Super 10 delights as Vitality Netball Superleague returns with a bang
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 08/01/19 2:40pm
The Vitality Netball Superleague returned with a bang as all 10 teams took to the court at Arena Birmingham on a blockbuster opening-day of the season.
After long pre-seasons, cobwebs were dusted off and headlines created with new franchise London Pulse winning on debut and defending champions Wasps laying down a marker with a comprehensive 30-goal victory over Loughborough Lightning.
Also, there were wins for Team Bath, Strathclyde Sirens and Manchester Thunder.
From the flair of Sirens' Cat Tuivaiti and the defensive intensity shown by Thunder's Kerry Almond to the shooting prowess of Wasps' Rachel Dunn and Pulse's Chiara Semple, players from all ten sides started as they mean to go on.
Celtic Dragons 41-58 Team Bath
After missing out on Grand Final places and titles in recent years, Team Bath set out their early-season stall with a strong victory over Celtic Dragons.
Serena Guthrie's much-anticipated return provided the world-class impact that was expected. On her birthday, the mid-court international thrilled the crowd from start to finish with her athleticism and prowess.
Both teams went goal-for-goal early before Bath took hold of the quarter and ultimately the match.
The defensive pressure from those in Blue and Gold, across the whole court, delivered ten intercepts in the first half. The turnover ball combined with accurate feeding of shooters Kim Commane and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis to create a 31-18 half-time lead.
Dragons' brightest spell of the first half-an-hour came at the start of the second quarter - they pulled it back to 18-21 - but after that, errors and missed shots were punished.
Tania Hoffman's side never ceased with their energy or endeavour however Bath, inspired by Guthrie and player of the match Imogen Allison, had the answers and a more clinical edge overall.
Wasps 72-42 Loughborough Lightning
Mel Mansfield's Wasps sent out a message to all of their rivals with a comprehensive 72-42 result against a new-look Loughborough Lightning outfit.
The back-to-back Superleague winners looked settled and composed while Lightning's slower start to the game, and a tough third quarter, meant that they found this opening round challenging.
Both started at pace, matching each other, until Jade Clarke's experience provided the intercept that tipped the scales. Wasps capitalised on the turnover and then confidently turned the screw.
Rachel Dunn showed the type of shooting accuracy that had lead Wasps to their Fast5 Championship title and a 20-10 lead after just 15 minutes.
Lightning changed it up at quarter-time - captain Nat Panagarry moved to WD, Jess Shaw arrived at C and Britt Coleman was introduced at goal-shooter. The changes proved to be fruitful ones as Lightning won the second quarter 13-11.
However, the defending champions' came out firing early in the third and restored their hold on the match.
Fran Williams, who gained experience on the international stage against Uganda, showed her ability at WD and Wasps accelerated confidently away from their rivals in the final quarter and look very impressive indeed as their quest for an unprecedented third successive title started in earnest.
Severn Stars 49-51 London Pulse
The third match of the day saw Superleague debutants London Pulse and Severn Stars duel with new entrants Pulse prevailing in thrilling fashion.
The London franchise, who only had all of their players fully together for the first time on Thursday and who still have Ama Agbeze to come into their mix, showed incredible tenacity to start their campaign with a victory.
Both sides stuck to task early and showed dogged defensive work throughout. The tussle between Shantal Slater and Halimat Adio was intense at one end while Georgia Rowe started strongly in Stars' shooting circle.
A 15-13 Pulse quarter-time lead was extended out to five goals after five minutes of the second quarter. However, Stars worked hard to not let the London-side move further away and went into the second interval 26-22 behind.
Sam Bird introduced Cara Lea Moseley at WA for the third quarter and her feeding of the circle, to Rowe in particular, helped Stars move in front three minutes before three-quarter time.
Stars rode that momentum to hold a 38-35 advantage with 15 minutes to go but Pulse weren't finished yet.
Fionnuala Toner's move to Centre inspired them, in much the same way Moseley's had for Stars in the third, and the scores locked at 45-all with five to go.
Neither side blinked, matching each other's goals, until Rowe missed a shot under the post with 70 seconds remaining.
Pulse calmly took the ball down and Chiara Semple capped an exceptional day by scoring the decisive-goal. The debutants then converted their final centre pass and secured a historic first win.
Strathclyde Sirens 56-38 Surrey Storm
Strathclyde Sirens were the fourth side to start their new Superleague season off with a victory and looked comfortable from start to finish against Storm.
Storm arrived a little lighter personnel wise without South African players Sigi Burger and Shadine Van Der Merwe and they never looked like mounting a real challenge on Sirens.
Conversely, Sirens looked excited from the outset. The flair and confidence of the former Silver Fern and Samoan International, Cat Tuivaiti, was clearly infectious.
Sirens worked their combinations well around the court, while Storm's 40 per cent shot completion helped to tell the tale of their 12-6 deficit after 15 minutes.
Sirens extended their hold on the encounter out to 11-goals, 27-16, after 30 minutes. Storm had their moments but couldn't make the inroads required to quell their opponents' flow or handle the superb Tuivaiti.
In the third, Gail Parata's side dominated and broke the 40-point mark and Tuivaiti's work was done with 10-minutes to go.
Sirens finished the job well and head home with smiles on their faces. While Storm rued giving away too much "cheap ball" according to director of netball Mikki Austin.
Manchester Thunder 58-51 Saracens Mavericks
Manchester Thunder have made no secret about their desire to go all the way this season and finished a busy Super 10 day by fending off Saracens Mavericks' challenge.
Neither side showed any sign of nerves as they attacked the court from the word go and went at each other hammer and tong.
The defensive pressure from Emma Dovey and player of the match Kerry Almond meant that Mavericks had to work hard to create their opportunities. But, with the quality of the Corbin sisters and George Fisher, they were up to the challenge in the first quarter.
Just four goals separated the two after the opening 15 minutes - 16-12 - but Thunder started to get more of a defensive hold as the second played out. They created 30-22 cushion after 30 minutes before a wobble in the third.
Razia Quashie's introduction for Mavericks caused a fellow new-entrant on court, Ellie Cardwell, problems but the return of Kathryn Turner settled the ship for Thunder.
At three-quarter time Karen Greig's side remained 45-39 in front but were made to work until the bitter end by a tenacious and skilled Mavericks outfit.
A huge 2019 for netball continues on Sky Sports with the Vitality Roses in action at the Netball Quad Series that starts on Sunday 13 January, coverage is live on Sky Sports Mix and Arena from 3.15pm.