Contributors: Zara Collings, Bethany Lord, Eve Cobbett, Rona Hunnisett, Iona St. Joseph & Ian Harkin.
BACK WITH A BANG!
The Vitality Netball SuperLeague kicked off the 2022 season with a bumper weekend of hotly contested matches in Birmingham’s Resort’s World Arena. Ten of the eleven teams took to court across Rounds One and Two, with both Manchester Thunder and Saracen’s Mavericks securing two wins from two, to sit atop the league leaderboard. Last year’s champions Loughborough Lightning won their opening game against London Pulse to maintain a 1/1 win rate, however unfortunately their second match of the weekend against last year’s newcomers Leeds Rhinos was postponed due to a combination of injury and illness within the Rhinos squad.
STATS LEADERS OF THE WEEK
Most Goals 55 – Ine-Marie Venter (Mavericks vs Dragons)
Most Feeds 24 – Hannah Joseph (Lightning vs Pulse), Sasha Corbin (Mavericks vs Wasps) & Beth Dix (Sirens vs Wasps)
Most Gains 9 – Funmi Fadoju (Pulse vs Bath) & Layla Guscoth (Bath vs Pulse)
Most Defensive Rebounds 5 – Fumni Fadoju (Pulse vs Lightning) & Jameela McCarthy (Mavericks vs Dragons)
Most Offensive Rebounds 5 – Joyce Mvula (Thunder vs Dragons) & Ine Marie Venter (Mavericks vs Dragons)
Most Deflections 11 – Funmi Fadoju (Pulse vs Bath)
Most Intercepts 8 – Layla Guscoth (Bath vs Pulse)
Nat Metcalf (Manchester Thunder) – Sustained a knee injury during the quad series and was unavailable for selection.
Shadine van der Merwe (Manchester Thunder) – Unavailable for selection due to a knee injury.
Emma Barrie (Strathclyde Sirens) – Unavailable for selection and likely out for the first few rounds.
Serena Guthrie (Team Bath) – Unavailable for selection through fatigue due to the quad series.
Cat Tuivaiti (Severn Stars) – Unavailable for selection through injury.
RESULTS AND MATCH REPORTS
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 61 def LONDON PULSE 50
The 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague opened with a mouth-watering prospect for the neutral observer, as reigning champions Loughborough Lightning faced rising stars London Pulse. Can Lightning go back to back this season, despite inspirational coach Sara Francis Bayman taking a leave of absence for 2022? And, as they enter their third season, would the young Pulse side – with a host of new signings and a distinctly Australian influence thanks to new signings Sacha MacDonald and Tayla Honey and performance director Lisa Alexander – finally fulfil the potential which has been talked about since they arrived in the league?
While it is hard to make any cut and fast assumptions based on the first outing of the season, during which both sides had moments of “ring rustiness”, Loughborough look to be in safe hands of new head coach Vicky Burgess. The champions’ line up is largely unchanged and the connections through court were, at times, unstoppable. Francis-Bayman’s structures and direct game plan have been retained, along with a high work rate in all sections of the court, while the addition of South Africa’s Zanele Vimbela, who made a brief appearance in the final quarter, will add power and vision to a defensive unit which lost the experience of Sam May with her retirement at the end of 2021.
Pulse were out of the blocks fast, and impressed with some neat attacking moves and clever defensive double-teaming to close down the options to the towering Mary Cholhok early on. But once Loughborough settled into a rhythm, they proved to be unstoppable and, despite a number of unforced errors and a changing line up, as Burgess emptied her bench, they built and retained a healthy lead throughout the match.
What worked? For Lightning, the workrate of GK Alice Harvey was immense, unsettling Pulse shooter Olivia Tchine and constantly looking to hunt down ball outside the circle. Tchine may have top scored for the Pulse, but she will certainly know she has been in a battle. The side’s midcourt unit comprising Player of the Match Beth Cobden, Natalie Panagarry and Hannah Joseph showed the value of sustained connections built over several years, with relentless pressure in defence and (largely) clinical accuracy in attack. Yes, some balls went astray but they continued to play with freedom and purpose throughout the match, and were relentless to the loose ball, frequently turning defence into attack.
For Pulse, when they maintained a steady rhythm and kept the ball moving forwards, they were, at times, unstoppable. However, too many stray passes, lateral balls and slow transitions let them down, and the connections with new Australian players MacDonald and Honey are yet to be fully built. The use of rising England star Funmi Fudoju at GK limited the promising defender’s ability to hunt ball and track a running opponent, but her elevation and anticipation gave Cholhok plenty to think about and the Ugandan did not have things all her own way.
Where was it won and lost? It is easy to point to unforced errors as the cause of a loss, but Pulse will be disappointed to consider how many defensive turnovers were not converted or how many stray passes allowed Loughborough to regain the momentum. The London side needs to learn how to build and maintain pressure through sustained pressure, rather than easing up when their opponents come back at them. Lightning are a formidable side, but Pulse did have the better of them for periods of the game and will rue the opportunities which (once again) they let slip.
Standout player? Beth Cobden deservedly took player of the match for another outstanding display of relentless defensive pressure. The England player once again used her range and anticipation to keep Pulse guessing, pressurising the London side at the circle edge and cutting off numerous attacking drives into the goal third. However, special mention must also go to rising defensive star Alice Harvey, whose anticipation and reach saw her block a shot from Tchine in the opening minutes of the game and keep the London feeders guessing throughout. If she continues to improve at this rate, an England call up cannot be far away.
TEAM BATH 54 def STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 40
Game 2 of Round 1 was a big one, Team Bath were aiming to show they are once again contenders for the title whilst Strathclyde Sirens were out to prove from the first whistle they could mix it with the big guns and be a top four side this season.
Team Bath came out with an unexpected line up, no Phumza Maweni and no Serena Guthrie meaning that they were without two of their biggest names, Tash Pavelin and Jess Shaw having to start in their places instead. Sirens on the other hand started with the familiar 7 who cemented their places in 2021.
Whilst Sirens held on for the first half, ending the first 30 minutes down by just 6, by the end of the 4 quarters the game had blown out, eventually ending 54-40. Although Sirens picked up plenty of ball, particularly through Taylor McKevitt, they were finding it increasingly more difficult to find Bethan Goodwin. Reminiscent of the 2021 season, Sirens also needed to be more clinical up the shooting end, Goodwin sitting at a shooting accuracy of just 61%.
Pleasantly surprising for Team Bath were the changes that were made early on, Kirsty Harris entering the game for Jess Shaw in just quarter 2. In the 2021 season we were used to seeing the same 7 players on court for Team Bath, with some suggesting their lack of depth may have cost them the title. Anna Stembridge made plenty of changes in this game though which may signal a change of tactics for season 2022.
In the end, it was a failure to be clinical that cost Sirens in this game. Whilst both team’s defensive ends were doing a wealth of work, it was Bath’s higher shooting percentages and volume that made the difference today.
MANCHESTER THUNDER 79 def CELTIC DRAGONS 53
This was an important opening game for both teams; Thunder would have been unhappy with their third place finish last season, whilst Dragons would be looking to get off to a strong start and see how their new squad can work together. With 12 changes in Celtic Dragons squad, fans were keen to see how their side were going to perform in the first game of the season. Trinidad and Tobago import Shaquanda Greene-Noel made herself known from the get-go, picking up five intercepts and a deflection across the game.
While the scoreline made it look like a bit of a blow-out, Dragons managed to chalk up 53 goals against a dominant Thunder side, which is no mean feat. It was the unforced errors that let them down though, with 12 compared to Thunder’s two.
Thunder looked clinical, especially their well-established attacking end, but it felt like Dragons had something exciting brewing. It will definitely be worth keeping an eye on the Welsh-based side over the course of the season, and if they can keep a core squad together, they’ll be giving the other teams in the league a run for their money.
SARACENS MAVERICKS 58 def WASPS 49
Both Wasps and Mavericks came to this opening round match with something to prove with both teams having missed finals in 2021, Mavericks narrowly missing out in a disappointing 5th and Wasps at 7th. Wasps lost a lot of key players in their off season, and most would agree that they’re going through a bit of a rebuild period, whereas Mavericks have an almost identical side to their 2021 team, who, although talented, perhaps failed to achieve the level they expected of themselves last year.
Despite an impressive intercept from Jodie Gibson on the first centre pass, the match was slow to start – both teams were steady but not necessarily impressive, taking time to settle in and test each other (and themselves) out after an interrupted pre-season due to COVID precautions. Although it was goal for goal, it still looked like it was Mavericks’ game – they just had a little bit more hunger in them.
Wasps were struggling to get the ball down the court, and their attacking end still looked a bit unsure of one another, often struggling to feed the ball into the circle and just looking like they didn’t quite have those connections down yet. Down the other end, South African import Ine Marie Venter was impressive for Mavericks shooting 42/49 goals, but the team struggled when the high ball to Venter wasn’t on.
The score stayed close until the third quarter, when Mavericks started to pull away, ending in (arguably) a bit of a blow out in the fourth. Fan favourite Brittany Clarke came on to loud cheers, and Trinidad & Tobago defender Jameela McCarthy provided a different style of play in defence on her debut. Overall, a bit of a scrappy match – Mavericks will be happy to come away with the win, but both teams will be looking to clean up on unforced errors and sort out their connections to put themselves in contention for what is sure to be a brutal fight for the top four.
SEVERN STARS 56 def SURREY STORM 47
Severn Stars vs Surrey Storm was the battle of the bottom of the 2021 table and all about who would come out with intent and prove they had built on last season. Surrey Storm seemed like the favourites having added superstar Peace Proscovia to their roster, whilst Severn Stars would be without their star signing Cat Tuivaiti for Round 1 and 2.
Quarter one went goal-for-goal, ending 14-13 to Severn Stars. Summer Artman made an instant impact for her new side Stars, turning over the first ball into Proscovia and setting herself up to be a disruptive force throughout the whole game. This was complimented by some impressive shooting from Paige Reed and Issy Eaton, each sitting at 74% and 88% shooting accuracy respectively. There was little to separate both teams for much of the game, momentum swinging back and forth.
Going into the final quarter only 5 goals separated both teams, Stars leading 38-33. In the end it was Storm’s higher unforced errors (16) and lower attempts at goal (47 to Stars’ 69) that made the difference.
STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 50 def WASPS 44
The match up between Wasps and Strathclyde Sirens was tipped by some to be the match-up of rounds one and two, and fans weren’t disappointed. Both teams were coming off the back of a loss on Saturday, against Mavericks and Bath respectively, and so would have been looking to cement their first win of the season.
Wasps had an exodus of players in the off season, but retained some of their key names in the shape of Josie Huckle, Rachel Dunn and Iona Christian. Sirens, on the other hand, were looking at another season with the core of their squad that they have been building momentum with over the past few years, despite missing a few names from their shooting end, with Lyndsey Gallagher out for the season and Emma Barrie unavailable this weekend.
After finishing 6th (Sirens) and 7th (Wasps) in 2021, both teams would have been disappointed to miss out on the top four last year, and were looking to set out their stalls early in 2022.
What worked? There were strong passages of play from both teams throughout the game, with the lead swinging between each. At points, it looked like we might be in for the first draw of the season and neither team seemed to be able to pull away by more than a couple of goals.
After being brought in as a replacement player for the injured Gallagher, Niamh McCall really showed why she deserves a starting spot in the Sirens side. The goal attack looked calm under pressure, turning to post and putting up the shots throughout the 60 minutes. She shouldered the bulk of the shooting for Sirens, with 30/34 at 88%. McCall and Sirens’ goal shooter Bethan Goodwin work well together in the shooting circle, and Sirens are forced to play a more mobile game without the height of Barrie offering that holding option in the D.
At the other end of the court, the Sirens’ defence kept the pressure on Wasps’ shooters throughout. Goal keeper Towera Vinkhumbo picked up where she left off in 2021, snaffling nine intercepts and keeping the usually prolific Rachel Dunn to just 25 goals. Her combination with Emily Nicholl continues to grow, and they were a thorn in the side of the Wasps attack, forcing changes with Gezelle Allison coming on in the second quarter, before being subbed back off in the third.
Player of the match Taylor McKevitt stood up for Sirens when they needed a clutch player. She gave a full four quarter performance at wing defence, getting hand to ball with two intercepts and making life difficult for Wasps’ wing attack Iona Christian.
There were some brilliant moments from Wasps, particularly the last five minutes of the second quarter. They were up 25 – 21 at half time, and it looked like it was going to be a tight game. Ella Powell-Davies put in a fantastic performance at goal defence for Wasps, although she proved costly, picking up a warning. The Wasps defensive end picked up 5 defensive rebounds, compared to Sirens’ one, and it will be interesting to watch the combination with Josie Huckle continue to develop over the course of the season.
Where was the game won and lost? It was fairly evenly matched in the first half, with Wasps leading by one after quarter time and four heading into the half time break. The Sirens coaching team must have had some inspirational words to say, as the Glasgow side came out all guns blazing in the third quarter, putting up 14 goals and keeping Wasps to just 6.
Josie Huckle said of her side at half time that they needed to keep hold of the ball and not wait for the last five minutes to fight for it, but unfortunately they couldn’t make that happen in the second half.
Sirens did well at not letting any momentum shift in the game affect their play, which is something they’ve improved on over the last few seasons. They absorbed the pressure and continued with their processes, which is what won them the game.
For Wasps, they struggled with their connections, which is to be expected from a side with new players. Their game improved after Leah Goss came on to court at Centre during the second quarter, but their Centre passes and getting the ball down court to the shooters seemed to prove tricky; a testament to the Sirens’ defence.
Standout Player? I didn’t envy whoever had to pick the Player of the Match for this game. Taylor McKevitt deservedly took home the award, but confident Niamh McCall would have been a very close second. Gia Abernethy and Beth Dix both did a fantastic job in the mid-court, feeding the shooting circle and turning over ball in the centre third, and you could add both Sirens defenders to the shortlist as well.
For Wasps, Lucy Parize looked calm under pressure, providing an answer to Wasps’ goal attack questions. She shot at 88% and looked like she is going to be a more consistent option, teaming nicely with Rachel Dunn.
If the opening weekend is anything to go by, Season 2022 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting one! It’s fantastic to see teams like Sirens, who have been building over the last few years, gunning for a top four spot from the get-go.
LONDON PULSE 52 def TEAM BATH 48
After Pulse’s Round 1 loss to Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath’s easy Round 1 win over Strathclyde Sirens, fans would have been forgiven for not being too excited about this fixture. In theory it should have been an easy win for Team Bath, in reality it was anything but. This game turned out to be the most exciting of the weekend by a mile, London Pulse prevailing in the end and finally showing, after years of talk about their potential, that they might be the real deal.
Bath took to the court with a familiar line-up whereas Pulse made two changes from their loss against Lightning, Kira Rothwell and Ashleigh Dekker coming in for Sacha MacDonald and Tayla Honey. The decision to bring Kira Rothwell into GA was a fruitful one, London Pulse winning quarter one 12 goals to Bath’s 9. Both teams kicked into a higher gear in quarter 2, London Pulse scoring a massive 17 goals to Team Bath’s 14. At this point Pulse seemed to be the more confident and complete side. Quarter three was a different story entirely, however, Pulse only managing to add 9 goals to their tally with Bath scoring 13. Going into quarter 4, however, captain Zara Everitt brought her players out onto court, giving them an incredibly passionate team talk in an attempt to get them over the line. Whatever Everitt said clearly worked, with Pulse eventually winning the game 52 goals to 48.
What worked? To be expected, with players such as Layla Guscoth, Tash Pavelin, Funmi Fadoju, and Jas Odeogberin on court, defence worked in this game. When one defender got an intercept their counterpart down the other end followed suit, the game going back and forth thanks to phenomenal defending from both teams.
What also worked in this game was Pulse’s player management. Whilst Bath opted to make multiple changes, Kirsty Harris coming on for Jess Shaw, bringing Molly Hole into defence and switching Betsy Creak in for Kim Borger, none of Bath’s substitutions were able to change the game. In contrast, Sam Bird opted to make just one change in the 60 minutes. Her decision to bring off Jas Odeogberin, moving Funmi Fadoju into GD and bringing Jayda Pechova into GK proved to be a genius one. Pechova entered the game and within seconds earned her first interception. In such a frantic and nervy affair, Bird’s decision to back in her players and allow them to see out the game paid off, her players rewarding her with a close but solid win.
Where was the game won and lost? This game was impacted by the huge defensive work of Fadoju and Guscoth, but it was won in the midcourt where WDs, Cs and WAs were required to look after the turnovers. Fadoju got 6 interceptions, whereas Guscoth got 8. This, in theory, should have been enough to win Team Bath the game. But Kirsty Harris and Jess Shaw were guilty of not treasuring the ball Guscoth had won in the moments it really mattered. This is where Everitt, Ellie Rattu and Dekker excelled, keeping their heads and playing safe netball in the chaotic moments after an interception or deflection. Looking after the ball they had won ultimately won Pulse the game.
Standout player? In a game of this calibre and excitement it is impossible to choose just one standout player. Fadoju was a stand-out for obvious reasons – with 6 interceptions and 11 deflections player of the match had her name written all over it. Guscoth also earns a mention for single-handedly keeping Team Bath in this game at times. Without her Pulse’s victory would have been a far easier one.
The final stand-out player goes to Pechova. At just 17 years old, and on her VNSL debut, she managed to get 3 interceptions and 2 deflections. This, coupled with the fact she won that ball off the likes of Kim Borger, definitely earns her a mention in stand-out players.
SARACENS MAVERICKS 61 def CELTIC DRAGONS 54
Celtic Dragons’ second match of the weekend gave us another chance to see this new look team in action and they certainly proved they were not just a one hit wonder, putting out a second strong performance against Saracen’s Mavericks. Solidifying their starting seven with a number of new faces, Dragon’s nipped at the heels of Mavericks throughout the match, securing a three goal advantage at the end of the second quarter, before ultimately falling short by seven goals.
Despite some athletic challenges from the Dragons defensive end, with Greene-Noel in particular putting in another standout performance, Mavericks were able to harness the flair that had rendered them so inconsistent in recent seasons and put out another strong full-court performance. Totalling 55 goals at 95%, Ine-Marie Venter carried on the sublime form we saw for South Africa in the Quad Series and was a real anchor for Mavericks in the shooting circle.
This was however, a heavily penalised match, with Nia Jones receiving a suspension. Both teams notched up over 50 penalties each throughout the match, something which both will need to address in Round 3.
MANCHESTER THUNDER 70 def SEVERN STARS 45
The final game of the round saw a match up between Severn Stars and Manchester Thunder, both coming off the back of a win on Saturday. Eleanor Carwell and Joyce Mvula started where they left off, scoring 19 goals in the first and second quarter.
Severn Stars were on the back foot in the first half, with connection errors costing them ball, but they pulled it back in the third quarter, scoring 11 to Thunder’s 13.
It was a fairly clinical performance from Thunder, and it was great to see some of the wider squad, such as Lois Pearson, Yomi Eza-Wilson, Yasmin Roebuck and Player of the Match Millie Sanders, take to the court too.
(Team . Pld . Pts . +/-)
Thunder . 2 . 6 . +51
Mavericks . 2 . 6 . +16
Lightning . 1 . 3 . +11
Bath . 2 . 3 . +10
Pulse . 2 . 3 . -7
Sirens . 2 . 3 . -8
Stars . 2 . 3 . -16
Rhinos . 0 . 0 . 0
Storm . 1 . 0 . -9
Wasps . 2 . 0 . -15
Dragons . 2 . 0 . -33
Hear from the players and coaches via our friends at The Netball Show.
Fri 7pm – Mavericks v Pulse (Sky)
Fri 7:30pm – Sirens v Rhinos
Sat 5pm – Thunder v Storm (Sky)
Sat 6pm – Lightning v Dragons
Sat 7pm – Wasps v Stars
Mon 5:30pm – Rhinos v Bath (Sky)