By Lucy_Roberts_72

Netball Superleague’s 2021 season is already underway with a brand-new team in the form of Leeds Rhinos and a brand-new broadcasting deal with Sky. After last season was declared null and void due to Coronavirus, teams including Team Bath, Saracens Mavericks and Manchester Thunder will be hoping to get the opportunity to lift the winning trophy come the end of the campaign.

Vitality Netball Superleague / Morgan Harlow.

Vitality Netball Superleague / Morgan Harlow.

Sky Sports Netball pundit, Tamsin Greenway, gave us her predictions for this season after the first round of the year and tells us how the new TV deal could broaden the conversation around netball.

Q) What are your predictions for this season?

A) I kinda went strong, I always do, I always give an opinion and I did it before the season started and after seeing all the teams this weekend so far I’m going to stick to my guns, there’s probably only one change that I’m going to say, so I’ve already said top four I think will be Bath, (Manchester) Thunder and Loughborough Wasps, but I’ve said (Saracens) Mavericks can sneak in there and I think after this weekend as well, (Leeds) Rhinos could definitely sneak in there as well. But I honestly think it’s Team Bath’s to lose this year. If they can’t win with that squad, I’m not sure when they can. There’s no point sitting on the fence is there. I always think defence wins you championships so that’s the kind of thing in netball. Shooters win you games, defence wins you championships, and Bath have got out and out the best defence with their full line-up.

Q) Who do you think will struggle in the Superleague this year?

A) I think the last two years the league has got so much more competitive with teams that are renowned for being at the bottom to push on and to actually take teams and basically you can’t play badly at all in this league against anybody or they’ll take you. I think probably looking across the league and this first game, Celtic Dragons will definitely want to up their game from the first two outings that they had. They’ve got some real potential in there. They’ve been unlucky because they’ve lost seven players and had to bring seven new players in so that’s huge in a squad of 15. And my other shocker this weekend was Severn Stars because they’re always one of those teams who are pushing, they’re always pushing teams. They’ve got probably one of the best mid courters in the league in their team as their captain, but they just looked all of sorts, they were poor for the first two games this season and I was just really shocked by them, so they’re probably the two teams that I was most worried about that will need to step up from this first round.

Q) How do you think the new deal with Sky will help the league and the game overall?

A) I think the biggest thing with netball and I’ve always been quite vocal about this is that it’s still the most popular female sport, we have millions playing and there are leagues, schools, clubs, everything going on all around the country at all different levels whether it’s social netball, league netball; there’s so many different competitions. The biggest thing that I think has always been a struggle is those that play don’t necessarily follow the elite game and I think this is why it’s perfect the partnership with Sky this year because your die-hard fans have been calling for it for ages, they want to see every game and I’ve always said, of course we do but it’s not always as easy as that. I think the backing from Sky which has always been superb for netball is going to make such a difference and the fact that it’s actually being streamed is huge as well because a lot of the netball fans will have Sky just for the netball but that’s not always an easy sell at the moment, so to have it streamed and opened up to a wider audience. Also, to be able to chat about the game in more depth as well because I think what usually happens is, like this weekend we can be really vocal about all the teams we’ve seen and all the players, whether they’re good, whether they’re bad, whether they’re ugly, whatever it is, you can chat all about those things but in the past it’s been that you’ve seen one game, you’ve seen the scores on Twitter but you’ve never been able to see anything else. There’s two parts of it, a) getting that wider audience into it and getting people that already play the sport invested in it but then, b) having a massive education about what netball is, who the teams are, who are the superstars, who do you love, what decisions were right or wrong. That’s going to be massive as well.

Q) Do you think that’s going to help the conversation around netball as a whole?

A) Yeah, I think that’s so important because we chat about that all the time, about pushing the sport on and being visible and understanding who’s good and who’s bad. And I think this is so important to make the sport look more professional. Because it can’t just be: “Here is a result, oh and that player played really well.” It should be like: “Well actually I think this player is playing better in that position,” and so that education around the sport is so key and also helps coaches and players improve their game.

Q) Do you think the coverage on Sky will attract a new, fresh audience who previously would never have thought about watching netball?

A) I would hope so. I think because it’s now so accessible because it’s streamed so you can watch it afterwards as well, that’s amazing. But again, I don’t think it’s necessarily pushing for this audience that aren’t involved in netball, I’d love to explore this audience that already play but perhaps don’t sit down and watch an hour’s match. Actually, what’s going to be really interesting this year is because the games are only 48 minutes as well. They’ve been shortened from 15-minute quarters to 12-minutes quarters just because of the double-headers, the way we’ve had to fit the round, and obviously with Covid how training has affected players, so more for player welfare. But actually, I quite enjoy it. The games are shorter and sharper, it’s much easier, I can say this as a working mum of two, to be able to sit and take 48 minutes out of the day to watch that game than it is to watch over an hour with all the half times and quarter times. I think there’s loads of positives from this and finding this right audience and getting the message out there is so crucial.

Q) What effect will Coronavirus have on the league this season?

A) It’s really difficult. They’re playing in a central venue but actually there’s pro and cons to this. Covid has been a nightmare for people in so many different ways and as we know it doesn’t pick and choose, everybody is affected, so there will be no doubt that however secure we try and make this season there might be some bumps in the road and that’s going to be something the organisers and everybody has to deal with. Of course, it does change things, the players going up there, everything is under scrutiny, they have to be extremely secure and safe in what they’re doing from everything to getting to the venues to the hotels and how it’s all interacting, and everybody is doing an amazing job. On the flip side of that, by making it a central venue it’s been amazing for Sky because they’ve got all the games in one venue, they’ve been able to stream and record and do everything. We’re setting up a studio at Sky rather than going to the games which I think looked really professional the other day and it’s really easy to do the matches. There’s pros and cons to it. Of course, we’re all wary of it and the health and safety of everyone is important. But bringing it back, being able to do it like this, giving people some entertainment in what has been a horrible 12 months really I think is really important.

Q) What advice would give to children and adults who want to get involved in the sport?

A) I think it’s such a great social sport, I’ve always said this. I fell in love with the game when I started playing it at primary school. There’s so many opportunities to play whether it’s a local club, whether it is social. The Back to Netball programme was a huge initiative by England Netball, it’s been amazing. And now the backing and promotion from Sky; it’s everywhere. I think whatever level you want to do whether it is to play; seek out a club and see what’s happening. I know it’s not ideal at the moment but actually there’s loads of stuff going on online and, in the meantime, just watch. Watch, watch, watch, watch and watch some more. See what Sky are doing because they’re doing an absolute incredible job. Get invested, back a team, follow it to the end of the season and then hopefully by the time we get round to the summer they’ll be loads of chances to get back. If it’s kids back into camps, if it’s adults it’s finding clubs, if it’s back at school, joining your school team whatever that looks like, they’ll be so many opportunities out of this. But for now, it’s such a great time to just watch a really high-quality sport and one which is put out there really well.

Every match of the Vitality Netball Superleague 2021 season will be broadcast across Sky Sports and England Netball platforms, including Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.

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Netball’s Superleague is back and better than ever after last season was scrapped due to Covid-19. Teams have already been battling it out on the court in this current campaign, with the new team on the block, Leeds Rhinos, hoping to impress in their initial season in the league, alongside recognisable names including Manchester Thunder, Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning.... to read more click HERE