatest strength. With no expectations on them this team can only go up.

Big ins: Cat Tuivaiti (maternity leave)

 

 

Towera Vinkhumbo had an incredible year in 2021. Sirens will be hoping for another big season from the Malawian defender. Image: England Netball

STRATHCLYDE SIRENS

Squad: Gia Abernethy, Emma Barrie, Kelly Boyle, Beth Dix, Lynsey Gallagher, Bethan Goodwin, Claire Maxwell, Niamh McCall, Taylor McKevitt, Emily Nicholl, Abby Tyrrell, Towera Vinkhumbo. Training Partners: Rachel Conway, Sarah MacPhail, Nicola McCleery

Strathclyde Sirens exceeded all expectations in 2021 recording 10 wins, becoming a fan favourite team, and narrowly missing out on a top 4 spot. Their only real flaw last season was their tendency to lose focus and let games slip away from them.

The return of super-experienced Claire Maxwell, however, means it is unlikely this will happen again in the 2022 season. As current Scotland captain and original Strathclyde Siren, Maxwell will be desperate to help her team reach the elusive top 4. The addition of Maxwell and Abby Tyrrell into the defensive end also means Sirens now have significantly more depth than they did in 2021 and this is undoubtedly their biggest strength. Towera Vinkhumbo, a late injury call, led all defensive statistics in 2021, and with a full pre-season it will be fascinating to see what new heights she can reach. 

Before, when games were tight and players lost their focus there was little Sirens could do. Now, the Sirens’ coaching staff have a wealth of talent to choose from, with any player sat on the bench easily capable of starting a game. This competition for starting spots and game time no doubt makes Sirens a more competitive outfit than they’ve ever been before.

Big ins: Claire Maxwell (maternity leave) Abby Tyrrell (Dragons)

 

 

Proscovia Peace joins Surrey Storm from Sunshine Coast Lightning in 2022. Image: Aliesha Vicars

SURREY STORM

Squad: Mikki Austin, Sophia Candappa, Niamh Cooper, Ellie Kelk, Felisitus Kwangwa, Emma Magee, Leah Middleton, Yasmin Parsons, Alima Priest, Proscovia Peace, Grace Sullivan, Frankie Wells. Training Partners: Chartie Curtis, Sophie Kelly, Abi Robson

Much like Severn Stars, Surrey Storm had a disappointing 2021 season, winning just 3 games and picking up only 9 points. This is a far cry from the club who have reached five Grand Finals, winning two of those, in their history. Player-coach Mikki Austin will be looking to turn their fortunes around this season, and their biggest strength lies in the connections they forged in 2021. By the end of the season Storm were putting together more complete and competitive performances, their final round win over Wasps making them a surprise contender for game of 2021.

The recruitment of Proscovia Peace from SSN side Sunshine Coast Lightning is evidence of just how ambitious Storm are and they will no doubt be hoping the Ugandan shooter can combine with exciting talents Emma Magee and Sophie Kelly to make an unstoppable attacking end. Defender Alima Priest was one of Storm’s best in 2021, but it still remains to be seen whether the defensive end can turn over enough ball to generate wins against the top 4 sides. However, if they can, there is little doubt over whether a superstar such as Peace will be able to turn the defensive wins into goals. 

Big ins: Proscovia Peace (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

 

 

Phumza Maweni is a great recruit for Team Bath from the Sunshine Coast Lightning. Image: Simon Leonard

TEAM BATH

Squad: Imogen Allison, Kim Borger, Lily-May Catling, Betsy Creak, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Layla Guscoth, Serena Guthrie, Phumza Maweni, Hannah Passmore, Tash Pavelin, Jess Shaw, Rachel Shaw. Training Partners: Kirsty Harris, Molly Hole, Lily Jones,

At one point last season, Team Bath looked like guaranteed winners of VNSL 2021, so they will no doubt still be hurting that they had to settle for the second-place medal. Team Bath are lining up much the same and this is a huge strength as like Manchester Thunder, their core players will be able to feed off their disappointment as motivation going into the 2022 season.

The loss of Eboni Usoro-Brown to Australia concerned many Team Bath fans, however they were delighted by the shock late signing of South African superstar Phumza Maweni. Maweni has performed as one of the best goal keepers in the world for the past few years and her new partnership with Layla Guscoth is as threatening as it is exciting. It’s hard to imagine that this defensive duo won’t turn over huge amounts of ball for Team Bath and this is undoubtedly the team’s strength. Add to that, the capabilities of captain Imogen Allison and England captain Serena Guthrie and this is a formidable lineup.

In the later stages of the season Team Bath struggled in attack, the usual dynamic duo of Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger being undone by the likes of Sam May and Jas Odeogberin in the grand final. However, with a defence as strong as Team Bath’s in 2022 you can guarantee any ball lost in attack will be quickly won back again. Whilst they fell at the final hurdle in 2021, it would be unwise to expect the same to happen to Team Bath again in 2022. This team look to be contenders for the title once again.

Big ins: Phumza Maweni (Sunshine Coast Lightning)

 

 

Rachel Dunn will once again be the spearhead of the Wasps team in 2022. Image: Ben Lumley

WASPS NETBALL

Squad: Gezelle Allison, Iona Christian, Rachel Dunn, Rachel Fee, Ellie Gibbons, Leah Goss, Josie Huckle, Lauren Nicholls, Lucy Parize, Ella Powell-Davies, Christina Shaw, Caroline Tarnowski. Training Partners: Becky Gentle, Megan Thorne

Wasps 2022 season has proven to be controversial before it has even begun, fans questioning why it took so long for the 2022 squad to be announced and then concerned at the amount of departures from the club. That being said, Wasps strength this season may lie in the fact they are now no longer hamstrung by their past.

Wasps finished the 2021 season with just 10 wins, performing far below most fans’ and pundits’ expectations. The massive changes to their squad for 2022 therefore means they have a chance to shake off the weight of the club’s short history, and carve out a new future and brand for themselves. Josie Huckle and Rachel Dunn remain to guide the team with their experience, however new signings like Lucy Parize will be afforded the freedom to make their positions their own and that is an exciting prospect.

With what was seen as an underwhelming signing period, perhaps the burden of expectation has now been lifted off the team and they will flourish. Most exciting of all is the prospect of Wasps’ new brand of netball which Head Coach Mel Mansfield claims will involve ‘a greater presence of more local players from the region’.

Big ins: Lucy Parize (Lightning) 

 


SEASON PREDICTIONS:

Here are the predictions of some of our writers, along with a couple of guest analysts in Tamsin Greenway and Chloe Merrell. They’ve tipped who they think will make up the top four at the end of the home and away season, and also who they think will come away with the title.

Eve Cobbett:

1. Thunder
2. Bath
3. Lightning
4. Sirens

Champions: Bath

Zara Collings:

1. Thunder
2. Lightning
3. Pulse
4. Bath

Champions: Thunder

Tamsin Greenway:

1. Lightning
2. Thunder
3. Bath
4. Sirens

Champions: Lightning

Ian Harkin:

1. Thunder
2. Lightning
3. Bath
4. Sirens

Champions: Thunder

Rona Hunnisett:

1. Lightning
2. Thunder
3. Bath
4. Mavericks

Champions: Lightning

Chloe Merrell:

1. Thunder
2. Bath
3. Lightning
4. Sirens

Champions: Thunder


BROADCAST INFORMATION

Sky Sports in the United Kingdom will have extensive coverage of the 2022 season. As well as showing live all matches played from the centralised venues (starting with the opening weekend), there will also be three matches covered live every other week. Included in that is a dedicated timeslot every Monday evening on Sky across the Main Event, Mix, Action and Arena channels, with these marquee matches to begin at 5:30pm. The other two games per week will be shown on Sky’s YouTube channel, along with the highlights of every game during the season.

 

Podcast fans, don’t forget to follow our friends at The Netball Show for all your VNSL information.

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