Netball Expert & Columnist
Coverage of the Vitality Netball Superleague continues at 5pm with the start of a 10-match weekend at Studio 001 in Wakefield, live on Sky Sports and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel
Last Updated: 09/04/21 10:54am
This week, Tamsin Greenway focuses on the teams that she believes are in contention to push for play-off netball this season. The Scottish Thistles head coach highlights the strengths of each and picks out the areas they need to improve on moving into the second half of the season.
Can you believe that we’re almost halfway through the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season? It’s flown by and I’ve loved being able to watch every match and analyse every outfit.
Now, after nine rounds we’ve got a select group of teams who are the real deal. So, what’s working well for each one and what do they need to work on? Let’s take a look…
Team Bath Netball
Anna Stembridge’s side went into Round Nine undefeated and then lost to Saracens Mavericks. They’ve been playing exceptionally well but I think that loss had been coming and it will act as a bit of a wake-up call for them.
Bath’s defence is without doubt one of the strongest in the league, and up until this point they’ve been unbreakable and have won ball all over the court. In their attack-end, when they are allowed to play how they wish to and can give first-time ball, they are unstoppable.
However, over the last couple of weeks teams have started to challenge them on their key outlets, particularly in their attacking and defensive circles. They’ve isolated players, shut down key moves and challenged Bath in different ways.
Looking towards the second half of the season, Bath need to ensure that they have a Plan B, both in attack and defence, whether that be through changes or tactical play. Against Mavericks, they looked frustrated at times and mentally they will need to address that.
With the calibre that they have across the board, both the players and coaches will have recognised these areas, and no doubt they’ve got the quality to rectify them over the coming weeks.
Prior to Round Nine, Loughborough Lightning were looking very consistent and pushing on. They had started to nail their structure in defence and were improving with each game in the attacking end third.
However, after the loss to Thunder, there will be a little bit of doubt creeping in and they will have to get on top of that straight away.
For Lighting, Plan A is about getting the ball into Mary Cholhok. When you have such a dominant shooter, it can be title-claiming, but it can also be your biggest downfall. Relying only on Plan A, allows other teams to attack you.
Mary Cholhok’s tally of goals so far
Over the course of Lightning’s nine matches, Mary Cholhok has scored 336 of their 477 goals (70 per cent).
Over the next few weeks, they need to look at how they feed Cholhok with confidence, but more importantly how they open up the circle when she’s not available.
Sara Bayman has spoken openly about this feed already, and the shift will be driven by which players start to do this consistently and under pressure. Moving forwards, Ella Clark, Suzie Liverseidge, Nat Panagarry, Hannah Williams and Hannah Joseph will all be in the spotlight.
Defensively, Lightning have shown that they’ve got the ability to change their structure. Jaz Odeogberin has been exceptional; consistently coming off the bench and showing that she can impact matches. The big focus now, will be creating that same variety in attack to make sure that they are clinical when it matters.
Manchester Thunder have been the most interesting team so far. In Rounds Five and Six, they lost by 25 to Bath and then by nine goals to Wasps and looked way off the pace. However, they’ve just had a huge weekend with victories over Lightning and Saracens Mavericks.
Laura Malcolm discussed post-match the journey that they’re on, and I really liked that. It means that they are constantly building, looking forwards and as a team, have bought into what they’re doing.
The early issue for me with Thunder was their line-up. Over the last few weeks, they’ve experimented and now tweaked it, with the most important move being Malcolm to WD.
She was a different class against Mavericks. Interestingly, we’ve talked about how Malcolm covers three positions for England, but if she carries on playing like that at WD, then she’ll starting for them there.
Focusing on Thunder’s shooting circle, I wasn’t convinced that you could play Eleanor Cardwell and Joyce Mvula together, but tactically Karen Greig and Tracey Neville have worked their magic.
Because Caroline O’Hanlon isn’t a natural WA, you need to give her a release ball and that’s what they’ve done. Mvula is moving out of the circle more than she’s ever done, giving O’Hanlon options. She’s also recycling the ball a lot more, using Malcolm on the line until the feed opens up, and they’re allowing Cardwell to get in, offer from deep and post up.
I can’t wait to see where Thunder’s journey takes them and whether they can continue to develop this attacking unit right to the very end.
Vitality Netball Superleague – Rounds 10 and 11
|Friday at 5.15pm||Strathclyde Sirens vs Loughborough Lightning||Live on Sky Sports Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Friday at 7.15pm||Leeds Rhinos Netball vs Team Bath Netball||Live on Sky Sports Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Saturday at 2pm||Surrey Storm vs Strathclyde Sirens||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Saturday at 4pm||Team Bath Netball vs London Pulse||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Saturday at 6pm||Celtic Dragons vs Loughborough Lightning||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Sunday at 2pm||Surrey Storm vs Manchester Thunder||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Sunday at 4pm||Celtic Dragons vs Wasps||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Sunday at 6pm||Severn Stars vs Saracens Mavericks||Streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Monday at 5.15pm||Wasps vs Saracens Mavericks||Live on Sky Sports Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
|Monday at 7.15pm||Leeds Rhinos Netball vs Manchester Thunder||Live on Sky Sports Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel|
After a brilliant Round Five and Six when they beat Manchester Thunder and Leeds Rhinos, Wasps were ticking along nicely. However, they took a big knock to their confidence with their draw against Strathclyde Sirens and then a patchy start versus Celtic Dragons.
Having started the first eight rounds with the same line-up, Mel Mansfield was brave and decided to try something new against London Pulse. Step up, Amy Flanagan as she moved from WD to C and that was a real game-changer for them.
The combination of Flanagan at C and Rachel Dunn at GS looked more comfortable than they have done, as Flanagan just let ball go into Dunn, which allowed her to be her ruthless self under the post.
However Wasps’ attacking line-up will still need work, particularly in the GA role. They need to ensure that either Katie Harris can keep in the game for the full 48 minutes, or work out how they can include Gezelle Allison’s style of play to make a real impact.
Over the next few weeks, Wasps will need to ensure that they have two strong GA options, and I will be intrigued to see how they keep on using Flanagan, Iona Christian and Sophia Candappa to open up the circle.
On paper, Saracens Mavericks’ squad is the one that everybody wants… it’s frightening how good their line-up is. However, it’s the inconsistency so far this season that has stopped them reaching their full potential
Even victories have been plagued with too many unforced errors. Footwork calls, balls thrown out of court and replays, these are all things that you just can’t do if you want to be a true contender.
In Round Nine, their huge victory over Team Bath Netball felt like they’d finally turned a corner, with only two unforced errors. Mavericks also changed their line-up and Kadeen Corbin was outstanding at GS. They were fired up, but still disciplined in defence and clinical in attack. It was an exceptional performance.
The challenge was to then back it up against Thunder the following day, which just didn’t happen. There was a change in line-up, the inconsistencies crept back in and they ended up taking a real beating.
Vitality Netball Superleague Contenders – Goals scored
|Team Bath Netball – 448|
|Manchester Thunder – 484|
|Loughborough Lightning – 477|
|Wasps – 421|
|Leeds Rhinos – 402|
|Saracens Mavericks – 395|
I think that they’ve gone through five shooting combinations so far this season and that’s going to take its toll on any team trying to find some balance.
So, I hope during the second half of the season we see a line-up that they’re comfortable with, and the same team mindset that we witnessed against Bath. There’s no doubt in my mind, that if this team gets it right, they’ll beat anyone on the day.
Leeds Rhinos Netball
Leeds Rhinos are sitting in sixth, four points off the top four, but you have to keep them in the mix because they’ve kept themselves in the mix.
Let’s be honest, there aren’t many teams in the league that can lose three of their starters and continue to notch up wins.
After suffering those injuries to Donnell Wallam, Fi Toner and Tuaine Keenan they’ve still challenged and performed, and that comes down to how Dan Ryan has pulled them all together and how key individuals have stepped up.
Rhea Dixon is playing the best netball I’ve ever seen her play in the Superleague; she’s controlling games and dominating the circle. She’s not the only one who is having a great season, Jade Clark, Emily Hollingworth, Vicki Oyesola are too, and that’s just to name a few.
Keenan is back now, and I expect that it’s not going to be long before Wallam returns too. Sienna Rushton has stepped up and taken her opportunity, but you can’t deny how good Wallam was before she got injured and how much more she will bring to this side.
Defensively, they’ve brought a physicality and intensity we’ve not had before in the league. They have proved that they’re going to win ball off you and that they will always until the bitter end.
If Rhinos get that direct pass going back into Wallam, then I do think that they can take more scalps and you never know, they could sneak into the top four come the play-offs.
Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues at 5pm with Round 10 and the start of a 10-match weekend, live on Sky Sports and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel.