Excitement mounts as the VNSL Signing Window opens

FOLLOWING the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is set to return with a bang for 2021. With the addition of the new franchise Leeds Rhinos, the league confirmed that plans are in place for a February start. We do not know for certain whether we will be able to see a multi-match televised event like the 2020 Season Opener in Birmingham, which drew record-breaking crowds, but the long-awaited return of elite netball in the UK is sure to be filled with excitement.

The signing window is officially open, which means that teams can now look to acquire uncontracted players from other franchises, as well as imports. The window closes on October 30, by which time we can expect teams to announce their final lineup. This period will be particularly important for Leeds Rhinos, who will need to develop their squad from scratch, and have only the next two months to do so. It has been well-documented that they are keen to nurture young talent from the Yorkshire region, but will need some experienced heads in their lineup to help them make their mark on the Superleague in 2021. 

Opportunities for new talent to break onto the scene will also be available at Surrey Storm and Wasps Netball, following retirement announcements from Katy Hughes, Lorraine Kowalewska and Hannah Knights. These three loyal players have been the defensive lynchpins of their respective clubs and both leave very big shoes to fill. For Manchester Thunder, is has been announced that superstar goaler Kathryn Turner is expecting a baby in February, meaning we can expect to see a new look shooting end from the reigning champions.

There are a few question marks around whether we will see England Roses legends Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usuro-Brown back at Team Bath next year. Usuro-Brown has recently given birth to her first child and Guthrie is coming back into the England side following a year-long netball sabbatical. Bath proved in the opening rounds of the 2020 season that they have good depth in their squad, but would certainly benefit from the return of these experienced players. 

Celtic Dragons made an impression in early rounds with defensive powerhouse Latanya Wilson, and if they look to form a strong unit around her they could really challenge some of the top teams next season. It has been good to see the development of young shooters Emma Barrie and Bethan Goodwin for the Strathclyde Sirens and it will be exciting to see what they can bring to the league in 2021.

London Pulse and Saracens Mavericks will be hoping to retain the core of their playing roster for the next season, given their excellent start to 2020 and their strong connections on the court. Both of these sides have powerhouse goalers in George Fisher and Sigi Burger, and in 2020 Pulse also boasted an impressive lineup of squad members who have been named in the Roses Futures programme, such as Halimat Adio and Kira Rothwell

The first few rounds of the 2020 season were plagued with injuries for Loughborough Lightning, and they will have benefitted from the extra off-season time to rehab key players such as Nat Panagarry and prepare to get the new season off to a better start. Another team who we hope have made good use of the extended break will be Severn Stars, who struggled to make their attacking end click in the opening rounds of 2020, despite signing midcourt speedster Liana Leota

The question has been raised over the signing of imports for the new season, as ongoing international travel restrictions may make things difficult for clubs and athletes. The current rules state that clubs may sign a maximum of two import players per team, however, these players are not permitted to play in the same third of the court. In addition to this, all franchises have suffered financial losses due to the cancellation of the 2020 season, which may mean they are not able to sponsor star international players to come to the UK from around the world. This would be disappointing for the VNSL, as the league is known for developing talented athletes from across the globe, including the likes of Shamera Sterling and Karla Pretorius

There is plenty to be excited about in the build-up to the new Superleague season, and as player signings are announced we will be able to see all the different squads take shape. Elite training is now permitted in the UK, meaning lots of teams will be back training together over the coming weeks, and we hope this will be able to continue over the winter. One thing for certain is that UK netball fans will be counting the days until they can see their favourite players back out on the court. 

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