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Alicia Scholes was Gilbert Player of the Match as Pulse beat Mavericks

Alicia Scholes was Gilbert Player of the Match as Pulse beat Mavericks. Image: Ben Lumley.

Roses head coach Jess Thirlby expressed her excitement over the amount of young talent that has come through in the Vitality Netball Superleague this season. 

Thirlby was speaking to Caroline Barker and Tamsin Greenway on the Off the Court podcast ahead of Round 15 of the Vitality Netball Superleague and was effusive with her praise for a number of youngsters who have had lots of on-court action this summer.

“I want to pay credit to the clubs that are investing in their youngsters,” said Thirlby, who has been at the helm since 2019 after 11 seasons as head coach of Team Bath.

“It’s taken us a while to get there, the pace of change has most probably been a tad too slow and we were maybe a little more attracted to the sparkly famous people maybe from overseas and as with everything it’s about balance.

“It’s great that our VNSL clubs are now investing and giving the youngsters some court time and putting them out and giving them that platform to shine.”


The Vitality Netball Superleague has seen a host of young England players star on court, with London Pulse in particular standing out with their promising crop of players such as Olivia Tchine, Zara Everitt, Kira Rothwell, Funmi Fadoju and Alicia Scholes firing them to third place in the table.

However, it hasn’t just been Pulse that have put their faith in youth and Thirlby is pleased with the knock-on effect at international level after the difficulties posed by the pandemic.

She added: “If you look at the youngsters that have stood out – if you put Pulse to one side, because they’re relatively unique in that across the board they’re quite young.

“But if you look at Thunder, they’re surrounded and supported by really experienced players, so the backbone of that team is so ready for those players to step in and shine.

“Thunder have had to call upon some of their youngsters this year and they just slot in and they don’t just slot in, they then earn player of the matches like Yas Roebuck on the weekend so it’s pretty impressive to see that.

“The last two years have been quite challenging, even at a Roses level. In particular, for our age groups, it’s been really tough, they’ve maybe not had as much contact time and the ability to tour as we’d have hoped.

“Making sure they rub shoulders with the Roses programme as well as me getting eyes on them in terms of their competition environment has been really important.

“I’d like to think moving forward, we’ve got our Roses programme announcement coming up in early May and that will include the Futures group, so don’t be too surprised if you see a really healthy amount of some of the young talent that you guys are speaking so highly of week on week in that Futures programme.

“We’ve certainly made more space to take on more and increase the capacity and time we work with them.

“[I’m] really excited and couldn’t be more pleased with some of the performances from the youngsters in particular.”

Selecting squads

Thirlby will announce her selections for the Roses 2022/23 programme at the start of next month before turning her attention to choosing her squad for the Commonwealth Games in July, something she admits is still very much up for debate.

“We’re certainly not settled on a 12, and I don’t think we need to be,” said Thirlby, who will be looking to match the gold medal England won at the 2018 Games.

“For the last 12 months we’ve had 18-20 players who realistically are most probably pushing and it will come down to form and for that reason, we’re leaving our selection for Commonwealth Games as late as we can and we’re giving everybody the full Super League season.

“By doing that we’re giving those who are overseas as much of their season as possible to show us that they’re in form and then allow us to decide whether or not we believe they’re the right people to reconnect with the players back here in the UK.

“It’s really exciting times and certainly not set on a 12 at this point. Week on week, I go to games, I review games, and somebody puts their finger up when the previous game they were maybe a bit quiet and just when I might be thinking one thing it’s like, no, not ready to make a decision on them just yet.”

Protecting youngsters

One big decision for Thirlby could be whether to include Pulse defender Fadoju after her imperious form in the Vitality Netball Superleague before a recent injury.

Thirlby voiced caution over getting too carried away about the 19-year-old and spoke of the need to protect younger players.

“She is a huge talent hence why she was in and around the programme with the Futures last year,” said Thirlby.

“The one thing I would appeal to people is what you see on a court for 60 minutes is one thing but there’s a whole narrative there around helping to manage these young players.

“Funmi is an incredible talent with huge physical attributes and we just need to make sure not only with Funmi but all of the young talent that we support them accordingly so that if and when they break through, they’re here for good and they don’t get elevated too soon, too quick without the necessary support around them.

“What an incredible impact she’s had, it almost takes the attention off some other people in that team, like Zara Everitt, don’t underestimate what she does which enables Funmi to come out with the ball.

“I’m curious to understand what’s enabling Funmi to shine in that way and sometimes there are others around her that are really worth paying attention to.”

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