As Round Nine of the Vitality Netball Superleague approaches, the top of the table is more congested than ever and we are set for another stellar set of matches.
Wasps may have finished Round Eight unbeaten however their midweek run-out saw Manchester Thunder spoil their unblemished copybook. The defending champions have just a three-point cushion ahead of the rest with Saracens Mavericks and Karen Greig’s team level on 18 points behind them.
Before a whistle had been blow or a shot had been put up, the predictions were that this season would be the most competitive yet and it’s certainly living up to that billing.
In Round Nine, from Scotland down to London there is so much to take in and on Monday, our cameras will be at the Copper Box Arena for London Pulse’s encounter with Team Bath, live on Sky Sports Mix and Action from 7.15pm.
Strathclyde Sirens vs Saracens Mavericks, Saturday at 3pm
Hosts Strathclyde Sirens and opponents Saracens Mavericks are going into this meeting off the back of two very different matches.
For Sirens it was a tough day at the office against Wasps as they lost 61-34 while Kat Ratnapala’s side won their third match in succession 64-46 away at Severn Stars.
In Worcester, defender Jo Trip was named both the Vitality Player of the Match and #MavsFansPlayer while Gabby Marshall and George Fisher were in complete unison in the attacking third. The pair of Roses were not nervous to take risks and instead combined for some perfectly executed long-distance passes.
Despite an 18-goal win, Mavs’ director of netball Ratnapala was not wholly satisfied – a drawn final quarter irritated her – and that will have driven their work in training this week.
For Sirens, they will be fully prepared to try and harness the ardent support they receive at home and will be working off an inspiring week of their own, after they launched and championed #EveryBodyForNetball.
Celtic Dragons vs Loughborough Lightning, Saturday at 4pm
In the last round, Celtic Dragons showed their composure on the road as Tania Hoffman came up against her former franchise Surrey Storm.
With the match poised at 39-35 (in Dragons’ favour) after 45 minutes, they kept their cool to deliver an 11-9 final quarter and captain Nia Jones was pleased post match.
“We were really clinical in that first five minutes and I’m actually really disappointed in how we let them back into the game,” said Jones.
“We made it a bit of a dog fight for ourselves in the end but I am so pleased on how we came through. It’s such a physical game against Surrey, against a very partisan crowd, so it’s a really sweet victory.”
After the back-to-back highs of beating Manchester Thunder and Surrey Storm, Sara Bayman’s Loughborough Lightning were pushed by London Pulse at Sir David Wallace Arena.
By their own admission they were not at their best, but finding a way to win without hitting the high notes is something that every strong side does. Bayman knows that and her team will travel to Wales boosted by the confidence that comes after grinding out a win.
One final note on Lightning, if you have not already seen it then take a few minutes to watch the story of their shooter Mary Cholhok. She has endured an considerable journey to make it into Superleague and spoke to Sky Sports’ ‘My Icon’ about it as part of International Women’s Day.
Manchester Thunder vs Surrey Storm, Saturday at 5pm
On Wednesday night, Manchester Thunder travelled to Coventry with a steely look in their eye and delivered a flawless first-half performance to gain an early 15-goal advantage over the reigning champions.
Mel Mansfield’s side attempted to mount an impressive final-quarter comeback, but Thunder held on for a deserved win. Now, they face the challenge of backing up such a high.
Sports teams across the land will tell you about the challenges of reaching emotional highs back to back and Mikki Austin will prepare Surrey Storm to pounce on any opportunity that they may get at Belle Vue.
“We’re heading to Manchester with absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain,” highlighted Austin.
“Nobody expects us to win, and we play our best netball when we play with freedom and without fear, and it’s really important that I see that from us this week.”
Austin has pinpointed “making smart decisions” and being able to “deal with the pressure of those couple of moments, where that momentum is going to be critical” as the keys to success.
Wasps Netball vs Severn Stars, Sunday at 4pm
Here are two teams that will be attacking this round with real vigour. For Wasps that will come from the loss of their unbeaten record, while for Stars it will be all about righting the wrongs from their match against Mavericks.
Post-match in Round Eight, Stars’ head coach Sam Bird highlighted her side’s levels of maturity as a failing but has been pleased with their response in training. She believes that they match-up well against this weekend’s opponents.
“The players bounced back into training Tuesday morning and I’m so impressed with their desire to learn and improve,” said Bird.
“It’s a pleasure to see the commitment to the club by this squad and I’m convinced that their hard work and attitude will lead to better performances in the coming weeks.”
“I actually think we match up quite nicely to Wasps,” added the head coach.
“I think they play quite a lateral game, they don’t have that aerial capacity that Mavericks have at the back, so I’m looking forward to playing them. We know they are strong through the court, but I think we match up well player for player, particularly at the ends of the court.”
Jade Clarke, England’s all-time international appearance record holder, believes Wasps’ team culture and strong leaders will hold them in good stead when it comes to delivering an immediate bounce back.
“We have great leaders throughout the group. It’s not just the older players, we can always rely on the team culture we have here to get back on track,” said Clarke.
“At Wasps we are a squad full of perfectionists, so it’s good to have a game so soon after a loss to put what went wrong right. Experiences like the loss against Thunder will put us in good stead for the latter stages of the season, it taught us a lot about ourselves as a team”
London Pulse vs Team Bath, Monday – Live on Sky Sports Mix & Action from 7.15pm
On Monday evening, our cameras will be at the Copper Box Arena as London Pulse host Team Bath and look for their second victory of the season.
Pulse fell 56-51 to Lightning last time out but were boosted by their performance which included Shantal Slater delivering a 100 per cent shooting accuracy with 34 goals across the four quarters.
Our sellout crowds, full of our fans these last 2 matches have been incredible! You’ve helped create such a great atmosphere and have inspired your team to deliver 2 great performances. Glad we could reward you tonight. We’ll keep working hard. Thank you 🙏
— Jess (@JessThirlby) March 1, 2019
For Team Bath a “hard-working” performance saw them prevail over Manchester Thunder as Anna Stembridge praised her players for sticking to task.
“We knew it was going to be a great game and I think it was a real spectacle. It was a real hard-working performance and I am so proud of the players – in terms of their job description, I think every one of them delivered,” said the head coach.
After returning from over a month out six days before, Eboni Usoro-Brown continued to get further game time and Bath’s starting seven showed their collective fitness levels by playing for the full 60.
Watch London Pulse against Team Bath on Monday, March 11 live on Sky Sports Mix & Action from the later time of 7.15pm. Also, Sky Sports will be showing every game of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in July.