Vitality Netball Superleague: Semi-Finals Preview

Action shot during Vitality Super League match between Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos at Copper Box Arena, London, England on 30th May 2021.

The 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season reaches its thrilling conclusion this weekend at the Copper Box Arena.

Two days of intense competition will determine who will be lifting the trophy at the end of an extraordinary campaign that saw every match broadcast or streamed live by Sky Sports.

The Grand Final takes place on Sunday in front of up to 1,000 spectators in London, with four clubs aiming to book their place at the showpiece event in Saturday’s semi-finals.

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14:00, Saturday 26 June – Loughborough Lightning vs Leeds Rhinos

Vitality Roses and Roses Futures involved:

Lightning – Nat Panagarry, Hannah Joseph, Ella Clark, Beth Cobden

Rhinos – Jade Clarke, Vicki Oyesola, Rhea Dixon, Sienna Rushton, Brie Grierson

Loughborough Lightning ended the regular season in top spot after defeating long-time league leaders Team Bath Netball 54-35 in their final game. In fact, Lightning’s final three matches were against the other clubs in the top four as they responded positively to a disappointing 60-46 reverse against Manchester Thunder in Round 19. Prior to that, they defeated this weekend’s opponents Leeds Rhinos 59-51 in a close battle where Lightning managed to pull away in the final quarter to complete a double over the Yorkshire club. The attacking firepower of Ella Clark and Mary Cholhok combined with the mid-court thrust of Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph make Sara Francis-Bayman’s side a force to be reckoned with as they chase a first VNSL title. Vitality Player of the Season Beth Cobden has also been in sensational form and is likely to be integral to any success the three-time runners-up have.

Leeds Rhinos improved significantly in their second meeting with Lightning as they aim to go that extra bit further and cause an upset this weekend. Dan Ryan’s team have defied the odds throughout the franchise’s first season in the VNSL as they narrowly emerged victorious in a compelling tussle for fourth place. England legend Jade Clarke has used her experience to help shepherd a young squad through some challenges, while Brie Grierson’s performances at wing-attack earned her a place in the All Star VII and a spot on the Roses Futures programme. Vicki Oyesola has been dominant in the defensive end, and despite star shooter Donnell Wallam being unavailable due to personal reasons, Sienna Rushton has capably filled in for her before supported by the in-form Rhea Dixon.

16:00, Saturday 26 June – Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Netball

Vitality Roses and Roses Futures involved:

Thunder – Laura Malcolm, Ellie Cardwell, Amy Carter

Bath – Serena Guthrie, Layla Guscoth, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Imogen Allison

Since losing to Team Bath Netball in Round 13 / 14, Manchester Thunder have won every match including big wins over Loughborough Lightning and Strathclyde Sirens. The 2019 champions’ 64-37 victory against Sirens in their final regular-season game underlined the strength of the team at this moment and it nudged them ahead of their opponents this week in the table on goal difference. The potent combination of Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell in the shooting circle has improved over the course of the campaign and has looked unstoppable at times in recent rounds. Cardwell’s form saw her named in the All Star VII, alongside Laura Malcolm whose versatility and dynamism in the mid-court has underpinned Thunder’s explosive attack brilliantly. Malcolm has particularly shone at wing-defence allowing Roses Future Amy Carter to try and make sure the centre bib remains in her grasp.

Team Bath Netball looked set to clinch top spot a couple of weeks ago and the ostensibly easier semi-final opponent that comes with it. Consecutive defeats to Saracens Mavericks and Loughborough Lightning, however, resulted in them slipping to third-place and they will be hoping to recapture the form that prompted many people to declare them as favourites for the title. And with the quality at Anna Stembridge’s disposal, they should still feel confident about winning their first VNSL trophy since 2013. Breaching the defensive barrier established by England legend Eboni Usoro-Brown, Imogen Allison, Layla Guscoth and Serena Guthrie – the latter two were selected in the All Star VII – proved immensely challenging for most teams as Bath finished with the best goals-against record in the league. Kim Borger also fired her way into the All Star VII goal-shooter position and her best displays featured terrific connections with Sophie Drakeford-Lewis.

Watch the thrilling conclusion to the 2021 season this weekend on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel!

Head to the Vitality Netball Superleague website for fixture details.

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