Image: Wikimedia Commons / Lochnagarth
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Lochnagarth

The Vitality Netball Superleague: an introduction

With netball becoming increasingly popular since England triumphed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (beating Australia by one goal in the final seconds of the match) the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) is now more visible than ever.

The VNSL is the UK’s elite netball competition, featuring ten teams from England, Wales and Scotland. The season begins in February where each team plays the other nine teams twice, culminating in Semi-Finals and a Grand Final to determine the league champions.

There is massive variety across the league, mainly due to the varying levels of experience and the range of countries from which talented imports have been brought in. Clubs have players from the Caribbean and African nations; others have come across from Australia and New Zealand, as well as all the Home Nations. This has created so many different ways of playing the game, making each game exciting, leaving you at the edge of your seat.

Although Sky Sports has been the official broadcaster, showcasing every match live throughout the season and being one of six partners of VNSL, the recent return of fans has been fantastic news for netball.

Fran Connolly, CEO of England Netball, commented: “The VNSL season has been a spectacular one to date, with world class competition and talent on court week in week out, and whilst we’ve enjoyed having more eyes on the game than ever before with Sky Sports […] it’ll be so special to see fans back in venue supporting our VNSL clubs and athletes.”

Fran went on to talk about the importance of fans and how the return of them is an “exciting moment for clubs, athletes, coaches, volunteers and everyone who has been working hard behind the scenes to deliver the 2021 season so far”.

Like all sports, fans mean much more to clubs and athletes, they are just as much part of a club’s journey to victory as the team on court.

The table

Currently there are three teams which have secured their place in the top four, meaning that they will be playing in the semi-finals on 26 June.

Team Bath was the first to secure their place with a 55-39 win against Surrey Storm. Loughborough Lightning confirmed their top four place after a 42-35 victory against London Pulse, and Manchester Thunder secured third place with a 53-47 win against Wasps.

Although the latter win secured Lightning’s place in the top four, it has also led Wasps to face greater pressure in their upcoming matches. This is because the final top four place will be a battle of Wasps versus Leeds Rhinos, who are new to the VNSL this year.

The Rhinos are two points behind Wasps, and therefore will be looking over the next few weeks to displace Wasps from the top four, and prevent them from having a chance of earning their third title in just four years.

The teams

Team Bath have had a fantastic season this year, winning fifteen matches and losing just one. They are the most successful team in VNSL history, winning five titles. However, although Team Bath are the only team to have won every final that they have appeared in, their latest win was in 2013. Will they be able to break their six-year ‘title-less’ streak?

Manchester Thunder meanwhile are three-time league champions, and the second most decorated club in the league. Having been victorious in the 2019 VNSL, they will be hoping to continue their winning streak into the current season.

Loughborough Lightning have been part of the VNSL since the birth of the league, and have made the final on three occasions, but have yet to lift the trophy themselves. Having secured a place in the play-offs, they will be hoping that this year will be their turning point.

Wasps, who are partners with the University of Warwick, joined the league in 2017 and have won two back-to-back titles in just three seasons. Despite their short time in the league, Wasps have developed a fearsome reputation, demonstrating excellence in games thanks to their founder, Tasmin Greenway who subsequently stepped down as director of the team in 2018.

Leeds Rhinos gained entry into the VNSL in 2020, because the club has represented excellent netball at regional and elite level since being founded in 2017, and will be looking to continue their upward trajectory with a place in the play-offs this time around.

Predictions

With the season that Team Bath are having, they are looking like the strongest contenders to win the league. The team is full of top players, such as Serena Guthrie, Layla Guscoth, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Imogen Alison. These players are part of the Vitality Roses squad this year.

With the grand finals closing in, and both the Rhinos and Wasps needing wins to try and secure their place in the semi-finals, the 2021 VNSL is certainly looking like a season to be remembered.

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