VNSL 2021: Team review – Leeds Rhinos

THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season is officially done and dusted, meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Rhinos may have been the newest team to enter the competition, but they proved to be a tough competitor from the get-go with their wealth of exciting talent and developing stars stepping up throughout the season.

Season form: 12-8 (4th)

There is not much more the Rhinos could have done during their maiden season, with the brand new franchise turning heads from the very beginning. Injury struck the side early on with Donnell Wallam and Fi Toner both going down in the opening round, but that did not stop the side from storming the competition as they piled on 12 wins which culminated in an eventual finals berth. While the Rhinos made finals by default following a positive COVID-19 case ahead of the penultimate round of action, the side’s upward trajectory throughout the season was down to plenty of excitement and confidence amongst the new-look playing group. Wallam, Rhea Dixon and Brie Grierson were hard to stop when they got going, while Brittany Coleman and Sienna Rushton both made appearances in the front-end, showcasing the wealth of exciting goalers the Rhinos had at their disposal. Through the centre there was no doubting the midcourt craft of Toner and veteran Jade Clarke, while Vicki Oyesola grew in form and excitement as the season went on, bolstered by the work-rate of Tuaine Keenan behind her.

Best win: Def. Saracens Mavericks 63-48, Round 12

With plenty of impressive form behind them, there was any number of “best wins” for the brand new franchise who came into the season with all eyes on them and nothing to lose. With a couple of back-to-back wins over fellow finals hopes Sirens and Wasps during Round 13/14, it was the Round 12 victory over Saracens Mavericks that really turned heads, coming in off the back of two straight losses to charge out of the blocks and hit the Mavs where it hurt. It was a 16-goal first quarter effort that started the Rhinos off, with their early margin extending to 11 goals at the main break as they forged ahead. That margin continued to grow as the side won all four quarters, piling on 15 deflections and 10 intercepts throughout the contest. Wallam carried the load out the front with a whopping 54 goals at 98 per cent, while Dixon and Grierson utilised their pinpoint precision passing to the tall timber to outclass the Mavericks at every turn. The combination of Emily Hollingworth, Oyesola and Keenan was immense, as Keenan piled up six intercepts, and the trio combined for 11 turnovers between them. Whilst the Mavericks were missing Razia Quashie, it was still an enormous win for the Rhinos who did not let up throughout the entire clash, coming away with an eventual 15-goal victory. 

Standout player: Donnell Wallam 

Most Improved: Brie Grierson

While injury struck Wallam early on in the season, that did not stop the Australian sharp-shooter who proved to have not only the smarts and positioning to get the job done, but also the excitement factor to add a little bit of a spark to the Rhinos front-end. Wallam’s resilience, height and overall stature on court proved critical for the Rhinos time and time again, as her accuracy and overall volume saw scorelines pileup and her confidence grow with every single match. While not the most versatile player, Wallam was deceptively light on her feet and consistently provided a show for not only fans, but also her teammates and opposition, as she continuously evaded defensive intent and provided that steady head at the goalpost. She finished her season with 483 goals at 91 per cent – an average of 37 per match – despite only making 13 appearances due to injury and family tragedy, while also adding five turnovers to her name. Coming in as the most improved is wing attack Grierson, who stepped up to the plate time and time again and forged an impressive combination with Wallam and Dixon at the post. Her ability to thread the needle and find her two goalers within the circle was second-to-none while her speed and forward craft to find circle edge was immense. With clean hands, excellent footwork and a go-go-go mentality, Grierson developed her craft with every game she played and continuously stepped up as the season went on. Playing every single one of the Rhinos’ 20 matches, Grierson was consistent and completed her season with 11 turnovers, 14 deflections and four intercepts to her name.


Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography

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