Vitality Netball Superleague preview: Round 18

THE final round of the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague begins and ends on Saturday, with all five games played at 6pm at venues across the UK. Four teams are still currently in contention for a finals finish, with the Saracens Mavericks relying on a win at home and a loss from one of Manchester Thunder, Team Bath or Loughborough Lightning to make finals. Wasps Netball have secured a home final already so are unlikely to push too hard this round, while Surrey Storm, Celtic Dragons and London Pulse have one last opportunity to impact the ladder by getting a win against potentially finals-bound sides. Second on the ladder will host a semi final, so with three teams sitting on the same win-loss ratio this season, the likes of Thunder, Bath and Lightning are likely to fight hard for that home final.

Loughborough Lightning take on Celtic Dragons at Sir David Wallace Arena in a must-win matchup, currently sitting in fourth on the ladder and needing a win to control their position in the top four. Last time they met Lightning outclassed the Dragons, however the Wales-based team has shown massive improvements since their Round 9 clash so will want to continue their good form following a win last week. The likes of Stacian Facey and Dee Bolakoro came out flying last round and will need to be on form again this week to shut down the strength and height of Mary Cholhok at the post and cut off Ella Clark’s long bomb shots on goal. Meanwhile, Tuaine Keenan and Vicki Oyesola will want to team up with Nat Panagarry to shut down the midcourt and defensive end to lock the ball into Lightning attack, with dominant Dragons shooter, Chelsea Lewis improving week after week.

In another big match, Saracens Mavericks host Strathclyde Sirens at Hertfordshire Sports Village in a bid to keep their finals hopes alive. The Mavericks had a convincing win over the Sirens last time they played, seeing the Sirens come out firing before petering off early in the second quarter under the immense pressure of the Mavericks’ defensive unit. The Mavericks won by a phenomenal 30 goals and kept the home side to less than ten goals in three of the four quarters, so will want to replicate that performance. The Sirens will want to finish their disappointing season on a high with a good contest against the Mavericks, so will need to shut down feeds into the circle and movement through attack. Jo Trip was the high flyer of the Mavericks’ big win last round against the Severn Stars, so along with Razia Quashie will want to push Emma Barrie and Lynsey Gallagher in the circle to reduce scoring opportunities and push the ball back through the midcourt. With a wealth of experience and options in attack, the Mavericks are spoilt for choice in the goals with the likes of George Fisher, Kadeen Corbin and Karyn Bailey able to rotate seamlessly through the circle with accuracy no issue.

Next up, Team Bath host London Pulse at Team Bath Arena, aiming for their thirteenth win in the hopes of a home final, while Pulse have one last opportunity to get a win in their debut season. In their last matchup the Pulse gave Bath a shock, coming from 12 goals behind in the last quarter to only lose by four goals, so Team Bath should know better now than to underestimate the bottom team on the ladder, especially given Pulse’s upset win over Mavericks in Round 13. With two highly experienced and game changing England Roses defenders on court in Bath’s Eboni Usoro-Brown and Pulse’s Ama Agbeze, the defensive battle on court in this match will be one to watch. Though Chiara Semple and Shantal Slater have shown immense improvement over the course of the season, up against Usoro-Brown and Summer Artman their talent may be outweighed by the experience and depth of Bath’s exceptional defensive unit. Comparatively, the likes of Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis have upped their game and connection over the second half of the season, so will be a force to be reckoned with for Agbeze and her defensive partners in crime, Loreen Ngwira and Jas Odeogberin. If Pulse can shut down the speed and influence of Serena Guthrie through the midcourt, they may have the power to get one more win for the season.

The Stars will aim for their eighth win of the season this round to equal their 2018 season, hosting Wasps Netball at Worcester Arena in one of the least finals-influencing matches of the round. The Wasps have already cemented their finals position, sitting two wins clear on the ladder, so will want to continue their exceptional form heading into finals with another win to finish off the season. The Stars put on a stellar performance last match against the Wasps, holding the hosts to only 13 goals in the second half but unfortunately going down by seven goals. Despite a disappointing Round 17 loss to Mavericks, the Stars will want to come out firing and put some pressure on the Wasps in their final match for the 2019 season. The Stars will have to think about how they feed into the likes of Georgia Rowe at the post this round, with defensive height in the circle courtesy of Fran Williams and Josie Huckle. The Stars will need to put on the accelerator to combat the influence, speed and footwork of pocket rocket, Bongi Msomi who has been dominant all season in wing attack for the Wasps, providing plenty of ball to the likes of Rachel Dunn in the goal circle.

Finally, Surrey Storm will host Manchester Thunder at Surrey Sports Park in the hopes to spoil Thunder’s dominant 2019 season. Storm is another side that has improved leaps and bounds over the course of the season, so will want to come out and put on a big performance this round after a 24 point loss in Round 9. Storm will be hoping the vertical jump and aerial ability of defender, Lorraine Kowalewska will be on show against the likes of Joyce Mvula this week, with the Malawian shooter proving week in and week out that she is a force to be reckoned with at the post. Down the other end, the likes of Sigi Burger will need to be on fire in the circle to keep Storm in the match against the defensive prowess of Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond. Spectators will hope to see a big matchup between the speed and agility of New Zealander and Thunder wing attack, Liana Leota against the power and impact of South African and Storm wing defence, Shadine Van Der Merwe, with both players able to generate excitement around the court.

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