VNSL Round 5 preview: Unbeaten Mavs and Thunder clash

A COUPLE of the undefeated Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) sides will clash in a blockbuster Round 5 of action. Saracens Mavericks and Manchester Thunder will do battle on Saturday afternoon, before the Thunder take on the Wasps in a standalone clash on Monday. The round kicks off with the Strathclyde Sirens hosting Loughborough Lightning tonight, with three other matches also played on Saturday alongside the Mavericks-Thunder clash.

  • Team
  • Strathclyde Sirens
  • Loughborough Lightning

Friday, February 25 @ 7:30pm GMT
Emirates Arena

Opening up the round in a standalone Friday night clash is a Strathclyde Sirens side desperate to keep in tough with the top four, up against an unbeaten Loughborough Lightning team looking to make it four consecutive wins to start the season. The Lightning have gone from strength to strength with wins over London Pulse, Celtic Dragons and Surrey Storm, but this could be their toughest challenge yet, facing a Sirens side at home in front of an Emirates Arena crowd. The Sirens sit at 1-3, though that is perhaps a little unfair on their overall performance, having fallen two goals short of a win against Leeds Rhinos, and were ultra-competitive against Manchester Thunder before falling to them by 11 goals last round.

Both the Lightning’s win over the Storm, and the Sirens’ loss to the Thunder occurred on Monday, so it will be fascinating to see how the teams handle the four-day turnaround. Among the key players for the Sirens, it will be important for Bethany Dix to get on top in her battle with the talented Beth Cobden and not allow easy turnovers or intercepts. The Lightning have a powerful defensive duo with Fran Williams and Zanele Vimbela, though Alice Harvey has been holding down the goal keeper bib well. They will need to perform to contain the attacking pair of Niamh McCall and Bethan Goodwin who have been in good form.

The Lightning might be too good here, but the home court advantage will help the Sirens, and it is predicted to be a real tight contest.

  • Team
  • London Pulse
  • Celtic Dragons

Saturday. February 26 @ 2:00pm GMT
Copper Box Arena

Last year’s wooden spooners Celtic Dragons are still searching for their first win, remaining the sole side without a victory from the first four rounds. This game does not get any easier for the Dragons, who come up against the fifth placed London Pulse who are one of the title contenders this season. Aside from London’s 11-goal loss to Loughborough Lightning in Round 1, the Pulse could easily have walked away with three consecutive victories. Defeating Team Bath (four goals) and Wasps (17) either side of a narrow loss to Saracens Mavericks (two), the Pulse have performed strongly each and every week. The Dragons have had a horror draw to start the season, playing all four finalists in the first four rounds, though took it up to both the Mavericks (seven goals) and Leeds Rhinos (five) in competitive efforts.

The defensive pairing of Annabel Roddy and Shaquanda Greene-Noel have done their best under immense pressure for the Dragons, and the job does not get any easier against the red-hot Olivia Tchine and talented import Sacha McDonald. The Pulse also have a terrific defensive duo in Funmi Fadoju and Jasmin Odeogberin, and they will be keen to shut down ex-Pulse player Lefébre Rademan, as well Georgia Rowe.

The Pulse are in great form and expect them to be far too strong at home, but the worry for the Dragons is their form away from home, and it is hoped the Welsh side can be competitive early and not allow the game to get away from them.

  • Team
  • Saracens Mavericks
  • Manchester Thunder

Saturday, February 26 @ 4:00pm GMT
Hertfordshire Sports Village

The match of the round takes place at Hertfordshire Sports Village where the top two sides clash for the outright ladder leader position. It is fair to say Manchester Thunder has been the benchmark team this season, with a whopping goal difference of 70, whilst the Saracens Mavericks recorded a goal difference of 28 this season, ranked third overall. The Mavericks wins have all come at single digit results, with victories over Wasps (nine goals), Celtic Dragons (seven), London Pulse (two) and Strathclyde Sirens (two). By contrast, the Thunder have stormed to victory against the Dragons (26 goals), Severn Stars (25), Surrey Storm (18) and Sirens (11).

The Mavericks will need to be at their best to topple the Thunder, with the defensive combination of Jodie Gibson, Jameela McCarthy and Razia Quashie needing to contain the best shooting duo in the league, Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell. There should be no shortage of goals however, with the league-leading shooter in Ine-Mari Venter having a superb season at the post, whilst Kadeen Corbin has also been important. The Thunder always look stronger with the experienced Kerry Almond back there, whilst the midcourt of Natalie Metcalf, Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm is outstanding.

Manchester Thunder are favourites in this one, but it will be their closest challenger yet, and the Saracens Mavericks are capable of causing an upset.

  • Team
  • Severn Stars
  • Team Bath

Saturday, February 26 @ 6:00pm GMT
University of Gloucestershire Arena

Heading over to one of the homes of Severn Stars, the University of Gloucestershire Arena welcomes Team Bath for a big clash. The Stars started the season on a high with a nine-goal win over Surrey Storm, but have since dropped three consecutive games. Losing to the Manchester Thunder (25 goals), Wasps (nine) and Saracens Mavericks (10), the Stars will be out to snap that three-game losing streak against the visiting Bath side. Bath has only won 50 per cent of its games, but holds a 26-goal difference such is its commanding wins, and narrow defeats. The blue and gold side knocked off Strathclyde Sirens in Round 1 and Leeds Rhinos in Round 3, with perhaps surprising defeats at the hands of London Pulse and Surrey Storm in the even-numbered rounds.

The match will mark the return of Silver Ferns legend Cathrine Tuivaiti who is predicted to take the court for the Stars and cause some headaches for the Bath defence. She will team up well with the in-form Paige Reed, whilst the combination with another former Silver Fern in Liana Leota could prove vital to the Stars’ chances. Bath has a pretty packed defensive group though, with Layla Guscoth one of the best defenders in the world, and if able to play, Phumza Maweni will provide Tuivaiti with plenty to think about. Otherwise, Tash Pavelin has been in impressive form, whilst Imogen Allison has been a vital link in the chain.

Team Bath will be disappointed to have dropped the match to the Storm, and will not want to lose this one, though the Stars will be up and about for Tuivaiti’s return.

  • Team
  • Surrey Storm
  • Leeds Rhinos

Saturday, February 26 @ 6:00pm GMT
Surrey Sports Park

Running simultaneously with the Stars-Bath clash will be the Surrey Storm and Leeds Rhinos clash over at Surrey Sports Park. The Storm are looking to make it two wins from three games having upset Team Bath last round, whilst Leeds Rhinos could force their way into the top four with a win if other results are favourable. Prior to the Storm’s memorable win, they fought hard against Manchester Thunder to only go down by eight goals. Their 16-goal loss to Loughborough Lightning on Monday was less convincing, but they will look to atone for that here. After COVID-19 interruptions put a line through their Round 2 clash, the Rhinos started later than anyone else, picking up a narrow two-goal win over Strathclyde Sirens. A forgettable 20-goal loss to Team Bath was one quickly put in the rearview mirror, before the Rhinos dominated early, then held on to a five-goal victory against Celtic Dragons.

The Rhinos were able to unleash South African shooter Sigrid Burger last round, and she along with Sienna Rushton can do plenty of damage, whilst ex-Dragon Amy Clinton has enjoyed good form this season. Vicki Oyesola and Rebekah Airey are capable in defence, with Jade Clarke always consistent through the midcourt. The Storm’s midcourt of Mikki Austin and Yasmin Parsons is a strength of the team, and the addition of Peace Proscovia has helped on the scoring front. Abigail Robson is another one to watch, with Leah Middleton having a big job in the defensive goal circle.

A tough one to pick, Surrey Storm might just be capable of causing an upset off the back of the Team Bath win, though the Rhinos have plenty of experience and would be favourites.

  • Team
  • Manchester Thunder
  • Wasps Netball

Monday, February 28 @ 5:30pm GMT
Belle Vue

The top of the table Thunder play their second game for the round, this time hosting Wasps Netball at Belle Vue. The Thunder won their only game at the venue in Round 3 against Surrey Storm, but funnily enough it was the Thunder’s lowest winning margin (eight goals). They are by far the team to beat, and the Wasps will have their work cut out for the themselves. Wasps did secure their first win of the season in Round 3 with a nine-goal victory over Severn Stars, but have otherwise lost to Saracens Mavericks, Strathclyde Sirens, and most recently, London Pulse.

Though having spoken about the famed Thunder attack in the earlier game, if the likes of Almond and Shadine Van der Merwe can combine, with the in-form talents of Millie Sanders, then that will make life difficult for the Wasps attack. The Wasps rely a lot on veteran shooter Rachel Dunn who continues to age like a fine wine. Gezelle Allison and Lucy Parize have upped their shooting of late, and Ella Powell-Davies and Josie Huckle are ones to watch in defence.

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