Contributors – Zara Collings, Bethany Lord, Eve Corbett, Rona Hunnisett, Iona St Joseph & Ian Harkin
Top teams leave Wakefield as winners
by Zara Collings
Rounds ten and eleven marked the end of the Vitality Netball SuperLeague’s stay in Wakefield, rounding out an incredible 60 matches at the venue. Whilst the weekend’s fixtures generated a lot of excitement, with Sirens and Rhinos both tipped to cause upsets, the top teams once again asserted their dominance and claimed convincing wins over the challengers.
The round kicked off on Friday with Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath taking the three points over Strathclyde Sirens and Leeds Rhinos. Whilst Siren’s started the match strongly, what can only be described as a terrible third quarter saw Lightning score eighteen goals in comparison to Sirens’ five. Notching up fifteen unforced errors by the end of the match, some scatty play and intense defensive pressure from Lightning exposed Sirens’ and the game blew out. After coming so close to challenging the league’s top teams in recent weeks, this will be somewhat of a blow for Sirens, however will also be a steep learning curve with clear work-ons.
With Donnell Wallam making a triumphant return from injury, her first appearance on court for Rhinos since Round 2, Leeds came much closer to securing the victory against Team Bath. Wallam injected flair and strength to the Rhinos attacking line, who have been relying on young-gun Sienna Rushton in Wallam’s absence. Rushton saw no court time this week, so it will be interesting in future games if Rhinos do turn to the youngster as an impact player after proving she can get the job done in recent weeks. In defence Rhinos brought their trademark tenacity and turned over a lot of ball. With 22 gains, they ended the match with 56 attempts at goal to Bath’s 55, let down only by shot percentage. With the return of Wallam in the circle, Goal Attack Rhea Dixon struggled to bring her usual effortless playmaking and accuracy, understandable considering the two have played only one and bit league matches before this point. Rhinos will be looking for Dixon to step up and re-assert herself in the circle to ensure they maximise the potential of both her and shooting star Wallam.
It was also a strong round for Wasps, securing their top four spot with wins over Saracens Mavericks and Celtic Dragons. Whilst Wasps have struggled with inconsistency this season, they have proven that they can secure wins even when not on their best form. This will be invaluable in the latter half of the season, with the knowledge gained from playing teams once already and I expect Wasps to have a big second half, to secure their top four position.
One team that will also be hoping for a strong second chance against teams is Surrey Storm, who haven’t secured points since Round 3 back in February. With plenty of firepower in defence as Alima Priest and Leah Middleton continue to develop their connections and get hand to ball, it is in attack that Storm have struggled. In recent games Storm have struggled to stay in touch when their opposition pulls ahead and they need to work out their Plan B to have a clear strategy for the moments in the match when they need to score an easy goal. Currently Storm are the only team to have played just ten matches, with all other teams taking to court eleven times so far this season, something which they will hope to use to their advantage as they seek to pull ahead from the bottom of the table, where they currently sit ninth on equal points with Severn Stars and London Pulse.
With this weekend’s break it will once again give teams a chance to regroup and work on their strategy, something which the double header weekends doesn’t allow for this season. Round 12 brings us plenty of exciting rematches, perhaps none more so than Leeds Rhinos taking on Saracens Mavericks. Last meeting in Round 2, this was somewhat of a horror match for Head Coach Dan Ryan and his squad, with Donnell Wallam, Fi Toner and Tuaine Keenan all injuring themselves during the game. Thankfully, all three are back on court and with a fully fit squad, Ryan will be hoping to reverse the four goal margin in Rhinos’ quest to break the top four.
Stats Leaders of the Week
Most Goals: 52 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Dragons)
Most Gains: 9 Towera Vinkhumbo (Sirens v Lightning)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 5 Mary Cholhok (Lightning v Sirens) AND (Lightning v Dragons)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 3 Halimat Adio (Pulse v Bath), Leah Middleton (Storm v Sirens), 3 Josie Huckle (Wasps v Dragons)
Most Intercepts: 5 Suzie Liverseidge (Lightning v Dragons), Layla Guscoth (Bath v Pulse), Gabby Marshall (Mavericks v Stars)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 61 def STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 35
Emma Barrie 24/28 (86%)
Bethan Goodwin 9/14 (64%)
Niamh McCall 2/4 (50%)
TOTAL 35/46 (76%)
Gains 13 (9 Vinkhumbo)
Mary Cholhok 51/60 (85%)
Ella Clark 6/7 (86%)
Suzie Liverseige 4/5 (80%)
TOTAL 61/72 (85%)
Gains 12 (Harvey 4)
Player of the Match: Beth Cobden (Lightning)
TEAM BATH 52 def LEEDS RHINOS 46
Donnell Wallam 42/46 (91%)
Rhea Dixon 4/10 (40%)
TOTAL 46/56 (82%)
Gains 11 (Oyesola 3)
Kim Borger 42/44 (95%)
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis 10/11 (91%)
TOTAL 52/55 (95%)
Gains 11 (Guscoth 4)
Player of the Match: Imogen Allison (Bath)
STRATHCLYDE SIRENS 45 def SURREY STORM 33
Karyn Bailey 21/22 (95%)
Sophie Kelly 9/12 (75%)
Frankie Wells 3/6 (50%)
TOTAL 33/40 (73%)
Gains 11 (Priest 4)
Emma Barrie 28/33 (85%)
Niamh McCall 9/12 (75%)
Bethan Goodwin 8/9 (89%)
TOTAL 45/54 (83%)
Gains 12 (Vinkhumbo 5)
Player of the Match: Towera Vinkhumbo (Sirens)
Match Report – Storm v Sirens
By Bethany Lord
Both Storm and Sirens referred to this match as a must-win, but it was Sirens that came away with the three points. After Lightning ran away from them just 19 hours prior, Karen Atkinson asked her players for a ‘scarily improved’ performance. Whilst she might not necessarily have seen a ‘scary’ improvement in a game with a high number of unforced errors from both teams, there were definitely things to like from the Scottish side, who are having their strongest start to a VNSL season yet.
It was Sirens’ game from the opening whistle. From their strong defensive pressure, to offering multiple options and bringing the ball down to their shooters, the Sirens mid-court dominated the game, and made Storm pay for just about every mistake. It wasn’t a perfect performance, with some unforced errors and dubious choices on their behalf, but overall it was the Sirens mid-court that won them the game.
The combination of Sophie Kelly and Karen Bailey in goals seems stronger than Bailey’s partnership with Goal Attack Frankie Wells. Kelly brings speed and playmaking to the front position, forcing the Sirens defence into a difficult choice – do they cover Bailey at the post, or do they leave her and cover Kelly in front. If they cover Bailey, Kelly has the quick and easy give and go, and if they cover Kelly, Bailey is left free under the post, and rarely is Bailey defeated in a one on one when the hold is on. Kelly only made her VNSL debut this year at 16, so it’s understandable that she isn’t getting full match time as they manage her as a player, but it does feel like she has more of an impact on the game than Wells, so it will be interesting to see what player-coach Mikki Austin chooses to do going forward this season.
It was the shooters at both ends that worked today, with Emma Barrie, 18 year old Sirens shooter, having one of her stronger, potentially strongest, games of the season. She’s had her fair share of critics throughout the season, and there is still definitely room for improvement – which, for a 6 foot 4, 18 year old who is likely still growing into her body, both height and muscle wise, is to be expected. But today we saw her creating more space, having stronger holds, and making better connections with her GA’s. Whilst there is still work to be done, both on Barrie’s side and on how her teammates use a tall shooting target (there were some questionable feeds into her at times), this is a good sign for the future of Sirens, and Scottish, netball.
What needs improvement?
Storm struggled to get depth, often playing back to the transverse line. Their mid-court spent too much time off the circle edge, and when they got to the circle edge, they struggled against a Sirens defence that challenged every ball. Austin and Parsons were often caught level with one another in the goal third, forcing Bailey away from the post. Storm needs to find more structure and consistency in their attack if they’re going to be able to compete against strong defensive teams for a full four quarters.
Although Sirens won the match, it was far from a perfect performance. There were numerous unforced errors from both sides – with Sirens looking to work their way up the ladder, they’re going to need to clear this up because the top teams will make them pay. There were positives to their shooting circle in this match, but something they’re going to need to look at is their feeding into the circle. They tried to force a lot of swings that weren’t on, and they still haven’t quite got the knack of feeding to Barrie.
Where was it won?
Whilst Storm did lack some structure in their attacking half, often playing the ball back on the second phase and being forced wide, we can’t take away from the work of the Sirens defence. Between Vinkhumbo’s flying intercepts, Nicholl’s defence in the circle and Abernathy and Cullen providing strong pressure outside the circle, Storm were hard pressed to get the ball deep and Sirens were able to force a lot of errors. They were incredibly strong at getting the ball out of defence, putting Storm on the back foot and converting almost every Storm error into a Sirens goal.
Where was it lost?
We’ve heard Storm player-coach Mikki Austin say that she has no concerns with her defensive unit, but it’s looking like there should be a few. They failed to make a dent against Siren’s attack, particularly struggling against tall Goal Shooter Emma Barrie. Sirens made use of the long, high ball into Barrie more than we’ve seen them do all season, and it just wasn’t getting picked up by the Storm defence. The Sirens attacking end looked to have a lot of space, and if Storm want to win games against strong shooting circles they’re going to need to tighten up their defence and not allow the shooters so many options.
When was it won or lost?
It’s hard to point out a turning point in this game – Sirens came out strong right from the beginning, scoring 3 goals in quick succession before Storm was able to hit the scoreboard. Storm did manage to get it together and start competing, but the first quarter ended with Sirens keeping a three goal lead, which only increased over the next three quarters. Storm never looked like they were convincingly going to be able to challenge the Sirens side – there were moments of great play, but as we’ve seen all season, Storm is really struggling with their consistency. It almost feels like Storm just doesn’t have the fight in them – when the other team gets ahead, the margin just continues to grow at a steady pace, which is what happened in this match.
How did she do that?
Vinkhumbo’s flying intercepts in and around the goal circle are a thing of magic – and better yet, her team is able to convert them into a goal just about every time.
Storm: GS Bailey, GA Wells, WA Parsons, C Austin, WD Cooper, GD Middleton, GK Priest
Sirens: GS Barrie, GA Goodwin, WA Dix, C Abernathy, WD Cullen, GD Nicholl, GK Vinkhumbo
Umpires: Chris Obin and Kate Stephenson
TEAM BATH 37 def LONDON PULSE 27
Kim Borger 18/21 (85%)
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis 11/18 (61%)
Betsy Creak 8/10 (80%)
TOTAL 37/49 (75%)
Gains 15 (Guscoth 7)
Sigi Burger 12/13 (92%)
Lefebre Rademan 7/8 (87%)
Kira Rothwell 6/6 (100%)
Olivia Tchine 2/3 (66%)
TOTAL 27/30 (90%)
Gains 13 (Adio 6)
Player of the Match: Serena Guthrie (Team Bath)
Match Report – Bath v Pulse
By Eve Cobbett
Game 4 of Round 10/11 saw Team Bath take on London Pulse. Coming off the back of a loss in Round 9, and a narrow win over Leeds Rhinos in their Round 10 game on Friday night, Team Bath were looking to reinstate their dominance on the competition. Pulse, on the other hand, came into this round as firm underdogs, but were hoping to put out a more consistent display over the 48 minutes and perhaps cause a shock upset. In the end, Bath predictably came away with the win. However, no-one could have predicted the low quality of this game, with unforced errors in abundance from both teams.
After the first quarter, neither team really dominated this game. However, for the first 12 minutes Team Bath were completely in control. Bath won the first quarter by 7 goals, putting an impressive 15 goals on the scoreboard compared to Pulse’s meagre 7. It took Pulse over 4 minutes to get a goal, having scored only 3 goals with 3 minutes to go in the quarter. This was down to Bath’s defence pushing Pulse’s midcourters and shooters wide in the attacking end, successfully disrupting the connection into Sigi Burger and Lefebre Rademan. Eboni Usoro-Brown had a blistering first quarter, effectively stopping Burger from being an option and stifling any ball into the Goal Shooter.
Despite the chaos that ensued in this match after the first quarter, the thing that consistently worked for both teams was their defence. Usoro-Brown and Layla Guscoth smothered Pulse’s shooters, whilst Imogen Allison continued to shut down any of Pulse’s options in Wing Attack. Pulse were forced to change Rademan for Kira Rothwell in Goal Attack in the second quarter, then being required to bring on Liv Tchine for Burger. Whilst all of Pulse’s shooters shot with respectable accuracy, with Rothwell shooting at 100%, they only managed 30 attempts the whole game. This demonstrates how successful Bath’s defence were at stifling ball into the circle.
Up the other end of the court, Pulse’s defence showed they were on a par with Bath’s. Bath had 19 more attempts at goal than Pulse (49 to 30), but only won the game by 10 goals. This is testament to Pulse’s defence, especially Lindsay Keable and Halimat Adio’s ability to prevent goals at the last minute by successfully distracting shooters with the pressure of their arms over the shot. Sophie Drakeford-Lewis shot at a surprisingly low 61% – a demonstration of just how disruptive Keable and Adio were. Particularly exciting to see was Adio out at goal defence, a position we haven’t seen her in so far this season. She combined with Fadoju excellently, their rangey arms causing real upset.
What needs improvement?
Unexpectedly, Bath needed to improve on their connections in this game. Stembridge used the big lead earned in the first quarter to put out some new faces, with Betsy Creak and Tash Pavelin getting game time, along with debutant Kirsty Harris. With this came 19 unforced errors and lots of uncharacteristic mistakes from Team Bath. Of all of Bath’s players who took to court, 8 of 10 of them picked up at least 2 unforced errors each. This was perhaps due to unfamiliar personnel on court and connections that had not yet been tested in a game situation. It is testament to the hunger of this Team Bath side, however, that they got inexperienced players on court, still came away with the win, and yet Serena Guthrie commented the team have ‘so much growth to do’ and that she was ‘quite disappointed’ with how Bath finished the game.
In reverse to Bath’s issue with closing out this game, Pulse’s issue lies in their habit of starting games slowly. After losing the first quarter 15-7, Pulse then went on to draw the second quarter 8-8, narrowly losing the third 8-5, and then winning the fourth quarter 6-7. If Pulse could learn how to start games quickly and with intensity, they would stand a far better chance of winning games consistently.
Where was it lost?
Pulse lost this game because of the lack of connections between their mid-courters and their shooters. Michelle Drayne picked up 5 unforced errors with Ashleigh Dekker earning a costly 6. This, combined with Rademan and Rothwell picking up 3 unforced errors each, demonstrates that the connections between midcourters and shooters just are not there. Whilst some credit must be given to Bath’s defence for the pressure they put Pulse’s players under, Pulse’s attackers have a responsibility to withstand the pressure and create options for each other. Unfortunately this didn’t happen in this game, with too many balls lost due to Pulse’s attacking players.
Where was it won?
On the other hand, Bath won this game thanks to certain key players standing up when play got messy. Even when their shooters began to miss shots and connections were severed in the attacking end due to personnel changes, Guscoth, Guthrie and Allison continued to win ball for Bath, consistently creating opportunities to go to goal. Guscoth had yet another impressive outing, finishing the game on 5 interceptions and 4 deflections. Her leadership in defence meant that Bath could see out the game and take the win, albeit messily.
When was it won or lost?
Unfortunately for Pulse this game was lost in quarter 1. Although they evened the score in the following quarters, they had left themselves with too much to do to challenge the game overall.
Bath: GS Borger, GA Drakeford-Lewis, WA Shaw, C Guthrie, WD Allison, GD Guscoth, GK Usoro-Brown
Pulse: GS Burger, GA Rademan, WA Drayne, C Rattu, WD Fadoju, GD Everitt, GK Adio
Umpires: Megan Samuel and Louise Cole
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 76 def CELTIC DRAGONS 23
Amy Clinton 13/14 (93%)
Annika Lee-Jones 9/15 (60%)
Rebekah Robinson 1/3 (33%)
Morganne Dunn 0/1 (0%)
TOTAL 23/33 (69%)
Gains 13 (Tyrrell 5)
Mary Cholhok 52/58 (90%)
Lucy Parize 15/18 (83%)
Suzie Liverseidge 9/12 (75%)
TOTAL 76/83 (92%)
Gains 21 (Liverseidge 5)
Player of the Match: Suzie Liverseidge (Lightning)
MANCHESTER THUNDER 52 def SURREY STORM 35
Karyn Bailey 25/27 (93%)
Frankie Wells 4/6 (67%)
Ellie Kelk 3/5 (60%)
Emma Magee 3/5 (60%)
TOTAL 35/43 (81%)
Gains 9 (Priest 6)
Joyce Mvula 31/34 (91%)
Ellie Cardwell 13/14 (93%)
Berri Neil 5/6 (83%)
Lois Pearson 3/3 (100%)
TOTAL 52/57 (91%)
Gains 10 (McCormick 3)
Player of the Match: Rebecca Airey (Thunder)
Catch up with the latest goings on at Storm on the Surrey Storm Podcast
WASPS 52 def CELTIC DRAGONS 38
Amy Clinton 24/31 (77%)
Rebekah Robinson 14/16 (88%)
TOTAL 38/47 (81%)
Gains 11 (Shaw 4)
Rachel Dunn 34/37 (92%)
Katie Harris 14/16 (88%)
Gazelle Allison 4/7 (57%)
TOTAL 52/60 (87%)
Gains 19 (Huckle 8)
Player of the Match: Rachel Dunn (Wasps)
SARACENS MAVERICKS 54 def SEVERN STARS 34
Georgia Rowe 29/30 (97%)
Paige Reed 3/3 (100%)
Jane Taylor 2/2 (100%)
TOTAL 34/35 (97%)
Gains 13 (Jones, Herdman 4)
Ine-Mari Venter 25/28 (89%)
Britney Clarke 17/19 (89%)
Kadeen Corbin 9/10 (90%)
Chloe Essam 3/7 (43%)
TOTAL 54/64 (85%)
Gains 12 (Marshall 6)
Player of the Match: Gabby Marshall (Mavericks)
WASPS 38 def SARACENS MAVERICKS 34
Rachel Dunn 27/29 (93%)
Katie Harris 11/13 (85%)
TOTAL 38/42 (90%)
Gains 12 (Flanagan 5)
Britney Pringle-Clarke 3/4 (75%)
Kadeen Corbin 12/17 (71%)
Ine-Marie Venter 19/24 (79%)
TOTAL 34/45 (76%)
Gains 18 (Marshall, Venter 4)
Player of the Match: Iona Christian (Wasps)
Match Report – Wasps v Mavericks
by Rona Hunnisett
Two former championship winning teams, both with something to prove and both in contention for a playoff spot as the first half of the season draws to a close. Tonight’s meeting between Wasps and Saracens Mavericks was a change for the victor to take the upper hand in the psychological game, as well as positive momentum, as the season shifts to London’s Copper Box.
With two evenly matched teams, packed with international talent, taking the win was all about the marginal gains in the quest for a win. Until an unstoppable nosebleed forced her from the court at the end of the third quarter, Mavericks IneMarie Venter put on an unassuming masterclass in how to outfox defences at GA, while for Wasps, midcourt dynamo Amy Flanagan was her usual bustling self, harrying her opponent into errors and chasing down loose balls.
In a game of such narrow margins, the end result was always going to be about the team which maintained its composure and stuck to game plan, and for three quarters, that team was Saracens Mavericks, with Gabby Marshall, in particular, impressing in midcourt with some stellar interceptions and tips to keep her team in contention. However, Wasps were not to be denied a victory, and with Christian releasing the first time ball into space, momentum steadily shifted towards the Coventry-based side. Mavericks may have led going into the final quarter, but the Wasps defence across the court blanketed many Mavericks offensive forays, often forcing a crosscourt ball or reset to the third line, giving the defenders time to come in and steal the initiative.
What needs improvement?
Wasps were very slow to settle at the start of the game, giving Mavericks time to take an early lead, which they held through the first three quarters. Shooter Rachel Dunn could clearly be heard shouting for a swift feed into the circle. Once they relaxed and became confident to let the first time ball go to Dunn in the circle, Wasps soon switched the momentum of the game but their uncharacteristic hesitancy and seeming unwillingness to trust their teammates let Mavericks stay in contention throughout. For Mavericks, it was once again a case of being let down by the basics, with too many silly errors preventing them from establishing a comprehensive lead at any point.
When was it lost?
On paper, Mavericks were in control until the start of the final period, when the introduction of Clarke for the injured Venter disrupted their flow. However, that would be to ignore the work of Christian and Katie Harris, who built in confidence through the match with improved connections between them and Rachel Dunn at GS. Mavericks were also guilty of far too many unforced errors in the early stages of the match – the fact that they led for most of the game says much of the defensive efforts of Trip, Gibson and Marshall.
Where was it won?
As the game progressed, Wasps became ever more confident to release the ball into space for teammates to run onto. Meanwhile, Mavericks failed to adjust to the new playing style which the introduction of Clarke brought to the court, and continued to make unforced errors which Wasps capitalised on. In a game of such narrow margins, it only took two or three slip ups to enable momentum to shift, from which point Mavericks soon found the gap too big to close.
How did she do that?
Kadeen Corbin’s lightning quick reflexes and fast feet left the Wasps defenders chasing her skirt tails on numerous occasions, but for sheer accuracy and speed of thought, Iona Christian’s bullet first-time pass to Harris under the post towards the end of the first quarter was a real statement of intent, and Christian’s vision for the remainder of the game enabled her to continue to release her teammates into space and keep Mavericks on the back foot.
Wasps: GS Dunn, GA Harris, WA Candappa, C Flanagan, WD Catling, GD Williams, GK Huckle
Changes / substitutions: midway through 1st Q: C Christian, Flanagan to WD
Mavericks: GS K Corbin, GA Venter, WA Lees, C S Corbin, WD Marshall, GD Gibson, GK Trip
Changes / substitutions: 4th Q: GS Clarke, WD McFarlane, Marshall to C
MANCHESTER THUNDER 66 def LEEDS RHINOS 47
Donnell Wallam 39/44 (89%)
Rhea Dixon 8/10 (80%)
TOTAL 47/54 (87%)
Gains 7 (Keenan 3)
Joyce Mvula 43/45 (96%)
Eleanor Cardwell 22/25 (88%)
Lois Pearson 1/1 (100%)
TOTAL 66/71 (93%)
Gains 7 (Almond, Malcolm 2)
Player of the Match: Eleanor Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)
Match Report – Rhinos v Thunder
By Iona St Joseph
Leeds Rhinos and Manchester Thunder met for the first time in Round 8, and it was a closely fought game, with the reigning champions taking the win by seven goals. Rhinos have had their line-up ravaged by injuries this season, but Round 10 saw the first time they had their full line up since that fateful match against Saracens Mavericks in Round 2. With superstar shooter Donnell Wallam starting at Goal Shooter and the return of Tuiane Keenan at Goal Keeper and Fi Toner on the bench, it was set to be an exciting match up.
It was a close first quarter, with only four goals separating the team at the break, and it looked like it was going to be an exciting contest. The momentum seemed to swing between the two teams, so netball fans were geared up for a potential upset.
Manchester Thunder pulled away in the second, extending that quarter time lead to 10 goals at half time. The wheels started to come off in the third quarter for Rhinos, and Thunder stormed to a 20 goal lead going into the final quarter. The ball seemed to go into the Rhinos shooting circle with a bit more ease in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to claw back the deficit. Thunder were just too strong.
You could really tell that the Manchester side had done their homework on Rhinos, and that they were willing to adapt their game to stifle Wallam’s shooting opportunities.
Thunder certainly seemed to have shaken off their Round 5/6 losses as they put out a pretty clinical performance against Rhinos. Shooters Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell performed well, Mvula’s dominant split creating plenty of shooting opportunities under the post, whilst Cardwell continued to sink what is fast becoming her trademark long shot.
At the other end of the court, credit to Kerry Almond at Goal Keeper for Thunder, as she adapted quickly to the game of Donnell Wallam, using the space to draw attacking contact penalties from Wallam throughout the game.
Despite being the losing side, Rhinos sank 47 from 54 shots, more than the winning scores for Sirens, Wasps and Bath over the weekend, and was no mean feat against a strong Thunder side.
Tuaine Keenan picked up some great ball for Rhinos with two intercepts and five deflections, but she also picked up a whopping 26 penalties. The next highest penalised person on court was Kerry Almond, with 13.
What needs improvement?
It’s fantastic to see Donnell Wallam back on court for Rhinos, but it does feel like they have exposed their game plan. The long, high feeds into the tall goal shooter are fantastic if they work, but Thunder worked out their game pretty early on. That being said, it did feel like Wallam copped a significant amount of attacking penalties from the umpires, not all of which seemed totally warranted. Rhinos Goal Attack Rhea Dixon needed to inject herself into the game more, and that’s reflected in her shooting stats; just eight goals scored from 10 shots. Whether that was down to the defensive pressure of Thunder Goal Defence Rebekah Airey and Almond in the Thunder defence, or the game plan was always to just feed it straight into Wallam, it’s something Rhinos need to factor into their game plan.
There were a number of mistakes throughout the game across the court from Rhinos, from unforced errors at the centre pass to rogue passes that just shot straight off the back line. Their excitement at having their squad back in action is palpable, but at points in this game it really felt like they just needed to take a breath and calm down.
Where was it lost?
Unfortunately, there were just too many errors from Leeds Rhinos, and Thunder were absolutely ruthless at capitalising on them. It was a pretty penalty-heavy game for Rhinos, and they picked up 68 penalties compared to Thunder’s 34 with Keenan and Wallam racking up more than the entire Thunder team between them.
It was messy in places for the Leeds side, and their relentless focus on getting the ball into Wallam meant that the Thunder defence were able to adapt quickly. With Rhea Dixon spending so much time out of the shooting circle, it gave Almond and Airey the ability to ensure there were two defenders covering Wallam, putting doubt in the mind of Jade Clarke and Brie Greerson when it came to feeding the ball. Although Wallam shot 14 goals in the final quarter, she was kept to just six in the second and seven in the third. That, combined with just eight goals from Dixon across the whole game meant that they were always going to struggle to bring the scoreline back.
Where was it won?
The attacking combinations at Thunder continue to go from strength to strength, and the relationship between Cardwell in Goal Attack and Caroline O’Hanlon at Wing Attack is really growing for this Thunder attack line. Almond was a reliable stalwart in the defence, and Laura Malcolm continues to deliver for her side in Wing Defence, picking up two interceptions and working to shut down options for Rhinos in attack.
When was it won or lost?
At points in the first quarter it felt like this had the potential to be a close game, with momentum swinging between both teams, but moving into the second quarter and beyond, Thunder started to put their foot on the gas. The scoreline really started to draw out during the third quarter, and Thunder were a comfortable 20 goals up going into the fourth.
You could see Thunder growing in confidence as the game went on. They were wary of Rhinos in the first quarter, particularly coming up against Wallam for the first time, but they quickly adapted to work out Rhinos’ game, and it seemed as though the Leeds side didn’t have a plan b to draw on. It would have been interesting to see Sienna Rushton come on, given that the team would have built connections with Rushton at Goal Shooter while Wallam was out with injury, and it would have given the Thunder defenders something else to think about.
How did she do that?
In a season that has been dominated by defenders, this was definitely a brilliant game for any budding shooters to watch. The combination of Mvula and Cardwell for Thunder works so well, with each player knowing their role and delivering what’s asked of them.
You can’t write about a Rhinos game without mentioning what are quickly becoming Wallam’s trademark. Scoring whilst falling out of court, the quick thinking and presence of mind for Wallam to draw on her basketball expertise whilst still remaining within the rules of the netball is just brilliant to watch, and is so exciting for the future of the game!
Rhinos: GS Wallam, GA Dixon, WA Grierson, C Clark, WD Hollingworth, GD Oyesola, GK Keenan
Thunder: GS Mvula, GA Cardwell, WA O’Hanlon, C Carter, WD Malcolm, GD Airey, GK Almond
Catch up on the latest VNSL news, and hear from the people involved thanks to our friends at The Netball Show
(after Round 11)
BATH . 11. 30pts . +153
LIGHTNING . 11 . 27pts . +185
THUNDER . 11 . 27pts . +153
WASPS . 11 . 25pts . +92
MAVERICKS . 11 .. 22pts . +32
RHINOS . 11 . 15pts . -28
SIRENS . 11 . 14pts . -25
PULSE . 11. 6pts . -67
STORM . 10 . 6pts . -88
STARS . 11 . 6pts . -136
DRAGONS . 11 . 0pts . -271
Niamh cooper, Surrey Storm – injured ankle in Q4 v Sirens
Razia Quashie, Saracens Mavericks – injured in round 9. Consequently unavailable.
Bethan Dyke, Severn Stars – knee injury in round 9. Out for the rest of the season
Liana Leota, Severn Stars – injured arm and out for a number of weeks
Emma Dovey, Manchester Thunder – injured ankle and out for a number of weeks
Lynsey Gallagher, Strathclyde Sirens – injured knee and hoping to return before the end of the season
Sunday, Apr 25
12:00pm – Dragons v Bath
2:00pm – Stars v Sirens
4:00pm – Mavericks v Rhinos
6:00pm – Wasps v Lightning
Monday, Apr 26
5:15pm – Wasps v Stars
7:15pm – Storm v Pulse