Who’s top of the class? Who could do better? At the halfway point in the season, it’s time for Sky Sports’ Tamsin Greenway and Pamela Cookey to share their Vitality Netball Superleague half-term report.
Our expert duo have put their thoughts down on paper when it comes to half-term grades, teams’ Star Pupils and what every side needs to do in order to make the second half of term stronger than the first.
Don’t forget to join us for more live netball when Loughborough Lightning host Wasps Netball on Monday, March 18. We’ll be live on Sky Sports Mix, Action and Main Event from 6.45pm.
The defending champions are sitting happily at the top of the table with their first and only defeat so far coming in a mid-week game to Manchester Thunder. They have shown experience, technical and tactical ability, with strong use of their bench, this has allowed them to see out at times tight shorelines and two blow-outs.
Star Pupils: Jade Clarke & Hannah Knights
Difficult to pick with the strength in depth of this squad but Jade Clarke has been a rock in the team for her attacking capability, an engine in the middle and pivotal in their defensive pressure. Hannah Knights is the last line of defence. She hassles and hassles her opponent and when she sees a weakness goes for the take. She works seamlessly with her defensive partner in which every combination is put out with her.
Work to do…Four consistent top level quarters. Mavericks almost clawed back in their trip to the Ricoh Arena wining Q4 by 14-9. A bad start leaving them 38-23 at half time was never recovered against Thunder.
Though they are sitting ahead on the table on points, they are third and second respectively for goals for and against, but a win is a win so as long as they stay ahead, this stat counts for nothing as I am sure Mel Mansfield and the team will know.
For me, they’re actually the most consistent side at the moment. Although they lost two matches, they lost them quite early on and they’ve just been flying under the radar since with four wins on the bounce after their Round Five defeat to Wasps.
Star Pupils: Razia Quashie and Jo Tripp
They’re proving to be a lethal combination and it’s no surprise that Saracens Mavericks actually have the best defensive record in the league so far.
Work to do… The team need to prove that they can beat the big two in the second half of the season. The pressure is on to get a win over either Wasps or Thunder to prove that they could come away with the title at the end of the year.
Leading in goals scored, Thunder have been clinical in their possession and conversion which Karen Greig always demands. They had a strong start with four straight wins but suffered defeats to Lightning and Team Bath in Round 6 and Round 8. Thunder were not phased and became the ones to end the winning streak of leaders Wasps.
Star Pupils: Leana Leota and Caroline O’Hanlon
Have developed an almost telepathic connection, this dynamic duo are causing defenders huge concern with their energy, drive, creativity and pin-point passing into the circle. I like how they attack every game and take the team with them.
Work to do…Thunder as a whole team would benefit with work on their variety. They are a well-drilled team and are rarely flustered. If allowed to play their style it looks seamless but if they come up against an unconventional team, and systems are shut down, it takes time to adjust and they find themselves chasing. If they crack this they would be unstoppable.
After a shaky start, Lightning have come into their own and have started to pull out results, most notably a win against Thunder. It’s been down to them finding the right combination and sticking with it
Star Pupil: Mary Cholhok
She came into the squad late and so wasn’t first choice at the start of the season. However time with the attack end learning how to feed her, has meant that she has become the starter. And, at 6’5 she is a real target and threat.
Work to do… Lightning need to work on their defensive end. From the teams in the top five of the table going into Round 10, Loughborough have let the most goals in.
Although they’ve got a smart and solid defensive end, they’re quite a small unit, and losing Shamera Sterling has been huge. As the second-half progresses it’s about continuing to build on their combination, and, they have to let less goals in if they want to be serious contenders.
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Dragons are so much better than they were last season. Last year they were the team that other sides went to knowing that they would be able to get a result. That’s just not the case this year.
Star Pupils: Dragons’ whole squad
Why have I not chosen just one person or a duo from Dragons? Well, because they’re all working together as a unit, I don’t necessarily feel like there is a particular individual that’s standing out. Instead, they’re just working really well, and really hard together.
To do that, I think they need to have individuals producing star performances, becoming a real threat and taking the team to a new level through their individual brilliance.
Whether that’s a Chelsea Lewis or a Stacian Facey as examples, they’ve got to have someone that they are building the combination round. Someone who is then stepping up and winning them matches in order to get a big top of the table win in the second round.
Plagued with injury and illness of their two England Roses, Serena Guthrie and Eboni Usoro-Brown they have worked hard to keep themselves in the top five and have a game in hand. They have shown moments of pure class but have then let themselves down with unforced errors at crucial moments.
Star Pupil: Sophie Drakeford-Lewis
Sitting on 85 per cent shooting ratio she has won Player of the Match twice in the last two fixtures and is adding depth and smarts to her game. She has made the GA bib her own.
With Usoro-Brown and Guthrie back to increase the strength in depth and the fun they all seem to be having on court it’s exciting to see what they can bring come this second half of the season.
Stars made a bold statement at the start of the year saying they wanted to make top four, but unfortunately for them they’ve just not produced the consistency needed to be real contenders.
Star Pupil: Sam Cook
It’s so interesting to see where Stars are sitting in the league, they’ve got the second-best defensive record in the league and that’s without the injured Jodie Gibson.
Sam Cook is really reactive and causing teams big problems. But, Stars problem is down the other end with the worst scoring-recording in the league.
Work to do…With their attacking record as it is, that’s the area that Stars really need to build upon over the second-half of the season. Georgia Rowe and Maryka Holtzhausen have great prowess as a shooting duo but it’s not just about them, it’s also providing them the service they need
I know that they have a young mid-court, which are getting better and gaining experience with every game. But, for Stars to break the mould and take a scalp, they have to look at consolidating turnover and rewarding the defence by finishing it off.
Sirens had high hopes with the inclusion of Cat Tuivaiti, one of the best shooters in the world, but sadly for them they have won only two games in the first rounds.
Star Pupil: Cat Tuivaiti
Sirens’ Star Pupil is Cat Tuivaiti but ironically I don’t think that she’s been the star just yet.
Everyone was so excited to see Cat come into the league and I think that she was impressive with all of her tricks and flicks in the first game of the season. However she’s not been available for the last couple of games due to a niggle.
I just don’t think that Sirens have got the best out of her yet. Whether that’s with the feed or keeping her on court. She’s such a target, an incredible shooter and a fantastic personality and she would be the star, if they can make her the star.
Bath beat determined Pulse
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Storm are sitting just outside the top half and have been inconsistent with only three wins from nine – I can’t help but feel there should have been more. The start of the season saw them without their South African imports of Sigi Burger and Shadine van der Merwe they don’t seem to have found a rhythm. A notable win over Team Bath in Round Three showed what they are capable of.
Star Pupil: Shadine van der Merwe
At WD this lady is ruthless as she showed at international level for South Africa and she has not let up in the first half of the season. She has a way of trapping attackers into thinking they only have one option and then that is the one she hunts down. Always on hand to help attack through court and ready to pick up a through-court intercept.
Work to do… With Sigi sitting on 94 per cent shooting average the service needs to be provided to increase her opportunities but Storm can’t just rely on her, accuracy needs to be upped from all attacking players as their centre pass to shot is sitting at 65 per cent and centre pass to goal 58 per cent; the lowest in the league. The defensive pressure the whole team puts out needs to be capitalised on.
Storm are still finding their feet with Mikki Austin as the new Director of Netball and there is a significant change in the off-court feel of the team, which they need to show on court.
The new team on the block and they have always stated this would be their building year having accomplished the first feat of pulling a side together, they are now working on gaining the required performance on court.
They have missed captain Ama Agbeze at times which creates big shoes to fill in terms of play and leadership but a stellar start with a win at Super Ten has been the only time they have tasted victory.
Star Pupil: Shantel Slater
Averaging 89 per cent shooting success in the first half of the season, she is also strong on the hold and a great target for the Pulse attacking end. Slater is not afraid to leave the circle to provide other options, but knows when it’s needed to ‘post-up’ and let the ball come to her.
Work to do…Pulse have been the unknown in more ways than one. Not just as a new franchise but in terms of what Pulse turn up on the day. It has been great to see the youth in the squad getting opportunities on court and they are gaining with confidence on each appearance. Honor de Winton in defence and Assaindey Tchine at Goal Shooter to name two.
Pulse have run Team Bath and Lightning close in their last two games and if they can build on those performances we could see them pick up some more wins in the second part of the season.
Watch more Vitality Netball Superleague when Loughborough Lightning host Wasps in Round Ten on Monday, March 18 live on Sky Sports Mix, Main Event & Action from 6.45pm. Also, Sky Sports will be showing every game of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in July.