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Vitality Netball Superleague 2022: Evergreen superstars, red-hot Pulse and round 7 & 8 talking points

Wasps shooter Rachel Dunn made her 250th appearance of a spectacular Superleague career (Image: Ben Lumley)

Wasps shooter Rachel Dunn arrives on the court (Image: Ben Lumley)

Time for everyone to take a breath! A frantic four days of Vitality Netball Superleague came to a close on Monday night and frankly it’s been hard to boil down our talking points from Rounds 7 and 8.

However, we are nothing if not thorough at Superleague Towers, and we’ve picked out what we think stood out from the double header round.

From evergreen stars of the competition to a London Pulse team keeping pace at the top of the table and everything else in between – here’s what we learned from the weekend.

Cherish our Superleague stars

250 up for Rachel Dunn, 200 incoming for Kerry Almond and Player of the Match honours for Lindsay Keable.

While there is rightly lots of chatter about the next generation of VNSL stars, we are all about our Superleague stalwarts this week and even more so after a double round of action.

It was perhaps fitting in the week that Serena Guthrie announced her retirement after a stellar career that fellow 30-somethings stood up to be counted.

First mention goes to Dunn who now has 251 Superleague appearances to her name after starting against Celtic Dragons and Loughborough Lightning.

With seven titles under her belt, the 39-year-old shooter is still performing at a high level – with 206 goals at a 94% success despite Wasps struggles so far this season.

A couple of seasons ago Almond retired, but injuries in the Thunder squad saw her change her mind and she has been a virtual ever present ever since.

Thunder’s talented younger defenders are learning every step of the way from 36-year-old Almond, whoe continues to lead by example sitting in the top five for deflections and turnovers so far this season – she’ll get a deserved celebration when she plays her 200th game this weekend.

And finally, London Pulse may have the youngest squad in the league but as they stretched their winning run to five, Keable started both of their victories.

And the 33-year-old backed it up with Player of the Match honours against Sirens. Funmi Fudoju, Jas Odeogberin, Zara Everitt and Jayda Pechova would do well to soak up all they can from Keable.

 

Crowds out in force

It’s a big season for our 11 franchises as they return to their home arenas for the first full season since 2020 and there has been plenty to celebrate.

With understandable uncertainty still amongst the public as coronavirus remains part of daily life, fans have been warmly welcomed back into arenas and the attendances over the start of the season have meant a huge amount as netball continues to reach wider audiences.

Sell-outs at Surrey Storm, Manchester Thunder, Saracens Mavericks, Wasps and Team Bath have been incredible to see.

The Copper Box, the CBS Arena and the Emirates Arena have been valuable in growing the visibility so to see more than 3,000 at the First Direct Arena in Leeds and just under 4,000 at the AO Arena in Manchester is just reward.

Spring Showdown at Resorts World Arena in Birmingham also promises to be another memorable occasion where all 11 teams come together for a weekend of netball.

A dramatic season means there is plenty more to come with the race for top spot in the table, and the chase for top four places threatening to be tighter than ever and the fans will have their part to play.

Tougher tests loom for red-hot Pulse

London Pulse are one of the stories of the season, sitting third in the table and riding a thrilling five-game winning streak they are firmly in the mix for a first ever top four finish.

Sam Bird’s big-play defence is grabbing plenty of attention and Olivia Tchine’s relentless shooting is ensuring turnover ball is maximised and with six wins from eight games they are right on the coattails of the top two.

Up next for Pulse – the league’s most miserly defence – is the league’s most relentless attack at their intimidating Belle Vue home – Manchester Thunder vs London Pulse is one not to miss this weekend.

London Pulse have won five in row and take that red-hot form on the road to the leaders Manchester Thunder

Pulse Performance Director Lisa Alexander told Off the Court a couple of weeks ago that the challenge of unpicking Thunder’s attack was one they would relish.

It also represents Pulse’s first trip away from the Copper Box since Round 3 when they were narrowly beaten at Mavericks, their last defeat in the competition.

There’s no doubt strong home form is needed in any franchise’s push for top four, but how Pulse fare in their next run of matches, three of which are away from home at Thunder, Rhinos and Bath will tell us a lot about their talented young stars.

Wasps hint at return to form

It was a good weekend for the two-time champions who halted a worrying run of form with one victory but two excellent performances.

First up, having lost four of their first five games they faced a buoyant Celtic Dragons team on Saturday following by the freescoring defending champions Loughborough on Sunday.

Ella Powell-Davies has been a regular at goal defence for Wasps this season and will go against Thunder's formidable circle (Image: Ben Lumley)

Ella Powell-Davies has been a regular at goal defence for Wasps this season and will go against Thunder’s formidable circle (Image: Ben Lumley)

Dragons arrived at the CBS Arena on the back of their first win of the season and knowing they could overtake Wasps with a win, but with a typically lively Coventry crowd at their back a 60-37 victory for Mel Mansfield’s squad caught the attention.

Hot on the heels of that game they faced Lightning in a repeat of the 2018 Grand Final, but against a Loughborough side who have dominated all before them this season Wasps were hugely competitive.

Ahead at half-time, they lost the third and fourth quarters by three and two goals respectively to push Lightning as close as anyone has this season.

It’s a much-changed squad for the 2018 and 2018 champions and their are young players finding their way.

They may be nine points adrift of the top four but Bath, Pulse and Mavericks are among their next few games and a run of form against teams gunning for the top four could catapult Wasps into the mix.

Momentum shifts required

Getting on a winning run is crucial in the Superleague and for a few teams in particular this weekend represents an important opportunity.

We’ve already mentioned Wasps, who place twice, but Saracens Mavericks, Strathclyde Sirens and Severn Stars could do with a victory themselves to get back on track.

Mavericks started the season with a brilliant four-game winning run, but three defeats from their last four games have prompted familiar questions about their ability to challenge for top four to raise their head.

Defeats to Lightning and Thunder and a narrow defeat to a Surrey Storm should not prompt alarm bells, but a win against fellow top four chasers Leeds Rhinos would go a long way to calming any worries.

Sirens are back in Glasgow and the support of the Sirens Tribe roared them to victory last time out in Scotland against Storm and against a Dragons team that have lost their last two there represents a chance to claim a valuable three points.

Sirens have lost five of their last six following a brilliant win over Wasps at Season Opener weekend, a repeat of their win over Storm at Emirates in Round 6 is much needed.

Stars are in the worst run of form in the league, with seven successive defeats and it doesn’t get any better as they face Loughborough on Saturday – one of two teams with a perfect record.

Melissa Bessell has chopped and changed her starting seven all season as she seeks the find the right formula. The form of Paige Reed and Issy Eaton in attack should give them something to build on, while Liana Leota’s switch to centre almost paid dividends.

However they’ll need a stellar defensive effort against a Loughborough team that have beaten all in front of them and have an eye on Round 10 where they face a Thunder squad that so far are also perfect.

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