August 9, 2022

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Superleague: Manchester Thunder, Loughborough Lightning, Team Bath and London Pulse bid for title | Netball News

Superleague: Manchester Thunder, Loughborough Lightning, Team Bath and London Pulse bid for title | Netball News

Manchester Thunder are heading into the semi-finals unbeaten after the regular season (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Manchester Thunder are heading into the semi-finals unbeaten after the regular season (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Everything you need to know about the Vitality Netball Superleague semi-finals, which take place on Friday and are live on Sky Sports and streamed on YouTube.

Manchester Thunder, Team Bath Netball, Loughborough Lightning and London Pulse are the four sides left in the running to be crowned the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague champions.

The two semi-finals take place on Friday night, live on Sky Sports and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel. Coverage starts at 6pm.

Here’s everything you need to know about the four semi-finalists…

Vitality Netball Superleague Fixtures

Friday at 6pm Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Netball Live on Sky Sports Action
Friday at 8pm Loughborough Lightning vs London Pulse Live on Sky Sports Action
Sunday at 1.45pm Third-place play-off Live on Sky Sports Arena
Sunday at 3.45pm Superleague Grand Final Live on Sky Sports Arena

Manchester Thunder

Take a look at the best moments from Manchester Thunder's Superleague season

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Take a look at the best moments from Manchester Thunder’s Superleague season

Take a look at the best moments from Manchester Thunder’s Superleague season

Manchester Thunder finished at the top of the Superleague table having scored a perfect 60 points and gone through the regular season unbeaten.

Karen Greig’s outfit have spent the last 20 rounds raising the bar and setting new records. They comfortably scored more goals than any other side – 1385 to be precise – and averaged 69 goals per match, over the course of the season.

The signing of Nat Metcalf and her ability at WA in particular, has sent their work in attack to a new level. Eleanor Cardwell has also had a standout season and come into her own.

In defence, Laura Malcolm, Shadine van der Merwe and Kerry Almond gelled and fans will be hopeful that Van der Merwe will be able to take to court on Friday, after not partaking in their Round 20 match against Lightning.

Manchester Thunder last won the title in 2019 (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Manchester Thunder last won the title in 2019 (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Only three Superleague clubs have gone through the regular season unbeaten and Manchester Thunder were the last to do so in 2015. Before that, Surrey Storm did so in 2014 and Team Bath Netball achieved the feat twice in 2007 and 2009.

However, Greig knows that an unbeaten season doesn’t secure them the Superleague trophy, or any trophy for that matter.

“The semi-final is the hardest game to get through and we know it’s going to be tough,” Greig said to Sky Sports.

“You don’t want to get beaten in the semi-final, that’s the worst one isn’t it!? It’s pedal to the metal, hopefully we can do a job and then come home with the trophy.”

Going into finals weekend, the pressure remains firmly on their shoulders; they are the ones with a target on their backs, even more so than the defending champions.

Team Bath Netball

Team Bath Netball are taking on the league leaders on Friday night, here's Bath's best bits

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Team Bath Netball are taking on the league leaders on Friday night, here’s Bath’s best bits

Team Bath Netball are taking on the league leaders on Friday night, here’s Bath’s best bits

Team Bath Netball had a fair few challenges thrown their way during the season, including COVID-19 sweeping through the club and captain Serena Guthrie announcing her pregnancy and retirement from the sport.

Despite that, last year’s runners-up went about their business in a focused fashion and their international athletes stood up.

Layla Guscoth being awarded the Vitality Netball Superleague Player of the Season award shocked no one, as the England defender has been phenomenal since day one.

Guscoth has formed a formidable partnership with South Africa international Phumza Maweni and it’s a defensive partnership that will be put to the test against Thunder.

Layla Guscoth has secured 59 interceptions and created 96 turnovers so far this season (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Layla Guscoth has secured 59 interceptions and created 96 turnovers so far this season (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

This time last year, Bath were one of the favourites to take the title but 12 months on, they will play second fiddle in the favourites stakes to their hosts at Belle Vue.

“We’re in a really different position, almost it’s like we’ve got nothing to lose with this,” Guscoth said to Sky Sports. “And, that’s quite a nice position to be in.

“We’re going to face the team that are at the top of the table and they’re undefeated. We want to beat Thunder. The pressure is off, but we want to win, and we’ve got an expectation to do our best.”

Imogen Allison has stepped up again as a leader for Team Bath Netball (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Imogen Allison has stepped up again as a leader for Team Bath Netball (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Bath have faced Thunder twice already and their first meeting – a 57-53 loss – showed just how much they can push the league leaders.

They’ll be arriving at Belle Vue with emotions bubbling under the surface too, with head coach Anna Stembridge stepping down at the end of the season after a two-decade association with the club.

Kim Borger and Rachel Shaw have also announced they will be retiring at the end of the season.

Team Bath Netball are the most decorated club in the Superleague, having won the competition five times previously, however they haven’t won a title since 2013 and that will be chipping away at them.

Loughborough Lightning

Look back at Loughborough Lightning's season ahead of their semi-final clash with London Pulse

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Look back at Loughborough Lightning’s season ahead of their semi-final clash with London Pulse

Look back at Loughborough Lightning’s season ahead of their semi-final clash with London Pulse

Loughborough Lightning are the defending champions and this season, have been led by Victoria Burgess after Sara Francis-Bayman took a sabbatical from the head coach role.

Burgess’ outfit lost just twice during the regular season, both times to Manchester Thunder, and put 1227 goals on the board in 20 matches.

“At the start, our target was to make the top four and we’ve achieved that,” Burgess said on Superleague’s show ‘Off The Court’.

“Now, it’s all about finals weekend and how we can push on to do what we haven’t done before.”

Loughborough Lightning lost their first game of the season on Monday (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

Loughborough Lightning lost their first game of the season on Monday (Image credit: Ben Lumley)

The 2021 Grand Final victory marked Lightning’s first Superleague title, after falling at the last hurdle three times previously in 2008, 2017 and 2018.

This season, thanks to Thunder’s unbeaten run, they’ve gone under the radar and have increased their strength in depth due having to work without key players for periods of time.

Lightning have beaten their semi-final opponents London Pulse twice already the season, but they will need to erase that from their minds on Friday night.

London Pulse

London Pulse are in the semi-finals for the first time, here's a look at their best bits from the regular season

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London Pulse are in the semi-finals for the first time, here’s a look at their best bits from the regular season

London Pulse are in the semi-finals for the first time, here’s a look at their best bits from the regular season

London Pulse are the only one of the semi-finalists who haven’t been in this position before. But, they’ve got coaches who know exactly what knockout netball is like and they have an abundance of talent in their ranks.

“It’s just really exciting, the energy in the camp is great and the girls are really excited,” Sam Bird, Pulse’s CEO and head coach, said on ‘Off The Court’.

“There’s a lot of belief and excitement to see what we can do.”

Pulse are a team that’s filled with young talent but importantly, it’s young talent that’s delivering in pressure situations and looking ready to achieve

A six-goal loss to Thunder in Round 19 highlighted that Pulse are here to play and it showed that their athletes have the mental strength to take on a significant amount of pressure.

Lisa Alexander, the former Australian Diamonds head coach is in their corner, alongside Bird, and the belief they’re giving their young players means they’re blossoming.

Olivia Tchine, Alicia Scholes, Ellie Ratu, Zara Everitt and Funmi Fadoju, to name but a few, are getting stronger by the day and are still in the formative years of their careers.

The only issue for Pulse is that they’re facing Lightning in the semi-finals, a side they’ve not beaten this season and instead, have been 11-20 goals adrift of.

However, a no-fear attitude, like the one Bath’s Guscoth spoke of, can easily fuel an ‘upset’ and Pulse have the added incentive of the final being played on their home court at the Copper Box Arena in London.

The Vitality Netball Superleague season continues on Friday with the semi-finals. Watch Manchester Thunder versus Team Bath Netball and Loughborough Lightning against London Pulse, live on Sky Sports Action from 6pm.