VNSL 2021: Round 8 preview – Top sides look to consolidate ladder-leading positions

ROUND 8 of Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) action is set to provide some interesting match-ups, with the top end of the ladder really looking to find some separation and a couple of sides hoping to add a much-needed win to the books. Surrey Storm will enjoy a week off to recuperate and look to go one better next week.

Sunday, March 28

Manchester Thunder v. Leeds Rhinos

Manchester Thunder will look to make its way back into the top four in a big clash with Leeds Rhinos to open the round, and while the two sides sit neck-and-neck on 4-2 and 4-3 records and fifth and sixth respectively, the Thunder have produced much more clinical victories and, despite a couple of sloppy encounters during Round 5/6, they bounced back well last round to send a message to the rest of the competition. The Rhinos combinations have been growing stronger week on week so they will look to really push the Thunder, although the Manchester-based side has its combinations down to a fine art after a couple of seasons together, so should get the win here.

Thunder’s defence will be critical in this one, especially shutting down the likes of Rhea Dixon who is in sparkling form in goal attack. Emma Dovey will likely be tasked with shutting down the attacker in what should be a great battle, with the likes of Rebekah Airey and Kerry Almond both also continuously plying their trade in the back-end and forming a dangerous trio. The midcourt tussle should be huge with the highly experience Caroline O’Hanlon and Jade Clarke going head-to-head in centre, with Manchester’s veteran backed up by Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter as Rhinos’ Emily HollingworthBrie Grierson and Amelia Hall will look to do the same for Clarke. Vicki Oyesola and Paige Kindred will be crucial up against the likes of Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula, with both goalers more than capable of holding up the side alone, let alone when they are both firing from all cylinders.

London Pulse v. Team Bath

Expect an interesting matchup here, with the Pulse realistically needing a win here to keep their season hopes alive. That being said, Team Bath have been the powerhouse of the competition this season and have really set the bar high for any team coming across them. They will hope to go eight from eight in this matchup and remain at the top of the ladder, and given their recent form they should not have a problem doing so. Pulse has shown some patches of excitement and momentum but has seemed unable to replicate the form of last season, so will be really tested by Bath in this encounter. Expect Bath to come out with another comprehensive win this round.

It will be up to Pulse sharpshooter and major target Sigi Burger to step up this round, with the South African talent not quite hitting her stride yet and really needing to prove she can shoulder the load especially against a defensive unit the calibre of Bath. Fellow goalers Lefebre RademanKira Rothwell and Olivia Tchine have also somewhat lacked spark, and while the welath of viable goalers at the post is useful it has sometimes proven inconsistent which could allow the likes of Layla GuscothEboni Usoro-BrownTash Pavelin and Summer Artman to pounce. At the other end though, Funmi Fadoju has been a star in defence, creatively winning ball back and hoping to put some real pressure on the likes of Sophie Drakeford-LewisJess Shaw and Rachel Shaw out the front.

Loughborough Lightning v. Strathclyde Sirens

Lightning come into this round off the back of an extended break and are sure to make use of it when they come up against the Strathclyde Sirens. The Sirens have been in franchise-best form recently but will have a real test here against the Lightning given the side’s consistency and calibre, so will need to fly out of the blocks and remain in the hunt throughout the contest to really push the side. While the Sirens sunk to seventh last week with a draw and a 10-goal loss to Bath, they showed really good signs and have been competitive across majority of their encounters, so could have a point to prove against the Lightning. That being said, the Lightning are on a six-match winning streak and have showed no signs of stopping.

Expect Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark to be in fine form after a round off, with the Lightning goaling duo almost unstoppable when they are on court. With long reach, cleanliness and a clear understanding of how the other works, the Lightning attackers are relentless out the front and will be a really tough task. That being said, Sirens defender Towera Vinkhumbo has starred this season down back and will surely give them a run for their money. Beth DixGia Abernethy and Taylor Cullen will be tested by the Lightning’s midcourt, with the highly experienced Beth Cobden and Nat Panagarry in fine form, while defensively the Lightning have been solid with Sam MayJas Odeogberin and Annabel Roddy holding ground well. But, the Sirens’ front-end combination of Emma Barrie and Bethan Goodwin has been improving week on week, and the height out the front could prove crucial here.

Wasps Netball v. Celtic Dragons

Closing out Sunday’s matches is a battle between Wasps and Dragons. Realistically, the Wasps should have this one in the bag, and in order to remain within the top four they will need a really comprehensive victory here to get their percentage up with ladder standings changing week on week. The Dragons have struggled to generate scoreboard pressure throughout the season so far and will likely be in the same position in this encounter, so will need to ensure they maintain intensity of their own down back and attempt to stop the quick and efficient Wasps in their tracks.

It will be a tough task for the Dragons, facing a highly experienced and connected Wasps unit which boasts stars in every third. Look for Rachel Dunn to be key out the front with the veteran a crucial cog for the Wasps, and while she will be taking on tall timber Annika Lee-Jones, she has the speed and smarts to still have a significant impact out the front alongside the ever-consistent Katie Harris. Where the Dragons will really be outclassed is through the centre, with Sophia Candappa and Iona Christian in fine form for the Wasps taking on Sophie Morgan and Shona O’Dwyer, while down back Josie Huckle and Fran Williams are hugely threatening and will look to shut down the likes of Amy Clinton, Laura Rudland and Rebekah Robinson.

Tip: Thunder by 10, Bath by 15, Lightning by 8, Wasps by 19

Monday, March 29

Saracens Mavericks v. Severn Stars

One of the more intriguing matches of the round will play out between Saracens Mavericks and Severn Stars, with the former sitting within the top four prior to the beginning of Round 8 but yet to really show their best form, and the latter struggling to put a consistent four-quarter effort on the board to sit low in 10th. But the Stars’ position on the ladder is not a true indicator of their form so far this season, having played three of the top four sides already and only lost marginally in their remaining matches to prove they should not be underestimated. Realistically, the Mavs should get the job done here fairly easily but expect the Stars to put up a real fight.

Defensively, the Mavericks have a super exciting back-end which could rival any team in the competition, with Razia Quashie heading up the backline alongside Jodi Gibson and Jo Trip. The trio has proved highly consistent and will be a tough matchup for the Stars attackers, with the likes of Georgia Rowe and Paige Reed needing to test them from the get-go and utilise the smarts of Bethan Dyke and Lucy Harris through the centre, especially if Liana Leota is still unable to play. Nia Jones will also be crucial especially taking on the likes of Sasha Corbin, with Georgia Lees and Gabby Marshall in midcourt. Expect a tight battle in the Mavs attack, with Kadeen Corbin and Ine-Mari Venter finding their form and set to take on Lucy Herdman, Iman Thomas and Adi Bolakoro down back.

London Pulse v. Leeds Rhinos

Expect a tantalising battle here between the two newest franchises to the league, with both sides heading into their second matches of the round and looking to finish off Round 8 strongly. While both sides have had patches of brilliance so far this season, both have looked lacklustre at times with the Pulse lacking intensity and the Rhinos missing key players which has sent the starting seven into a spin. That being said, based on recent form the Rhinos should still take out the win here despite a tough battle against Manchester Thunder to open the round, overall showing more consistency and hunt than the Pulse throughout the season so far.

The battle through the midcourt will be where the match is won and lost, with both sides boasting some huge names who are backed up by developing talent. Clarke will likely go head-to-head with the likes of Ashleigh DekkerMichelle Drayne and Ellie Rattu and trade positions with Grierson and Hollingworth at times, while defensively the Rhinos will utilise its range of defensive options of Oyesola, Kindred and Tuaine Keenan who will hope to generate more minutes. Expect Sienna Rushton and Dixon to fly out of the blocks again, historically backing up well the second match of the round, although they will contend with the likes of Halimat AdioZara EverittLindsay Keable and Fadoju at the post.

Tip: Mavericks by 8, Rhinos by 5

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