Vitality Netball Superleague 2020: Franchise by franchise part one

As the 2020 Vitality Netball Superleague season draws ever closer, we run the rule over the first five franchises taking to court on February 22.

As the 2020 Vitality Netball Superleague season draws ever closer, we run the rule over the first five franchises taking to court on February 22.

All sides will start their campaigns at Arena Birmingham with the Season Opener and all five matches will be shown live on Sky Sports and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel.

The curtain-raising day, which is an additional round, will feature teams playing an opponent for the third time and commences the season’s schedule.

Following a busy off-season which included player transfers and head coach movements, this preview is the first of looking at each franchise in detail. First stop, Manchester Thunder, Wasps Netball, Team Bath Netball, Loughborough Lightning and Saracens Mavericks.

  • Sky Sports line-up for record Season Opener
  • Vitality Superleague 2020: Fixture list

Manchester Thunder

  • Last season’s result: Champions
  • Head coach: Karen Greig
  • First three fixtures: Wasps Netball (Season Opener), Severn Stars (A) & Loughborough Lightning (H)

At the Copper Box Arena on May 18 last year, Thunder gained their third victory of the season over Wasps Netball and ended their five-year wait for another Superleague title. The joy at the full-time was clear and they did it the hard way by coming back from six goals down, not once but twice.

Player to watch: The versatile Ashleigh Neal should give Thunder plenty of options to play with in their attack-end and has been described by Greig as a “really smart player and playmaker”.

Neal has big shoes to fill, Liana Leota’s influence and level was exceptional, but the new player has the potential to flourish in the reigning champions’ environment and really make waves this season.

Coach’s comments: “Thunder haven’t ever won back-to-back titles before; we won in 2012, 2014 and then this year just gone. We’ve never been able to back up that win with a win. I think that it’s always the most difficult thing to do, to go back to back.We want to remember those feelings (from the Grand Final) and we want to be able to build on them.”

Squad: Rebekah Airey, Eleanor Cardwell, Amy Carter, Emma Dovey (Captain) Laura Malcolm (Co vice-captain), Joyce Mvula, Ashleigh Neal, Lauren Ngwira, Caroline O’Hanlon and Kathryn Turner (Co vice-captain). Training Parnters: Lois Pearson, Elia McCormick, Berri Neil, Ella Standring & Alicia Scholes.

Wasps Netball

  • Last season’s result: Runners-up
  • Head coach: Mel Mansfield
  • First three fixtures: Manchester Thunder (Season Opener), Saracens Mavericks (H) & Team Bath Netball (A)

Last season, the two-time Superleague champions set out their stall with 30-goal victory at Super 10 and after that just two sides were able to beat them all term – Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder.

However, losing a Grand Final does not sit well with Wasps Netball and the settled squad are entering a new term with a steely focus and with the learnings from of a pre-season tour to New Zealand in their corner.

Player to watch: After Bongi Msomi’s departure back to South Africa, Iona Christian (nee Darroch) makes the move across from Severn Stars.

Christian enjoyed an exceptional season in 2019 and according to Mansfield has arrived with a “clear purpose and loads of opportunities”.

In a winning-environment like Wasps’, the mid-court player has the perfect platform to accelerate her Superleague career and drive her international aspirations as a full-time England Rose.

Coach’s comments: “I said to the players, when we play against Thunder on February 22, that isn’t game one of our season. It will be game nine for us. I’m determined that the girls have the mentality that we’re hitting the season running.”

Squad: Hannah Knights (Captain), Josie Huckle, Fran Williams, Ally Housley, Hannah Leighton, Iona Christian, Jade Clarke (Vice-captain), Amy Flanagan, Sophia Candappa, Beth Dix, Rachel Dunn, Katie Harris, Alexia Baker, Tamsin Moala and Sienna Rushton.

Vitality Netball Superleague – Season Opener on Sky Sports & YouTube

Team Bath Netball

  • Last season’s result: Third place
  • Head coach: Anna Stembridge
  • First three fixtures: Loughborough Lightning (Season Opener), Celtic Dragons (A) & Wasps Netball (H)

Team Bath Netball have enjoyed a productive pre-season campaign and after retaining a large proportion of her players, head coach Stembridge is determined to build on their collective experiences from last season.

Jo Vann’s arrival adds a new voice into their set-up and all at the franchise have their sights fixed on the play-offs and beyond.

Player to watch: After a highly successful first season at the franchise, Kim Commane has looked sharp during Team Bath Netball’s pre-season campaign. Her leadership and selfless attitude has been hailed by Stembridge and her partnership will Sophie Drakeford-Lewis will be critical to the franchise’s success, and to the young GA’s development.

Coach’s comments: “We’re definitely concentrating on technical skill levels and players’ movement base to have that stability. It’s to ensure that when we come under pressure in our campaign, our technical skills and our movement abilities will be sound. If they are, it means that we’ll be able to make the right decisions at the right times and for the right reasons.”

Squad: Eboni Usoro-Brown, Rachel Shaw, Mia Ritchie, Imogen Allison, Abi Robson, Fionnuala Toner, Kim Commane, Khanyisa Chawane, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, Hannah Passmore, Summer Artman, Laura Rudland, Betsy Creak, Tash Pavelin and Rachel Fee.

Loughborough Lightning

  • Last season’s result: Fourth (Lost in third place play-off)
  • Director of netball: Sara Bayman
  • First three fixtures: Team Bath Netball (Season Opener), Strathclyde Sirens (H) & Manchester Thunder (A)

Bayman’s started her first season as Lightning’s director of netball by sharing her vision and feelings with her squad. They contained the words “go out and attack games” and over the course of the season we witnessed them doing just that.

The director of netball has made positive steps to repeating last season’s productivity by retaining experience and strengthening in key areas too.

Player to watch: This off-season has seen the movement of Sam May from Wasps to Lightning and that movement is one Lightning fans should rejoice about. May’s additional height in the circle, her work-rate and desire to help build-up those around her, should add so much to the franchise.

Squad: Ella Clark, Sam May, Hannah Joseph, Nat Panagarry, Lucy Parize, Annabel Roddy, Jasmin Odeogberin, Suzie Liverseidge, Alice Harvey, Beth Gabriel, Lauren Nicholls, Jess Shaw, Vicki Oyesola and Mary Cholhok.

Saracens Mavericks

  • Last season’s result: Fifth
  • Director of netball: Kathryn Ratnapala
  • First three fixtures: Severn Stars (Season Opener), Wasps Netball (A) & Severn Stars (H)

Player to watch: Keep an eye out on Jodie Gibson‘s return to court after a lengthy rehab process following a knee operation at the start of January last year. The Commonwealth Games bronze medallist is a gutsy player and should add greatly to Saracens Mavericks’ defensive end.

Coach’s comments: “We had a debrief on last year and we’ve really taken that on board and have tried different things for this pre-season, it’s been good. They’re a great group of athletes that are doing fantastically at the moment so I’m really excited.”

Squad: Sasha Corbin (Captain), Kadeen Corbin, Jo Trip, Georgia Lees, Beth Ecuyer-Dale, Gabby Marshall, George Fisher, Razia Quashie, Chloe Essam, Jodie Gibson, Paige McCalla and Stephanie Collard.

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