Vitality Superleague 2021: Tamsin Greenway picks out the key battles on semi-final Saturday

Saturday promises to be a dramatic day of Vitality Netball Supereague semi-final action, as four teams take aim at a place in the Grand Final on Sunday at Copper Box Arena 24 hours later.

Debutants Leeds Rhinos Netball take on table-toppers Loughborough Lightning in the opening semi-final, with defending champions from 2019 Manchester Thunder up against Team Bath Netball.

Tamsin Greenway looks at where the games will be won and lost and who will be left to battle it out to lift the trophy on Sunday evening.

  • Beth Cobden, Donnell Wallam, Towera Vinkhumbo claim Superleague honours
  • Lightning pinch top spot with Bath victory

Vitality Netball Superleague – Semi-finals

Loughborough Lightning vs Leeds Rhinos Netball

Dixon & Grierson vs Cobden & Odeogberin

Both teams have created cultures, styles and a way of playing and it’s the delivery from Brie Grierson and Rhea Dixon for Leeds Rhinos and how that matches up against Beth Cobden and Jas Odeogberin.

They are both new partnerships, Brie and Rhea have never been this consistently good, while Beth is back from injury and Jas has forced her way in.

Brie and Rhea are natural on the ball and they have played out of their skins this season; they have stepped up, they have got England call-ups and their creativity on court has been amazing, however, they are playing against one of the toughest third line defences I have seen this year.

Beth Cobden has come back to the form she was pre-injured and Jas has earned her spot in the goal defence position. It is clear where Loughborough win ball, where they like to pressure and where they like to hassle.

Brie and Rhea have almost been given free rein but it’s the confidence they play with. Meanwhile, Beth and Jas are very structured in the way they want to play, but as a pair they are bringing out the very best in each other.

Lightning’s patience vs Relentless Rhinos

Lightning have improved in their patience, and it showed against Bath that it has finally come together. They have a temptation – and it’s natural when you have someone like Mary Cholhok – you go into them, it’s almost nothing else on so ‘lob it in there’.

However, what I have seen against Bath – for the first time – is a team that have put in some set routines, not forcing things and opening up the court for drives.

If they can stick to the task it can be a success, but against that patience is the relentlessness from Rhinos because their defensive line will go at you for the duration and can Lightning deal with that?

It’s a full-on, tracking, arms over Australian style mode that Leeds play.

  • Loughborough embracing finals weekend pressure
  • Resilient Rhinos ready to take their chance

Lightning vs Rhinos – This Season

Expert’s verdict

Lightning have been forced into some things, they lost Hannah Joseph, Beth Cobden took a while to get going and Ella Clark too.

They have got better and better as the season has gone on and found a comfortable line-up with impact players that can come on, but they also look a content, happy group – they know what they are doing.

I felt they could sneak into the final, and finishing in top spot has given them that chance. I think they will have the edge over Rhinos, who have had everything up against them.

No one expected Donnell Wallam to be this good and they will miss her now she is back in Australia, but the biggest issue is that they still have not beaten one of the top teams.

If a bit of magic happens they can beat anybody and that attacking line-up can score goals but do they see this as success or can they take it up a gear? They will have to.

Four teams… 🧐
One trophy… 🏆

We. Can't. Wait.

Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Netball

Rotating circles and target shooters

Bath have got the best defensive record, but they have one of the worst attacking records and a big reason for that is they do not have a target shooter

Players like Mary Cholhok, Donnell Wallam, Joyce Mvula – they can save you when the ball goes in there and while Kim Borger has been absolutely brilliant all year, the problem with a rotating circle is every single player has to be on their game.

That has not happened in the last couple of weeks, they have to sort out how they get the supply under pressure because every team has seen it as a weakness and is going for the jugular.

At the other end, I was sceptical of Ellie Cardwell and Mvula as a partnership this year but they have produced a system that is really working for them – Cardwell in particular is playing out of her skin and has created her own way of playing her position.

Can Bath, with their defence, break that Thunder connection which at the moment is looking unstoppable.

Coaches to play their part

The last couple of weeks Anna Stembridge has been quite frustrated and we have seen unusual changes from her, while Thunder have found a seven that really works and works under pressure against top teams.

Anna has to get Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Kim Borger, plus Layla Guscoth, to work through the situation because I do not think she can afford to make the changes she has been making over the last couple of weeks in their semi-final.

As for Thunder, if they get found out tactically what changes can they make? Have you given your young shooters enough exposure to bring them in, can Rebekah Airey or Elia McCormick come on at the other end?

It could come down to a tit-for-tat tactical game, last time they both went at each other and it will be the coach that can calmly get their team through the intensity that might make the difference.

  • Tracey Neville: Thunder not underestimating Bath
  • Kim Borger backs Bath to come out fighting

Thunder vs Bath – This Season

Expert’s verdict

What a time for Bath to have a wobble! You hate to say the wheels have fallen off because it’s Bath and they have this exception international line-up that can still perform well.

However on paper, going into this game, they are struggling and perhaps their predictability has caught up on them. Loughborough and Thunder have grown but Bath have been a bit static.

Thunder got to a point where it could have been sink or swim and they stuck to their unit and that is of great credit to the coaches – they found a system to suit their players who may not be in the positions we are used to seeing them.

Bath have been my favourites, and it pains me that they are having this moment because there is no reason for it, but it does show you that a team has to grow – you will get worked out, a top team will break down your unit.

If Bath all show up, they can beat Thunder but it’s now a mental battle for them.

Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues on Saturday, with the semi-finals live on Sky Sports Action and Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel from 1.30pm.

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