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Five things to look out for at Vitality Netball Superleague Season Opener.

The Vitality Netball Superleague Season Opener kick-starts the 15th edition of the VNSL on Saturday 22 February.

Months of pre-season training and preparations have all been leading up to getting the 2020 campaign underway in the best possible fashion.

All ten franchises will battle it out in front of a sell-out crowd at Arena Birmingham. We have selected five things to look out for ahead of the weekend…

All change – Strathclyde Sirens v London Pulse (11:00)

The first fixture of the day will see Glasgow-based Strathclyde Sirens embarking on their fourth season in the Vitality Netball Superleague.

The Scottish side will face London Pulse. The two encounters between the pair last season both ended in narrow wins for Sirens.

In a bid to climb up the rankings, both teams made extensive changes both on and off the court ahead of the 2020 season. London Pulse signed the likes of Sigrid Burger from Surrey Storm, Michelle Drayne from neighbours Saracens Mavericks, and Adean Thomas amongst others.

Sirens, meanwhile, have a new Head Coach in the form of Lesley MacDonald and a new Technical Director in Karen Atkinson in a bid to bring sustained success to the Emirates Arena. They have also bolstered with the likes of Zanele Vimbela and Taylor Cullen.

Continuing Fast5 form? – Celtic Dragons v Surrey Storm (12:45)

Another two closely-matched teams meet in Saturday’s second fixture as 2019 seventh-placed Celtic Dragons take on Surrey Storm, who finished one place below the Welsh side.

The two sides enjoyed promising British Fast5 Netball All-Stars Championship campaigns last October and will both be hoping to take these performances into the new season; one of the many advantages of qualifying for the event.

In the midst of their pre-season preparations, both franchises made it to the semi-finals of the competition. Both sides narrowly missed out at the hands of eventual champions Loughborough Lightning and Wasps Netball, but enjoyed two wins beforehand.

Storm overcame Dragons 41-35 at Fast5 and it is set to be another tense affair as they begin their VNSL season.

Ama-tch made in heaven? – Saracens Mavericks v Severn Stars (14:30)

Accomplished defender Ama Agbeze will pursue a 2020 Vitality Netball Superleague victory as part of the Severn Stars squad after moving from London Pulse.

Agbeze is certainly a player to watch out for in Round 1 and beyond. With a rich international and domestic netball history under her belt, including captaining her country to Commonwealth Games gold in 2018, will she help Stars breakthrough to the top from their mid-table finish last year?

Stars will hope the experience of the former Loughborough Lightning star, alongside the prowess of fellow signings such as Liana Leota and Nia Jones, will help eat up the 18-point difference between them and Saturday’s opposition.

A Goal-for-Goal Game – Team Bath v Loughborough Lightning (16:15)

Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath both made it to the semi-finals in last year’s Vitality Netball Superleague campaign. That wasn’t the only similarity between the two sides last term, either.

In fact, they both finished their matches with the exact same amount of goals – 54 – against Wasps Netball and Manchester Thunder respectively. It was Bath that took bronze, though, after a thrilling 118-goal third place play-off.

With this scoring history – netting 1,172 goals between them last season – it is likely to be a very close goal-for-goal game with both sides also boasting an array of international players inside the shooting circle.

Lightning have Vitality Rose Ella Clark and Ugandan international Mary Cholhok in their ranks while Team Bath can call upon Vitality Netball Superleague Young Player of the Season Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and captain Kim Commane in theirs.

Grand Final rematch – Manchester Thunder v Wasps Netball (18:00)

It’s a repeat of the 2019 Grand Final as Manchester Thunder and Wasps Netball go head-to-head in the final fixture of the day.

Last year, Thunder managed to come out on top at the prestigious Copper Box Arena with a final score of 57-52 taking the Manchester side to victory.

This final fixture of the day is likely to set a tone of rivalry for the 2020 VNSL as Wasps Netball return for unfinished business. Both Thunder and Wasps find their squads dotted with the presence of Vitality Roses – eight in total – but expect this to be a tense affair.

Make sure you’re following @NetballSL on Twitter and Instagram. You can also sign up for the VNSL Newsletter to stay up to date with news, tickets and transfers!

By Hannah Bradfield.

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