October 14, 2019, 8:48

Vitality Netball Superleague’s final four: Wasps, Lightning, Manchester Thunder and Team Bath

Vitality Netball Superleague’s final four: Wasps, Lightning, Manchester Thunder and Team Bath

After 90 matches, and the most competitive Vitality Netball Superleague season ever, just four teams remain in the hunt to be crowned champions on May 18 at the Copper Box Arena.

The defending champions Wasps Netball are joined by Loughborough Lightning, Manchester Thunder and Team Bath Netball in the last four and between them the quartet hold extensive knockout stage experience.

The University of Warwick’s new Sports and Wellness Hub will host a repeat of the last two Grand Finals when Wasps take on Loughborough Lightning.

The other semi-final will take place in Manchester, where Thunder will host Team Bath, and both matches will be live on Sky Sports Mix and Action.

As the semi-finalists continue their preparations, we turn the spotlight on each side in turn and Sky Sports expert Pamela Cookey analyses their individual strengths and weaknesses.

Wasps Netball

It’s fair to say that the defending champions haven’t had things all their own way this season. But they have done what champion sides do, learning from their bumps in the road.

The result was finishing the regular season with a series of seven victories in succession and their victories were driven by combinations that are firing on all cylinders.

As a result of being the defending champions, they have carried a weight of expectation on their shoulders since round one. So, in theory, the prospect of edging closer to an unprecedented third consecutive title shouldn’t jump up and bite them now.

Recent play-off form

With back-to-back Grand Final victories under their belts, Wasps know a thing or two about getting the job done in the last four.

This time 12 months ago, Team Bath were the side to be dispatched 54-39 and the previous year Manchester Thunder felt their wrath and lost 63-48.

Expert’s view – Pamela Cookey

Strengths

They have world-class players in every third of the court. Wasps have found their consistency and groove after their three losses mid-season. They seem to play with effortless ease, as a team.

Weaknesses

They can at times fall foul of over-expectation of their team-mates. Balls that may have landed against a different opposition or time of the game are still thrown and it’s intercepted or off the side/back line.

Key Player

Rachel Dunn – sitting at 91 per cent accuracy and still bossing things in that circle. On the hold, on the move and distribution around the D. When you need a big game player, she is your go-to lady.

Vitality Netball Superleague – Semi-finals – May, 11 5pm Wasps Netball vs Loughborough Lightning Live on Sky Sports Mix & Action 7pm Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Live on Sky Sports Mix & Action Manchester Thunder

From the off Manchester Thunder looked as if they would be unflappable and victories in the first five rounds backed that up. However, Lightning’s defeat of the Manchester side in Round Six would be their first of five losses over the course of the 18 rounds.

A hallmark of Thunder is their tenacity and their incredibly experienced players, including captain Emma Dovey and mid-court attacker Liana Leota.

In Round 18 they were forced to dig deep against Storm to secure a 60-55 win. It means they’re heading into their showdown with Team Bath battle hardened and that’s just as well, because they’ve lost to Jess Thirlby’s side twice already this term.

Recent play-off form

Without the presence of a bronze final last year, a nine-goal defeat to Loughborough Lightning ended their season at the semi-final stage.

However, the previous year, following their semi-final loss to Wasps, the side regrouped to beat Bath 56-48 and claim third place.

This time around, the champions from 2012 and 2014 have made no secret about their desire to finish on top and will attack their last-four match with real vigour.

Expert’s View – Pamela Cookey

Strengths

They are well drilled and organised. Ball speed and ball movement is a strong asset for Thunder, leaving defenders turning and chasing.

Weaknesses

When teams delay them or disrupt their flow, they have struggled. Thunder seem to get frustrated with unconventional play and that leads to errors.

Key Players

Caroline O’Hanlon and Liana Leota – the core of the Thunder team. Experience, engines and playmakers. They push the Thunder team and like magic, create opportunities from nowhere.

Team Bath

This season, at times, the most successful side in Superleague history have shown just why they hold that record and their semi-final outing against Pulse was one of those occasions. However, they have had some ‘off’ moments too.

The fact that Bath looked so slick, in both defence and attack, against Pulse should bode well but you wonder whether a tighter tussle would have set them up better for a winner-takes-all, last-four clash?

Play-off history

For Bath, getting to the semi-final stage hasn’t ever been a problem – they have only ever missed out on the last four once since the competition began in 2005.

Since their last title in 2013, converting their semi-final place into a Grand Final spot has been a challenge. And it’s been a challenge to which they haven’t yet been able to find a solution.

Expert’s View – Pamela Cookey

Strengths

Their full court defence. From Goal Shooter to Goal Keeper, every player puts the work in and Team Bath get the rewards.

Weaknesses

When they stop moving purposefully and looking forward, they struggle to penetrate the shooting third.

Key Player

Serena Guthrie – arguably the world’s best Centre/Wing Defence. She reads play like a librarian, not missing a word, allowing her to be the intercept queen. When she takes the team with her, Team Bath are relentless.

Loughborough Lightning

A 72-42 loss to Wasps at Super 10 was not the way that Sara Bayman would have wanted to start her tenure as Lightning’s new director of netball. But after that, they found their feet and enjoyed considerable highs over the course of the 18 rounds.

When Bayman’s side have their potent matches, they’re totally on it. However, defensively they leak more goals than their fellow final-four sides and the defensive match-up against Rachel Dunn may prove to be a challenging one for Lightning.

Play-off history

Half of Lightning’s play-off history is wholly positive – the half that focuses on progressing from semi-finals into the Grand Final. But the other half, the Grand Final half, highlights recent back-to-back losses at the hands of Wasps.

Overall, this squad isn’t the same group that contested both of those defeats and Bayman spoke early in the season about not dwelling on that and creating ‘baggage’ that doesn’t exist for many. In short, they’re entering this period of the season with their minds firmly placed ‘in the now’.

Expert’s View – Pamela Cookey

Strengths

Through court attack. The ball travels down so quickly from turnovers they give the opposition little time to set up and defend.

Weaknesses

They have the highest number of goals scored against them at 1022. Compared to other teams, Lightning have a small defensive circle, which means they have to win ball early.

Source: skysports.com

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