VNSL Semi-Finals preview: Final four face off

IT is now or never for the four Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) finalists, with the knockout semi-finals taking place tonight at Sir David Wallace Arena. Ladder leaders Manchester Thunder went undefeated throughout the 2022 season, and will be strong favourites against fourth placed Team Bath, the first of two semi-finals at the arena. The second VNSL semi-final will be the Loughborough Lightning – who only lost to the Thunder during the year – taking on third placed London Pulse. The winners will progress through to the VNSL Grand Final which will be played on Sunday, deciding the newest championship winner.

  • Team
  • Manchester Thunder
  • Team Bath

Though Manchester Thunder have been the top side all year, that means nothing when it comes to knock out finals. The Thunder went undefeated from their 20 games, finishing with a ridiculous goal difference of 324 and collecting the full 60 points on offer. Team Bath on the other hand, were one of a number of teams battling for fourth spot, and despite the retirement of Roses legend and Bath midcourter Serena Guthrie, the blue and gold side fought through and earned a place in the Final Four with a good second half of the season.

The key in this clash will be up the Thunder’s shooting end, with Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell the clear standout shooting combination in the league, while the defensive pairing of Layla Guscoth and Phumza Maweni are the best defensive combination across the board. It will be a big job for Bath captain Imogen Allison who will likely face off against fellow Roses star Natalie Metcalf, while Laura Malcolm will be looking to cut off Bath attacks trying to get through to the retiring Kim Borger and Roses goal attack, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis. Expect the Thunder to deservingly be favourites in this one, but Bath are in good form and are capable of causing the biggest of upsets.

  • Team
  • Loughborough Lightning
  • London Pulse

In the second semi-final, the Loughborough Lightning will be out to defend their title first up against an impressive London Pulse outfit. It is the first time the Pulse will land in the VNSL finals, and will be looking to make waves and cause an upset. The Lightning won 18 of a possible 22 games, only going down to the Thunder, but had a number of close shaves throughout the season. Regardless, they still finished with a far superior goal difference to the Pulse, with a whopping plus-198 for the season, and 54 total points. The Pulse picked up 14 wins from their 20 games, and easily recorded a plus-91 goal difference, even competing against the top two sides well.

The inclusion of Australians Sacha McDonald and Tayla Honey, as well as the off-court influence of ex-Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander has helped propel the Pulse into title contenders this season. With some of the most consistent bookends in Olivia Tchine and Funmi Fadoju, as well as some consistent efforts from Zara Everitt and Jasmin Odeogberin, the Pulse have really been an impressive unit this season. In saying that, it will be a massive ask to topple the Lightning, who have stars on every line. Bringing in Fran Williams from Wasps over the off-season has been a welcome addition, teaming up with Alice Harvey who has been an underrated performer all season. Similarly up the other end, Ella Clark has just got better as the season has gone on, able to work in tandem well with high-volume shooter Mary Cholhok. Given Beth Cobden is also in the midcourt and Ella Bowen has been a terrific talent when on the court, it is hard to see the Lightning not going to the last match again.

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