Three teams are tied at the top of the UK’s Netball Superleague after four rounds of the 2019 competition, with reigning champions Wasps, Manchester Thunder and Saracens Mavericks level on points to lead the table.
Reigning champions Wasps were right to be wary of a confident Surrey Storm side which had pulled off a shock win over TeamBath in round three.
Playing for the Tom Reseigh Trophy, in memory of Storm’s team manager who died in 2016, both sides came out hard from the first whistle.
Storm’s South African shooter Sigi Burger was confidently sinking shots from all around the circle to ensure the home team stayed with the champions to end the first quarter level at 16 all.
Wasps pushed out to a five-goal lead at half time, but the Storm were still very much in the game with the home side’s other South African import, Shadine van de Merwe marshalling the defensive line and keeping the champions guessing.
Wasps coach Mel Mansfield made several key changes for the second half of the game, and the strength of her bench proved decisive as Storm lost their way in a flurry of goals from the visitors.
The quarter went the way of Wasps 21-6, and although the Surrey side battled valiantly, the damage had been done – with the Wasps eventually running out 70-47 winners.
Manchester Thunder impressed in their 62-47 win over London Pulse with midcourter Liana Leota dazzling in a series of interchange plays with GA Kathryn Turner and C Caroline O’Hanlon, which left the visitors on the back foot and gasping to keep up.
Under the watchful eye of England head coach Tracey Neville, several of England’s emerging stars, including Rebecca Airey and Amy Carter, put in impressive performances and the north west side’s work rate and cohesion never faltered, even when new combinations were introduced.
For the visitors, captain Ama Agbeze left the court as a precaution after an ankle turn midway through the game, but was frustrated by the amount of ball thrown away by her side during the match.
GA Chiara Semple put in another promising performance for her side, but it is clear that connections through court are still missing under pressure for Pulse as the competition’s newest franchise wasted large amounts of possession which would have kept them in touch.
Saracens Mavericks were ultimately too strong for Celtic Dragons, despite the home side starting their fixture in Cardiff brightly, trailing by only one goal in the first interval and by five at half time.
The third quarter once again proved to be the turning point, with George Fisher once again demonstrating why she is one of England’s most exciting shooting prospects.
Scoring at will from all over the circle, Fisher flummoxed the Dragons defenders to create space out of thin air and, ably supported by GA Kadeen Corbin, helped the visitors to a 19-9 quarter to put the game effectively out of reach of the home side. The final score was Mavericks 66, Celtic Dragons 44.
Former finalists Loughborough Lightning returned to winning ways with a 60-49 win over Strathclyde Sirens.
The Scottish side only trailed by one goal at half time, 27-26. But Loughborough’s line up, under the watchful eye of new head coach Sara Bayman, grew in confidence after the main break.
With Ugandan shooter Mary Cholhok putting in a stunning performance for Lightning, the home team pulled ahead to take a confidence boosting win.
TeamBath’s game against Severn Stars was postponed due to heavy snow across the south west of England.
The Wasps’ fixture with Mavericks looks to be the pick of the next round, with both sides hitting some impressive form over the past week.
Fisher returns to her former club for the first time since leaving in the off season, and her ability to overcome the Wasps’ smothering defensive line could be key to her side’s prospects.