An introduction to Vitality Netball Superleague in 2021

Sportsbeat
·8-min read
England's Serena Guthrie in action. REUTERS/Lee Smith

The Vitality Netball Superleague is set to return with a bang this week after the 2020 season was cancelled with just four rounds played due to the coronavirus outbreak.

With the introduction of the Leeds Rhinos franchise, the 11 sides are preparing to battle it out for a place in the semi-finals and a chance to be crowned champions.

Teams across England, Scotland and Wales have been sure to secure new talent from around the globe to play alongside some returning Superleague legends.

As we look forward to the season kicking off on Friday, Hannah Clarke looked into each team to predict how they will fare in the upcoming league.

Celtic Dragons

First up are Celtic Dragons. The only Welsh side in the league finished in seventh place in the 2019 season, a huge improvement after finishing bottom for the two seasons previous.

They have made a major signing for this year, bringing in Annika Lee-Jones from Australia. The 24-year-old has played in the Suncorp Super Netball league for the last four seasons, representing West Coast Fever and Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Lee-Jones is a versatile player, dominating the circle at both ends in the goal keeper and goal shooter positions.

Prediction: 10th

Leeds Rhinos

The newest arrivals to the Superleague are Leeds Rhinos, who are set to make their debut this year.

Although they are the unknown side, their huge signings have shown they are a force to be reckoned with. Not only have they got Jade Clarke – the highest capped England player who has made the switch from Wasps – they also signed former Australian international Madi Browne to complete their squad.

However, due to the ongoing challenges caused by the impact of Covid-19, Rhinos have recently announced that Browne’s contract will be deferred until the start of next season.

As her replacement, they have brought in experienced defender Tuaine Keenan who began her Superleague career with former Yorkshire side, Yorkshire Jets.

Prediction: 5th

London Pulse

London Pulse joined the ranks in the 2019 season and will be hoping to improve on their tenth place finish this year.

They have added more talent from South Africa to their squad through Lefebre Rademan who joins fellow Proteas international Sigi Burger in representing Pulse.

The young attacker made her name known here when she came on against England’s Vitality Roses in the test at the end of 2019 and made a significant impact.

Pulse started last season strong, winning all three of their games before the league was suspended, gaining more points than they achieved throughout the whole of the 2019 season.

Prediction: 9th

Loughborough Lightning

In the 2019 season, Loughborough Lightning missed out on a place in the Grand Final when they lost to Wasps in the play-offs.

The highly experienced squad will be hoping to go one better this year as they welcome back the return of England Roses player Beth Cobden, who played a huge part in Lightning’s 2017 and 2018 campaigns. She assisted them to two consecutive Grand Finals before earning a contract with Suncorp Super Netball side Adelaide Thunderbirds.

Despite, rupturing her ACL in the 2018 Grand Final and again after three games for the Thunderbirds, Cobden made her return to the Roses side in their January test against the Vitality All Stars and will be a key player in Lightning’s season.

Prediction: 3rd

Manchester Thunder

2019 champions Manchester Thunder have a wealth of homegrown talent to make up their squad for this season.

England internationals Amy Carter, Laura Malcolm and Eleanor Cardwell are the most notable players to have come through the pathway.

However, Thunder fan favourite and Malawi international Joyce Mvula is bound to make another huge contribution after signing in 2017.

The sharp-shooter netted an impressive 216 goals at the 2019 Netball World Cup and is set to find her form same again this year.

Prediction: 1st

Saracens Mavericks

After finishing fifth for the past two seasons, Saracens Mavericks will certainly be aiming for a place in the semi-finals in 2021.

A mixture of youth and experience is apparent when looking at the Mavericks squad for this year, 17-year-old Roses Academy player Bella Bayliss, who has been progressing through the pathway, has now stepped up to the senior side.

She joins 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallists Kadeen Corbin and Jodie Gibson, as well as the returning Roses Gabby Marshall ad Razia Quashie.

Mavericks have also added South African shooter Ine-Mari Venter from Australian side Queensland Firebirds and she looks set to replace George Fisher, who is departing to play in the ANZ Premiership, in the circle.

Prediction: 6th

Severn Stars

Severn Stars joined the Superleague in 2017 and have finished in sixth place for the past two seasons, so will be pushing for a place in the semi-finals this year.

Fijian international Adi Bolakoro joins the Stars squad this year. With previous Superleague experience at Surrey Storm and Celtic Dragons, the speedy defender will add strength and determination to the circle.

She joins a diverse range of international talent at Stars, such as Wales’ Nia Jones and Silver Fern Liana Leota, who won Vitality Fans’ Player of the Series in the test against Roses in January.

Prediction: 7th

Strathclyde Sirens

The only Scottish side in the division Strathclyde Sirens, who finished in ninth place in the 2019 season, will be hoping that the return of experienced players will be enough to improve results.

Shooter Lynsey Gallagher has over 80 caps for the Scottish Thistles, making her international debut at just 17, returns for her fourth Superleague season.

She is joined this year by fellow Thistle star, Caitlin Pringle who has gone from strength to strength after only stepping into the competitive netball scene in 2017. While Australian youth player and Sirens captain Gia Abernethy also re-joins the squad.

Prediction: 11th

Surrey Storm

Back in 2015 and 2016, Surrey Storm won two consecutive Superleague Grand Finals but since they have not made it to a semi-final, finishing in eighth in the league in 2019 and they will be hoping that they are able to rediscover their form from five years ago.

The signing of Zimbabwe captain, Felisitus Kwangwa for her first season in the Superleague will strengthen their defensive end – the seasoned international was an integral part of Zimbabwe’s first Netball World Cup in 2019.

She joins Northern Ireland international Emma Magee and Lauren Tait, who joins from Strathclyde Sirens, for their first season at Surrey Storm.

Prediction: 8th

Team Bath

Another team who are known for recruiting talent through their own pathways is Team Bath with the likes of England internationals Imogen Allison and Summer Artman as just two examples.

Team Bath have secured a place in the semi-finals every season since the 2016 campaign but during this time have never made a final.

The return of England Roses co-captain Serena Guthrie will boost their chances in going one step further this year, as she watched from the side-lines last year after taking a break from the sport but will certainly have a huge impact this season.

After winning all three of their opening fixtures before the league was suspended last year, Bath were looking as if they could be title contenders and they will be hoping to hit the ground running again this season.

Prediction: 2nd

Wasps

Last but by no means least are Wasps, who joined the league in 2017 and went on to win back-to-back titles but fell short in the 2019 Grand Final against Manchester Thunder.

Despite Jade Clarke moving to Leeds Rhinos and former captain Hannah Knights retiring last July, the return of shooting star Rachel Dunn and Roses defender Fran Williams will maintain the strength of the team at both ends of the court.

Jamaican international Gezelle Allison has signed for Wasps for her first season in the Vitality Netball Superleague and her combined with Dunn will certainly make a shooting circle that is hard to stop.

Amy Flanagan and Sophie Candappa also return to the side, with the latter taking over the captaincy role.

Prediction: 4th