With the Strathclyde Sirens aiming for a space in the top four, this year's VNSL will not be one to miss for Scottish netball fans.
After an exciting pre-season including the second Rise Again Netball Festival, the first Quad Series since before the pandemic, and some massive signings, we are now into the final week before the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season. With the Commonwealth Games in less than six months, fans back in arenas, and three live games on Sky Sports each week, 2022 promises the biggest and best VNSL season yet! So who are the movers and shakers, who are going to make the top four, and who’s sinking out of the Fast5 spaces?
First, a quick reminder of how the VNSL works for new and returning fans. There are 11 teams who each play every other team twice. Rounds one and two and rounds 13 and 14 (over the Easter weekend) are played at a central venue (Resorts World Arena in Birmingham this year) with all matches live on Sky Sports. The other 16 rounds are played at the home venues of each of the 11 teams. The top four after all 20 rounds enter the semi-finals with the two winners playing for the title in the Grand Final. The top eight teams are then invited to take part in the Fast5 Tournament in October following the completion of the season. Loughborough Lightning are the defending VNSL champions after winning their first title last year but are likely to be pushed hard by 2019 champions Manchester Thunder and last season’s runners up Team Bath. Scotland is represented by Strathclyde Sirens who took a massive leap forward last season to finish an impressive sixth place.
"Loughborough Lightning are the defending VNSL champions after winning their first title last year but are likely to be pushed hard by 2019 champions Manchester Thunder and last season’s runners up Team Bath."
Loughborough Lightning, Manchester Thunder, and Team Bath each finished last year on 51 points with only goal difference putting Loughborough top and Manchester in second. It should be expected that these three will take three of the top four spots again this season with strong squads and world-leading players through the court. All three teams are looking a bit different this year, however, with Loughborough losing their Head Coach Sara Francis-Bayman. They also have a new look defensive circle, bringing in Fran Williams from Wasps and Zanele Vimbela, who was unable to play in 2021 due to an ACL injury. Team Bath lost a major asset in Eboni Usoro-Brown, who has moved to Australia to play for the Queensland Firebirds. However, they have brought in international star Phumza Maweni as her replacement and alongside England stars Layla Guscoth and Serena Guthrie, Team Bath should definitely not be written off. Manchester Thunder has shown that they mean business bringing in two stars from the Australian Suncorp Super Netball – England Roses star Nat Metcalf (nee Haythornthwaite) and Shadine van Der Merwe – but will sadly be without future England Star Amy Carter, who picked up an ACL injury in the off-season.
Scottish interest will focus on the Emirates Arena and the Strathclyde Sirens. After their success in 2021, Sirens have their sights firmly set on the top four. They have had a more settled transfer window, with just one real signing, Abby Tyrrell from Celtic Dragons. Kelly Boyle has been elevated from training partner status, and Claire Maxwell is now back playing after having time out on maternity leave. This, however, has seen Nicola McCleery and Sarah MacPhail dropped to training partner status alongside Glasgow University student Rachel Conway. After suffering an unfortunate injury early in the 2021 season, Lynsey Gallagher is set to boost an already strong attacking circle alongside the young Scottish talents of Emma Barrie, Niamh McCall, and Bethan Godwin. In midcourt, Australian Gia Abernethy and Scottish Captain Claire Maxwell will continue to use their experience to lead this team in front of the strong partnership of Towera Vinkhumbo and Emily Nicholl in defence.
"After their success in 2021, Sirens have their sights firmly set on the top four. They have had a more settled transfer window..."
Last year’s wooden spoon winners Celtic Dragons have brought in six new players and will aim to improve on a solitary win from last year. Surrey Storm also underperformed last year, finishing in 10th place, and have made two huge signings with Peace Proscovia and Sophia Candappa both hoping to be the addition required. Further up the table, Wasps Netball have taken steps as part of a review of their set-up and will have sights on a much better season this year after a bottom half finish last season. Finally, Severn Stars and London Pulse will hope some headline signings will lift them into the top half and potentially even the top four, whilst Leeds Rhinos and Saracens Mavericks will look to consolidate their fourth and fifth places respectively.
With the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this year and England aiming to retain their Gold Medal from Gold Coast 2018 this promises to be a huge season of VNSL action. If you’re in Glasgow, why not get a train over to Parkhead and catch a Sirens game in action. And no matter where you are, make sure you catch the three live games per week on Sky Sport including Monday Night Netball every week at 5pm!
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