Ulster League Rugby

March 12, 2017
Rugby: Ulster Bank League
Shanice Beckford of Jamaica shots at goal during the 2015 Netball World Cup

By Jess Thirlby, Team Bath Director of Netball

Shanice Beckford of Jamaica shots at goal during the 2015 Netball World Cup

The final 15s for the Netball Superleague franchises were announced this week so Sky Netball asked Team Bath director of netball Jess Thirlby to cast her eye over each of squads ahead of the new season...

It's a cliche I know, but this season's Superleague is justified in carrying the tag of being the most competitive and open in its history.

From north to south, let's take a look at the squads that will contest the 2016 Vitality Superleague, one of which will lift the trophy in May…

Team Northumbria

They've suffered a longstanding relationship with the lower-league positions but after recruiting well last year they began to get some good results and showed promise.

With further new signings, most notably Jamaican's Shanice Beckford and Nicole Dixon, the migration further north of key Yorkshire Jets players Brie Grierson and Tuaine Keenan, and swapping some of the luck of the Irish for the more 'Bravehearted' Scots, new Kiwi coach Te Aroha Keenan is taking steps to ensure that this will be their best season to date.

Stacey Francis will captain the Yorkshire Jet sin 2016

Yorkshire Jets

The Jets, led by Anna Carter, appeared to overcome the notable departures of Grierson, Keenan, Timmy Cato and Natalie Haythornthwaite and began their recovery. They've since signed of one of England's most dynamic defenders and longstanding NSL players, Stacey Francis. Handing the captain's armband to Stacey is sure to inspire her new teammates.

Jess Shaw is an exciting talent and has been promising bigger performances in recent seasons after her return from injury, and the addition of South African Vanes-Mari Du Toit will give the Jets the versatility they may need at both ends of the court.

Liana Leota has joined Manchester Thunder

Manchester Thunder

Ruing a semi-final defeat on home turf last year and the departure of Tracey Neville, there was no doubt that Thunder would work hard behind the scenes to put in place a fresh structure. This has been achieved by the arrival of Australia's Dan Ryan, an experienced coach and commentator - a skill that has no doubt come in handy when considering his recruitment options during the off season. Securing the likes of Liana Leota not long after her appearance with the Silver Ferns in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Jamaican Malysha Kelly hint towards the ambition of Ryan.

Closer to home, I'm excited to see Jodie Gibson included once again after impressively winning Thunder's player of the tournament award in the Mike Greenwood competition in November.

Jade Clarke has returned to Loughborough Lightning

Loughborough Lightning

With wholesale changes and more victims than survivors from last season's team, Loughborough are most notably on a mission and few would question that the team, on paper, could be looking at their best results in recent years. This all depends on how well they come together as a team but coaching duo Karen Atkinson and Olivia Murphy will no doubt have been working hard on the team's cohesion.

New Zealander Jo Trip was an early signing from ANZ, then the floodgates seemed to open with former Lightning and England stars Jade Clark, Sasha Corbin and Ama Agbeze all signing. Also, fans' favourite Peace Proscovia secured inclusion despite revised VISA guidelines that have prevented some players across NSL from returning. Lightning are a team that promise a lot and could be the most improved.

Joline Johansson (nee Henry) will play for the Mavericks

Hertfordshire Mavericks

Stacey Francis will captain the Yorkshire Jet sin 2016Similar to the Jets, Mavericks appeared to suffer a few early casualties before taking some time to consider their next recruitment move.

Always known for their defensive strength, it was the midcourt and shooting units that appeared to need further investment and with newcomers Joline Johanseen, one of the most highly capped Silver Ferns, and exciting Trinidad & Tobago shooter Sam Wallace, they have certainly done that. It's great to see the Hertfordshire-based team secure Louisa Watson, who returned to NSL last year and helped elevate the team back into the final.

Maybe even more notable is the return of Ella Clark, a former England U21 athlete who has been plying her trade in basketball representing Great Britain and playing in Europe. She will be a great asset to the team.

Kyra Jones has returned to Celtic Dragons

Celtic Dragons

Dragons will welcome the return of Kyra Jones after a successful stint with Team Bath in 2015. Jones will also be pleased to see Coach Trish Wilcox has recruited some overseas talent to bolster what had been looking like a very young, slightly depleted squad in some of the pre-season outings.

But with the return of stalwart and captain Suzy Drane alongside Bethan Dyke, Kelly Morgan and Lateisha Kidney there appears to be a solid backbone to this team. Emma Thomas and Georgia Rowe look likely to shoulder most of the shooting responsibility and with Fijian recruits to add, Dragons have thrown what they can at this team, ensuring that they are able compete well in 2016.

Eboni Beckford-Chambers will captain Team Bath

Team Bath

To the Blue & Gold and the team I can speak with the most confidence on, Team Bath. We have a new coaching structure with possibly the biggest signing in former England coach Anna Stembridge. They will also be boosted with Jo Vann (Binns) returning to the club to play this season.

There's also a new captain in the returning Eboni Beckford-Chambers, plus new signings in Chelsea Lewis and South African duo Karla Mostert and Lenize Potgeiter, who both excited fans and netball pundits at the recent World Cup. It's all led to a very positive environment to be a part of. It's been a fantastic pre-season and we have integrated all of our new recruits well ahead of the opening game, which has been invaluable and bodes well for the 2016 season.

Sophia Candappa has signed for Surrey Storm

Surrey Storm

Lastly but by no means least, reigning champions Surrey Storm. They are possibly the least-changed team from last year and why not? If you've won the league then there's a justified argument for coach Tamsin Greenway to adopt the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach.

Opting out of the overseas option this season, Greenway has secured the return of England retiree Pamela Cookey and Rachel Dunn along with eight others from the 2015 campaign. She's strengthened with exciting talents such as Yasmin Parsons and Sophia Candappa, a smart move given that someone needs to fill her shoes. You can never underestimate a reigning champion, once you have a taste for winning you always want more.

What a fantastic breeding ground for up-and-coming stars of the future and England's young talent. Let's hope that the season lives up to all expectations and more.

I believe the top four will definitely look different this year and possibly a new champion will be crowned.

Watch the Netball Superleague live on Sky Sports from January 30. Super Saturday will take place on Saturday January 30 at the Genting Arena, Birmingham, with tickets to be placed on general sale this Friday, September 25, at 11am via Sky Tickets.

Liana Leota has joined Manchester Thunder Jade Clarke has returned to  Loughborough Lightning Joline Johansson (nee Henry) will play for the Mavericks Kyra Jones has returned to Celtic Dragons
Source: www.skysports.com
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