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Wrap-up: Vitality Netball Superleague pre-season 2021

Pre-season friendlies ahead of the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) concluded with the latest round of matches on the weekend commencing 16 January.

While the 11 clubs continue to work hard in training, the opportunity to rehearse their tactical strategies on court has passed as preparations for competitive action intensify.

Let’s take a closer look at how all of the VNSL sides fared against one another over the course of the pre-season schedule.

Celtic Dragons

Celtic Dragons go into the 2021 campaign with a squad boosted with the addition of a few new faces signed during the most recent signing window including the versatile Annika Lee-Jones.

Three pre-season friendlies gave Head Coach Tania Hoffman the opportunity to try out a range of new combinations and test themselves against fellow VNSL opposition.

The Welsh outfit tested themselves against three of the league’s top performers from recent years including the two most recent champions Wasps and Manchester Thunder.

Dragons selected a strong Starting VII for all games but gave younger players valuable first-team minutes. Several made their debuts in a 64-33 defeat to Wasps before a similar line-up lost 66-30 to London Pulse a week later.

Celtic Dragons wouldn’t take to court again until 16 January where they narrowed the margin of defeat in a 65-45 loss at Thunder.

Results:

  • Wasps 64-33 Celtic Dragons | 12 December 2020.
  • London Pulse 66-30 Celtic Dragons | 19 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 65-45 Celtic Dragons | 16 January 2021.

Leeds Rhinos

As the latest entry into the VNSL, Leeds Rhinos were perhaps the most intriguing story of pre-season as they looked to build ahead of their first-ever competitive campaign.

The newly-assembled squad lost their first game together 77-59 at Manchester Thunder on 13 December and participated in the Rise Again Festival six days later where they battled with Loughborough Lightning.

Ryan fielded a strong starting VII which featured the likes of  Jade Clarke, Fi Toner, Rhea Dixon and Donnell Wallam. They trailed Lightning 33-29 at half-time but struggled to sustain that performance in the second half, though, as they succumbed to a 73-58 defeat.

Ryan told Rhinos: “Every session is the catalyst for what we do next and that will be the same for every game too. It’s been great seeing the players see their own progression.”

Results:

  • Manchester Thunder 77-59 Leeds Rhinos Netball | 13 December 2020.
  • Loughborough Lightning 73-58 Leeds Rhinos Netball | 19 December 2020.

London Pulse

London Pulse started the 2020 season strong and have looked to continue that momentum in 2021, scheduling three pre-season friendlies against fellow VNSL sides.

Beginning on 12 December with a narrow 52-47 defeat away at Loughborough Lightning, they followed that up with that emphatic 66-30 victory over Celtic Dragons at the Copper Box Arena where they recovered from a losing position in the first session to dominate thereafter.

Fresh faces such as Lefebre Rademan featuring will have pleased Sam Bird and, in part, so will her team’s performance against a strong Manchester Thunder side. Only one side restricted the champions to fewer goals in pre-season but they eventually lost by nine in January.

Results:

  • Loughborough Lightning 52-47 London Pulse | 12 December 2020.
  • London Pulse 66-30 Celtic Dragons | 19 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 65-54 London Pulse | 9 January 2021.

Loughborough Lightning

Loughborough Lightning managed four matches in their pre-season schedule. Aside from their fixture in the Rise Again Festival, all of their games were at home and they began with a 63-58 defeat to Manchester Thunder on 6 December in which Beth Cobden made her return to court.

Beating London Pulse in a close-fought thriller six days later, Sara Bayman’s side took on Leeds Rhinos at the Rise Again Festival. A mixture of youth and experience took to court and dispatched of the newcomers 73-58.

Nat Panagarry and co. returned in January for the final time in the off-season against Strathclyde Sirens and recorded a 72-46 victory.

Results:

  • Loughborough Lightning 58-63 Manchester Thunder | 6 December 2020.
  • Loughborough Lightning 52-47 London Pulse | 12 December 2020.
  • Loughborough Lightning 73-58 Leeds Rhinos Netball | 19 December 2020.
  • Loughborough Lightning 72-46 Strathclyde Sirens | 9 January 2021.

Manchester Thunder

The 2019 VNSL champions were both the busiest and most successful side during pre-season as they won all of their six outings. 

Winning 63-58 at Loughborough Lightning, they hosted their subsequent matches. They beat Rhinos 77-59 before and took on Strathclyde Sirens at the Rise Again Festival, winning 80-56. Fans watching the stream were able to watch a strong VII selected by Karen Greig which included Caroline O’Hanlon and Laura Malcolm.


Facing Sirens again on 3 January, they improved defensively to take it 72-38 and then overcame London Pulse 65-54 six days later prior to completing their schedule on 16 January with a 65-45 victory against Celtic Dragons.

As well as giving some younger players some exposure, Thunder were also bolstered by the return of Tracey Neville to the club during pre-season.

Results:

  • Loughborough Lightning 58-63 Manchester Thunder | 6 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 77-59 Leeds Rhinos Netball | 13 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 80-56 Strathclyde Sirens | 19 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 72-38 Strathclyde Sirens | 3 January 2021.
  • Manchester Thunder 65-54 London Pulse | 9 January 2021.
  • Manchester Thunder 65-45 Celtic Dragons | 16 January 2021.

Saracens Mavericks

Like all 11 sides, Saracens Mavericks have been training hard between their friendly games and they also had players shine for the Vitality Netball Superleague All Stars in the Vitality Netball Legends Series.

Jo Trip and Razia Quashie particularly impressed in those three matches and both were on court for Mavericks’ last friendly of the year against Surrey Storm.

Kat Ratnapala started the pair and experimented by playing promising youngsters Britney Clarke and Bella Baylis in the starting VII. Mavericks attackers proved in top form as they saw Storm off 79-50.


Previously, they took part in a thrilling match against Team Bath Netball and lost at home 68-61 in their opening pre-season game on 12 December. It was goal-for-goal for long periods with the scoreline constantly swinging before Bath pulled away in the final period.

The Hertfordshire side had to withdraw from the Rise Again Festival but continue to work hard in training to get ready for the season ahead.

Results:

  • Saracens Mavericks 79-50 Surrey Storm | 15 December 2020.
  • Saracens Mavericks 61-68 Team Bath | 12 December 2020.

Severn Stars

In their only pre-season encounter on 16 January, Severn Stars hosted Team Bath in a match split into five 12-minute sessions.

Captain Liana Leota was busy preparing to join the international VNSL All Stars for the Vitality Netball Legends Series and her presence was seemingly missed as Stars trailed 16-9 in the opening period.

However, the hosts had a senior squad on court with the likes of Nia Jones, Paige Reed and Lucy Herdman stepping up. Recovering gradually, they overturned the scoreline by the fourth session and consolidated in the fifth to claim a highly-impressive 59-53 win.

Results:

  • Severn Stars 59-53 Team Bath | 16 January 2021.

Strathclyde Sirens

With two games against 2019 VNSL champions Manchester Thunder and another test against Loughborough Lightning, it was an intentionally testing pre-season for Strathclyde Sirens.

The Scottish outfit lost 80-56 to Thunder at the Rise Again Festival in December but there were plenty of positives to take including the performance of new signing Beth Dix with the former Wasps star winning Player of the Match despite defeat.

Sirens reduced Thunder’s goal tally in the subsequent meeting on 3 January but had their attack stifled in 72-38 reverse. Six days later, they travelled to Lightning and were beaten 72-46 despite strong performances in periods.

The Glasgow-based team lost Zanele Vimbela but brought in a number of players while retaining a number of key players including captain Gia Abernethy. They will also have Claire Maxwell in a coaching role this term after the Scottish Thistle announced her pregnancy.

Results:

  • Manchester Thunder 80-56 Strathclyde Sirens | 19 December 2020.
  • Manchester Thunder 72-38 Strathclyde Sirens | 3 January 2021.
  • Loughborough Lightning 72-46 Strathclyde Sirens | 9 January 2021.

Surrey Storm

Two-time champions Surrey Storm made one of the signings of 2020 when they brought in Zimbabwe captain Felisitus Kwangwa, managed to retain senior stars and promoted promising youngsters.

Mikki Austin’s squad played twice in pre-season and had multiple players gain court time in the Legends Series.

They opened pre-season with a 79-50 defeat at Saracens Mavericks on 15 December and, due to a subsequent positive Covid-19 test in the opposition camp, Storm were unable to compete in the Rise Again Festival that weekend.

Their next outing came on 17 January when they went down 59-41 at home to Wasps but managed to win two of the six ten-minute sessions.

Goal shooter Karyn Bailey said: “We sat down and kind of went through all our goals and objectives and I think the thing that always remains for us is that we want to be in the top four, I think that is kind of the pinnacle for any Superleague team.”

Results:

  • Saracens Mavericks 79-50 Surrey Storm | 15 December 2020.
  • Surrey Storm 41-59 Wasps | 17 January 2021.

Team Bath Netball

Five-time winners Team Bath Netball went above and beyond in pre-season to ensure they were ready for 2021. In December, the squad trained over the festive period to maximise their time together.

Imogen Allison said: “I feel like we’ve all really brought it on court during training and the pre-season games, the atmosphere has been great and we’re all really loving being back together.”

In their most recent friendly, a young side lost by six goals to a strong Stars side. Rachel Shaw and Kim Borger sat out the match on a precautionary basis, but chances were given to the likes of U21 co-captain Molly Hole. They lost 59-53 at Stars in the end with a squad that had an average age of 21.


They, however prevailed 68-61 in that brilliant contest at Saracens Mavericks on 12 December. Anna Stembridge said that it ‘ticked nearly all of the boxes’. Hannah Passmore and Kirsty Harris stood out as they took the win.

Alongside VNSL friendlies, the club also took part in inter-club games between the Blues and the Golds.

Results: 

  • Saracens Mavericks 61-68 Team Bath| 12 December 2020.
  • Severn Stars 59-53 Team Bath | 16 January 2021.

Wasps

It was a productive pre-season for Wasps who only played two matches but were successful in both of them.

A comprehensive 64-33 win over Celtic Dragons came on 12 December where they lost just one of the six 10-minute sessions and were especially commanding in the final period as they gave up just two goals.

Wasps, bolstered by Gezelle Allison and Lily-May Catling among others, had their next friendly come on 17 January as they won 59-41 at Surrey Storm in another excellent display.

Results: 

  • Wasps 64-33 Celtic Dragons | 12 December 2020.
  • Surrey Storm 41-59 Wasps | 17 January 2021.

You can watch a selection of pre-season friendlies on the Video section of our website.

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