Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “If life were predictable, it would cease to be life, and be without flavour.” With that in mind, this season’s Netball Superleague is proving to be one of the most flavourful competitions ever staged, with results this week surprising many and adding spice to the potential outcome of the league.
Saracens Mavericks, tipped by many as potential competition winners this year, faced a Pulse side searching for only its second win of the season. From the first whistle, the game was a hotly contested, at times fractious affair, with the umpires kept busy throughout. Pulse led by one at the first break, but let the visitors back in in the second quarter, to trail by three at half time.
An edgy third quarter followed, with warnings and whistling taking priority over free flowing netball, but the final period was all about Pulse. After promising much in previous rounds, but letting themselves down with unforced errors, the home side had renewed purpose and focus, and inspired by a match winning midcourt performance from Northern Ireland’s Fionnula Toner, could not be stopped.
Pulse took the final quarter 16-11 to register a 62-59 win which put a dent in Mavericks hopes of closing the gap on Loughborough Lightning for a potential play off spot.
Meanwhile, after six straight victories, Loughborough were perhaps guilty of complacency when welcoming Surrey Storm to the Sir David English sports centre. Lightning, having notched up some impressive last-gasp wins in previous rounds, seemed flat from the first whistle, and Mikki Austin’s side took full advantage.
Inspired by a sensational shooting performance from South African Sigi Burger, Storm were patient through court and clinical in defence. Burger netted 57 from 62,taking full advantage of her height differential against Loughborough’s defensive unit, as Storm maintained their intensity through to the final whistle to win 63-59.
Storm director of netball Mikki Austin mixed her line up cleverly throughout the game to keep Lightning guessing, and with only three points separating her team from a potential play off place, could be bringing her charges into form at just the right point in the season. Certainly, in this mood, the young Storm team could pull off more surprises before the end of the season.
A dominant first half laid the foundations for an easy 73-46 victory for league leaders Manchester Thunder over Celtic Dragons, which keeps the side from the north west three points clear at the top of the table. Thunder coach Karen Greig once again mixed her line up throughout the game, giving court time to all four of her shooters, who were all in dominant mood, shooting at 94% as a group (73/78).
Reigning champions Wasps moved into second place on the ladder with an impressive all court performance to defeat a talented TeamBath side 61-46. For Wasps, England’s most capped player Jade Clarke was the neutral observer’s winner of her midcourt tussle with international colleague Serena Guthrie and Clarke’s pinpoint feeding of Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris proved difficult for the Bath defence to counteract.
South African international Bongi Msomi was never far from the action for Wasps, with the midcourt dynamo hustling for possession and frequently finding space on the edge of the circle for a simple feed to her attack. Wasps coach Mel Mansfield was impressed with her side’s focus and application – they were certainly more like the side which won back to back titles in the past two years.
In the final match of the round, Severn Stars dismissed the loss of three points over a technical infringement last week to hold their form for a 49-40 win over Strathclyde Sirens. Sam Cook and Ella Powell-Davis were once again the engine room for the Stars side, taking numerous interceptions and kickstarting offensive moves which were finished off with aplomb by shooter Georgia Rowe.
With five rounds to play, a play off spot may be beyond Stars this season, but they will certainly look to back up this week’s win and hope to make it three in a row next week against London Pulse. However, after Pulse’s win this week, who can predict the outcome of the game? To paraphrase Mrs Roosevelt, the rest of this season’s fixtures are full of life!