Emma Dovey insists Manchester Thunder are primed and ready for a tilt at defending their Vitality Netball Superleague crown, ahead of this weekend’s 2021 season curtain-raiser.
The last team to lift the coveted trophy in 2019 – for the third time in their history – Thunder started last year’s campaign with four successive wins before its suspension due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Almost a year on Karen Greig’s side are within touching distance of a return to action.
The new campaign gets underway at Production Park Studio 001 in Wakefield, which will stage the first nine weeks of matches, before the teams head to London’s Copper Box Arena for the remainder.
And 29-year-old Dovey, capped five times by England at senior level, is confident her charges are raring to get back into the match arena, with a firm focus on re-establishing themselves as the team to beat.
“We had a really good start to last season before the suspension, so we’re out to prove ourselves and pick up that form again, and hopefully we can retain the title this year,” said Dovey, who balances her netball commitments with being a PE teacher.
“We’ve got a really good mixture of youth and experience this year, and our strong pathway system at Thunder means that the five or six training partners who are under 20 have just slotted in really well.
“We’ve had a really long pre-season, since September, and we’ve gradually worked our way back to match fitness.
“Ultimately the aim is to lift the trophy, but we have to just take each game as it comes.
“There isn’t a weak team in the competition and I think it’s going to be one of the best and tightest Superleagues we’ve ever had.”
Leeds Rhinos enter the fray for the first time as the Superleague’s 11th side, and with Donnell Wallam and England legend Jade Clarke among their ranks, Dovey is expecting big things from their cross-Pennine rivals.
But with the likes of Lefebre Rademan and Ine-Mari Venter making high-profile moves to London Pulse and Saracens Mavericks respectively, Dovey is sure that there are going to be no easy games.
“It’s great for the league that Leeds have joined,” she said. “It shows the quality of players we’ve got in the country at the moment, that we’ve got that extra team and each side is still able to put out such quality.
“Looking at Rhinos and the players they’ve signed they’re going to be one of the teams to beat. When we have our battle of the Roses, I think it’ll be a good one to watch.
“I think more than ever it’s going to be about having strength in depth, and how those players gel together as a unit.”
A landmark broadcast deal will see every Vitality Netball Superleague match this season televised by Sky Sports, ensuring Thunder fans don’t have to miss a minute of their side in action.
Putting smiles on the faces of supporters is a key motivator for Dovey, who believes the league’s return will illustrate the strength of the netball community.
She added: “Having all the games available to watch is a great step forward. It’ll be tough not having fans at games because they are your eighth player, and our fans in particular are quite vocal and help push us over the line.
“We will really miss them this year but just knowing that they are watching at home, and that they’re going to be on social media sharing their support is going to spur us on.
“The Sky deal gives us the exposure that we need. It’s been a tough 12 months for netball, but we’re rising together, and having our games out there is definitely going to help raise the profile of the sport and hopefully inspire people to stay engaged in sport.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work behind the scenes to get to this point, but it’s been great to see every franchise come together for the greater good, and I just can’t wait for the first game back now.”
The Vitality Netball Superleague will return on 12 February 2021 and you can follow the action with all games being shown live on Sky Sports. Visit netballsl.com or follow @netballsl on Twitter and Instagram for more information.