VNSL 2021: Round 13/14 preview – Fourth double round of action set to separate top from bottom

YET another double round of action is upon the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and with the gap between the top and middle sides on the ladder gradually closing, the time is now for a couple of the mid-table teams to make their mark and really test the opposition. Plenty of quality games are on offer over a huge four days of action, with all 11 franchises taking the court in hope to elevate their standings.

>>>ROUND 3 WRAPS: Sunday // Monday

>>>ROUND 4 WRAPS: Sunday // Monday

>>>ROUND 5/6 WRAPS: Friday/Saturday // Sunday/Monday


Surrey Storm v. Celtic Dragons

Last time these two side met, it was the Storm that registered a solid 16-goal win over the Dragons. But whilst they started their season off strong, unfortunately that was the last time the Surrey side registered a victory, so they will surely be chomping at the bit here to get on the board. The Dragons may have fallen to the ladder leaders in Team Bath last round, but to their credit they came out flying to lead at half time – something that should send a warning sign to the Storm that they should not rest on their laurels this time around.

Expect the Surrey side to come in with a fire in the belly, with everything to lose if they hand a win to the lowly Dragons. Leading from the front will be Mikki Austin and Yasmin Parsons, whilst defensively Alima Priest and Leah Middleton have been steadily improving their partnership week on week. The Dragons are similarly solid in the backline, with Annika Lee-Jones putting on one of her best performances thus far last round, while Christina Shaw and Lucy Howells continue to work hard down back. Clare Jones and Shona O’Dwyer will look to really test the Storm midcourt, while Amy Clinton, Rebekah Robinson and Rebecca Baker continue to be solid options at the post, just unfortunately not getting the volume of ball in to pile on the offensive pressure. For the Storm, expect Karyn Bailey to lead the charge at the post with her clean hands and ability to snatch ball out of the air.

Saracens Mavericks v. Loughborough Lightning

The Lightning’s great fortune has continued across a huge season, and whilst they are yet to steal top spot off Bath, another comprehensive win over the Mavericks could do the trick here. The Mavericks may have started the season relatively well – bar their Round 3 loss to the Lightning – but have taken the foot off the pedal in recent rounds in the absence of Razia Quashie, so really need to lift their full-court intensity to get the chocolates here and not be overcome by Leeds Rhinos and Strathclyde Sirens – who are hot on the Mavs’ tail and also play two matches across the round.

Jodie Gibson and Jo Trip will need to be firing on all cylinders to disrupt the likes of Mary Cholhok at the post this round, with the matchup between Trip and Cholhok realistically one of the most crucial ones across the court for both sides. The Mavs will require the silver service of Gabby Marshall driving down the court to cut through the speed and workrate of the likes of Nat Panagarry and Beth Cobden through the midcourt, while Georgia Lees and Sasha Corbin will also be critical. The Lightning’s ability to use their bench is monumental and could really hurt the Mavs, with a tough defence line in Sam MayJas Odeogberin and Alice Harvey looking to block Ine-Mari VenterBritney Clarke and Kadeen Corbin in their tracks.

Tip: Storm by 10, Lightning by 12


Surrey Storm v. Severn Stars

The two lower-ranked sides will be really looking to prove they have enough in the tank to grind out a couple more victories, with the Storm likely hoping to get another win on the board in their second encounter of the round, whilst the Stars currently own bragging rights following their Round 5/6 victory so will want to retain that mantle. Safe to say that a close encounter should be expected here, especially given the potential to leap out of the bottom three positions on the ladder.

The Storm are the first side to play a second match this round, and will need to put their best foot forward against the fresh-footed Stars. Whilst Parsons and Austin have no issue on the endurance front, the Storm will need to ensure their relatively inexperienced attacking duo in Sophie Kelly and Frankie Wells do not fatigue too quickly, as that will make it all the hard to propel ball into Bailey at the post. For the Stars, the return of Liana Leota from injury and Kyra Jones from retirement provided a huge boost to the squad last round which is sure to continue this round, with connections continuing to re-form. Georgia Rowe continues to be a significant threat out the front, as is speedster Paige Reed, while at the other end Nia Jones, Malysha Kelly and Iman Thomas will want to make life hard for the Storm front-line.

London Pulse v. Strathclyde Sirens

Expect another enticing battle here, with the Sirens showcasing plenty of good form across the past few rounds and looking to continue to apply that pressure on the ladder. The side has come along in leaps and bounds this season and will want to continue that trend against the Pulse, who have struggled to find purchase in a trying season, and realistically need a win here over the Sirens if they are of any chance to push the envelope in the remaining rounds. Just five goals separated the two sides last time they met, with confidence aplenty heading into this round.

Sirens lynchpin Towera Vinkhumbo has arguably been in excellent form this season and could very well be the difference between a win or a loss in this match. She lines up on a similarly impactful international name in Sigi Burger, and will look to utilise her excellent footwork and aerial ability to cause errors for the South African once more this round. At the other end, Emma Barrie has continued to step up in goal shooter for the Sirens and is yet to show any signs of slowing down, working well with Bethan Goodwin out the front to test defenders week in and week out. It will be up to livewire Funmi FadojuHalimat Adio and Zara Everitt to limit their impact, with the defensive workrate through the centre from Michelle Drayne and Ashleigh Dekker critical if the Pulse are to really test the Sirens on a roll.

Saracens Mavericks v. Celtic Dragons 

The Mavericks cannot afford to underestimate the Dragons in this encounter, and realistically they need a huge percentage-boosting win on the board here to not only uphold a competitive spot on the ladder to challenge the Wasps for a top four position, but also to really boost their confidence with spirits shaky at the moment. The Dragons will once more look to really challenge across the round, with improved performances across the past week, however do come into this one as the underdog following a 41-61 loss last time these sides met in Round 4.

This match will likely be won through the midcourt, with both sides matching up fairly well for accuracy and defensive prowess – although Mavericks arguably still lead the way at both ends – and while the Mavericks boast a classy midcourt chock full of England Roses talent, the Dragons midcourt has been developing nicely across the season and will look to treasure possession. Expect an intriguing one-on-one between Trip and Clinton under the post, while Sasha and Kadeen Corbin will want to exploit their knowledge of one another to outclass the Dragons at every turn. Expect Venter to utilise her improved vision and footwork to manoeuvre her way around Lee-Jones, who in turn will want to exploit her own height and long reach to block vision and cherry-pick passes.

Tip: Stars by 4, Sirens by 6, Mavericks by 12


Strathclyde Sirens v. Leeds Rhinos 

Expect a really interesting matchup between these two sides, with Rhinos narrowly getting the win last time they met by seven goals, and without the services of goaler Donnell Wallam at the post. That being said, the Sirens have pushed both the Wasps and Mavericks until the very end this season and are well within their chances to get another win on the board here, with the side brimming with confidence and sure to come out firing against the Rhinos.

The battle between sixth and seventh is sure to be a cracker, and expect Wallam to lead the Rhinos’ charge once more, with plenty on the line for both sides given she did not take the court last time they met. But where Wallam goes, expect Vinkhumbo to follow in one of the most tantalising matchups of the entire round. Whilst Wallam has the height advantage and strength to pile on goals under pressure, Vinkhumbo’s hops will allow her to provide a critical link from the back-line and drive the ball forward once more. The Sirens cannot afford to ignore the services of Rhea Dixon out in goal attack, whilst Sienna Rushton is another viable option out the front. Factor in livewires Fi Toner and Jade Clarke taking on Gia Abernethy through the centre and the great form of Barrie and Goodwin at the Sirens front-end, and this matchup has everything.

London Pulse v. Manchester Thunder 

The Thunder have sunk to fourth on the ladder after another week off and sit two matches behind majority of the competition, so will be looking to come out flying against the Pulse. The Thunder have been extremely hard to stop since their Round 5/6 slump and have not dropped a game since then, leaving plenty of confidence in the side heading into this encounter. The Pulse will need to treasure possession and realistically need another win here to remain not only in with a chance at breaking into the mid-table logjam, but also stay ahead of the Storm and Stars who are hot on their tail.

The Pulse have a tough ask when they take on the in-form Thunder, with the Manchester side boasting huge names all across the court. Whilst the Pulse certainly have plenty of talent at their disposal, the connections just have not really appeared to be there at this point in the season, so will really need to tighten up across the court to deny easy ball into the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula. Fadoju has starred across all three defensive positions this season so is sure to get a chance on either – or both – the Thunder’s attackers, whilst at the other end Burger will want to fly out of the blocks alongside Lefebre Rademan and Kira Rothwell and get a head start against the excellent defensive combination of Kerry Almond and Rebekah Airey.

Team Bath v. Wasps Netball

Team Bath will look to maintain top spot across a huge weekend of action which sees them take on two challengers. Realistically, this match should be the easier of the two and should see Bath come out on top with relative ease as long as they can maintain the same level of pressure across the court. For the Wasps, this match will be the test to see if they are really capable of testing the top side, sitting just two wins behind Bath but overcoming a couple of snags with their consistency along the way.

There will be no shortage of star power on court in this matchup, with consistent performers across the court waging an exciting battle. Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris have been in excellent form over the past few rounds and, given they balance the circle so freely and easily, will look to continue that here. The likes of Layla Guscoth and Eboni Usoro-Brown will look to test that flow and movement within the circle, while their actions are sure to be replicated at the other end with a couple more talented names in Fran Williams and Josie Huckle taking centre stage in the Wasps backline. The fight will not relent at that end, with Kim Borger and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis hard to stop even on a bad day, while both midcourts match up fairly well with livewires across the court.

Tip: Rhinos by 3, Thunder by 14, Bath by 8


Manchester Thunder v. Team Bath

Monday sees the competition in for some of the biggest matches of the round, with a huge head-to-head between the Thunder and Bath outfits. Whilst Thunder sits in fourth compared to Bath in top spot, they have only lost one more game than the blue and gold and are on a huge winning streak. The two sides are relatively evenly matched across the court and even though Bath well and truly made a statement against the Thunder last time they met, expect a closer encounter this time around.

The midcourt battle is set to be one of the best, with the likes of Manchester’s high powered combination Laura MalcolmAmy Carter and Caroline O’Hanlon taking on Bath’s defensive branded centre-court group in Serena GuthrieImogen Allison and sisters Jess and Rachel Shaw. There are very little holes across the court for either side, which is what could see a really close encounter play out. That being said, if one side get an early upper hand that could go a long way for building and extending an eventual match-winning list. Expect a battle of accuracy between Mvula and Borger at either end, while there is no shortage of defensive prowess across the two backlines, with Guscoth and Usoro-Brown holding ground in one circle and Almond and Airey within the other.

Leeds Rhinos v. Wasps Netball 

The final match of the round will play out between the Rhinos and Wasps, in another huge matchup that could realistically go either way. While the Wasps got the chocolates back in Round 5/6 by 12 goals, there is no doubt the Rhinos have stepped up since then, with injury returnees seeing the side step up to be a real ladder worry. Factor in the loss of Wasps captain Sophia Candappa, and the Rhinos could well and truly have the Wasps’ number this time around.

The battle between Wallam and Huckle is sure to be mouthwatering, given the ability of both players to get hand to the ball, and while the Wasps are missing a huge prong in attack with the absence of Candappa, there is no doubt their balanced attack in Dunn and Harris pays off regardless of who feeds into the circle. Defensively, Tuaine KeenanPaige Kindred and Vicki Oyesola have been hugely consistent so will need to retain that mantle to block the efforts of Dunn and Harris, as well as the midcourt advances of Iona ChristianAmy Flanagan and Leah Goss. Midcourt-wise, Clarke is hard to stop when she gets going given her excellent endurance base. With so many even  contests across the court, expect a huge match here that comes down to the wire.

Tip: Bath by 2, Rhinos by 3

Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments