VNSL 2021: Round 5/6 preview -Another double round of action as VNSL ladder heats up

AFTER a week off, the combined Round 5/6 of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is set to kick off on Friday night. Manchester Thunder and Team Bath look to keep their undefeated record intact while Loughborough Lightning will be eager to remain atop the ladder with another win. The Saracens Mavericks and Celtic Dragons are the only sides to play one game this round while the remaining teams all take the court twice, with three sides yet to get a win on the board and looking to break the drought this week.

Friday, March 12

Severn Stars v. Surrey Storm

The first game of the round sees Surrey Storm take on Severn Stars with the Storm equally leading the league in games played with five for the season already. It has been a difficult season for both sides with the Stars sitting tenth on the ladder and Storm holding down eighth spot but struggling for consistency. The Stars are yet to win a game and will be eager to get their maiden win on the board with the likes of Adi Bolakoro leading the charge down in defence. Bolakoro is a game changer, able to spring into action and reel in intercepts to provide her side with opportunities to push forward. She is likely to line up on Storm goaler Karyn Bailey, who is a consistent figure under the post using her dynamic footwork to edge closer to the post and put up handy goals while Frankie Wells and Sophie Kelly play strong supplementary roles.

Team Bath  v. Manchester Thunder

It will be an all star clash between the two undefeated sides as Team Bath and Manchester Thunder battle it out to make it four wins straight. Both sides have proven once again to be damaging prospects and serious title contenders with their fast movement and transitional play coming to the fore, along with their respective accuracy to post playing a major role. Inside the goal circle, Kim Borger has been a pillar of consistency with the goal shooter popping out at the right time and holding strong to provide the main source of goals for Bath. She is often well assisted by Sophie Drakeford-Lewis out in goal attack with the developing Roses star able to convert at a high accuracy. The two combine seamlessly to rotate through the circle and keep the defenders guessing, a tactic they will hope to employ against the likes of Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond. The midcourt battle will also be a point of interest with Bath boasting two of the most dynamic middies in the competition in Serena Guthrie and Imogen Allison. Both can swing between centre and wing defence and are renowned for their ball winning capabilities but Thunder are not without stars of their own in gut-runners Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm who possess great spatial awareness and timing in both attack and defence.

Tip: Storm by 6, Thunder by 5

Saturday, March 13

Surrey Storm v. Loughborough Lightning

Heading into the break, the Lightning were firing on all cylinders with their intensity and scoring prowess causing plenty of headaches – a feat they will be hoping to replicate against the Storm who are heading into their second game in two days. The Lightning midcourt is proving to be the engine room of the side with star duo Beth Cobden and Nat Panagarry controlling proceedings through the centre third. The pair are key cogs for the Lightning, able to connect the defensive and attacking thirds and using their speed and drive to slice through opposition defences. They will go toe-to-toe with the highly experienced Mikki Austin and Yasmin Parsons who are renowned for their attacking tendencies and are staples of the Storm outfit, making for an enticing contest.

Team Bath v. Severn Stars

Both sides are coming into this encounter off the back of a short turnaround having played only days earlier. With fatigue always a factor the Stars will well and truly have their work cut out for them against Team Bath who are renowned for their slick ball movement, crafty court play and strong found connections across the court. Donning a highly versatile and specialist defensive unit, Bath is likely to have the upper hand against a young and developing Stars unit that consists of players such as Lucy Herdman and Georgia Rowe. While they are strong in their own right, they will have to work in overdrive if they are to have any chance to steer the ship and claim an upset win against the firing Bath side. The likes of Eboni Usoro-Brown, Layla Guscoth and Summer Artman are real threats in the backend for Bath with their ability to read the play, create turnovers and continuously capitalise on their opportunities.

Manchester Thunder v. Wasps Netball

It does not get any easier for the Thunder, having to face up to Wasps in their second game of the round, having met Bath only days before. Although the Wasps have not had the start they would have hoped for, dropping two games from four outings and subsequently sitting mid-table, they should not to be underestimated here. With star players across the court and a winning mentality the Wasps will have every intention of upsetting the apple cart to climb up the ladder. Fran Williams has been a menace down in defence picking up intercepts and deflections left, right and centre and will be forced to pay close attention to the likes of Eleanor Cardwell who has been strong in attack. Williams will have to combine with Josie Huckle to nullify the likes of Cardwell and Joyce Mvula with the goalers posting impressive totals and finding their way to goal with relative ease given their silky ball movement and strong holds.

Tip: Lightning by 15, Bath by 13, Thunder by 7

Sunday, March 14

Strathclyde Sirens v. Saracens Mavericks

Fifth plays fourth on Sunday when the Sirens face off against the Mavericks in what is set to be an exciting match-up. Both sides have managed three wins apiece and will be hoping to get some ladder separation with a win. Expect it to be an evenly poised game filled with close one-on-ones and defensive pressure aplenty. Razia Quashie is a rock in defence with her read of the play, aerial presence and overall strength setting the tone for the Mavs in defence. Ine-Mari Venter will be crucial in just her second match with the side given her movement inside the circle, composure on the shot and netball smarts, although the Sirens will look to disrupt her growing connection with Kadeen Corbin. The Sirens defensive unit in Emily Nicholl and Towera Vinkhumbo will be looking to fire with Vinkhumbo impressing last week racking up the intercepts and deflections with ease. Through the midcourt the battle will be fierce as Gia Abernethy and Nicola McCleery look to ply their trade for the Sirens and Sasha Corbin and Georgia Lees aim to get busy in attack with their quick give and go.

Loughborough Lightning v. London Pulse

Sitting pretty in first place the Lightning will be eager to inflict plenty of scoreboard pain on London Pulse in their clash. With tall timbers at both ends of the court it could turn into a shootout between the goal shooters with Mary Cholhok and Sigi Burger both barometers for their respective sides. Cholhok has been receiving silver service from Panagarry through the midcourt and while Burger’s connection with South African teammate Lefebre Rademan has been fractured at times they are still damaging under the post when they get going. The pace of Adean Thomas through the midcourt for Pulse will have Cobden keeping a close eye on her as the Lightning look to hold onto top spot. Ella Clark is another key cog in attack for Loughborough with the dual-sport star able to hit the scoreboard with ease and take some of the heat off Cholhok under the post, meaning the likes of Halimat Adio and Funmi Fadoju will have their work cut out for them.

Wasps Netball v. Leeds Rhinos

Gearing up for their second game of the round, Wasps lock horns with Leeds Rhinos who despite having a hot start to the season have been marred with injury and struggled to regain that initial form. The absence of Donnell Wallam has been felt across the court with her height and volume of shots missed, meaning the likes of Sienna Rushton and Rhea Dixon have had to step up to the plate and will once again have their hands full. The Wasps will be hoping that Rachel Dunn is fit and firing given the influence she can have at the post, while Gezelle Allison proved that she was more than capable of holding her own in the circle last round, using her athleticism to full advantage. Defensively Vicki Oyesola and Paige Kindred have developed their ongoing partnership at a rate of knots. Through the midcourt expect Wasps captain Sophia Candappa to lead the troops and control the tempo of the game with her short, sharp passes and preserve her energy given the short turnaround between games.

Tip: Mavericks by 3, Lightning by 12, Wasps by 8

Monday, March 15

London Pulse v. Celtic Dragons

In their sole outing for the round, Celtic Dragons will have one thing in mind and that is to leave no stone unturned in hope of clinching their first win for the season. The Pulse have also not registered a win this season but sit higher up the ladder having only played three games as opposed to the Dragons’ five. Strong in patches, both sides have struggled with consistency and fluidity to grind out games making for an enthralling battle between the bottom sides. Burger will hope to dominate under the post and take advantage of her height and partner with her nippy goal attacks whether it be Rademan, Assaindey Olivia Tchine or sharpshooter Kira Rothwell. Through the midcourt the connection of Michelle Drayne and Ashleigh Dekker will need to be stopped if the Dragons are to overrun their opponents. All eyes will turn to whether or not goal shooter Amy Clinton will be available for selection after being helped off the court in Round 4 and seeing the side utilise a completely different lineup with Annika-Lee Jones taking the court in goal shooter. Both sides have highly versatile squads that can rotate through a number of positions and impress adding a real element of unpredictability.

Leeds Rhinos v. Strathclyde Sirens

The final game of the round sees the Rhinos and Sirens go head-to-head in what is set to be a fitting end to a huge double round of netball. The Sirens currently have one more win on the table than the Rhinos but Leeds are fighting to keep their season alive after dropping a couple of games given their mounting injury tally. Boasting a highly talented shooting end spearheaded by Bethan Goodwin and Emma Barrie, the Sirens pose as tough opposition with both able to shoot with great proficiency and control the airwaves with their added centimetres. The duo’s respective combination with Lynsey Gallagher is growing with stature and the developing front-end will once again be hoping to capitalise on the fresh defensive unit of Oyesola and Kindred. The Rhinos midcourt is led by Jade Clarke with the experienced head expected to stand up under the pressure and guide her side if they are to compete with the rapidly improving Sirens.

Tip: Pulse by 15, Sirens by 2

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