Manchester Thunder became the third team to secure a play-off place on Saturday with a 55-43 victory over Severn Stars at the Copper Box Arena.
The positive result means the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague champions will join Team Bath Netball and Loughborough Lightning on finals weekend at the end of June.
Now, with just one play-off place remaining, the spotlight remains fixed on Wasps, Leeds Rhinos Netball, Saracens Mavericks and Strathclyde Sirens.
All four will take to court (again in Sirens’ case) over the course of Sunday and Monday, and the weekend finishes with Wasps and Mavericks meeting each other. Every contest will be streamed live on the Sky Sports YouTube channel, with Monday’s two encounters also being shown on Sky Sports Mix.
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Vitality Netball Superleague – Round 17
Thunder book coveted play-off place
Manchester Thunder’s quest to retain the title they won in 2019 remains on track, after they showed composure when they needed to against Severn Stars.
The 55-43 victory was born off the back of a purposeful second quarter and resilience in the face of a strong second-half response from Stars.
Checking into the semi-finals 🛎️
The current holders will fight to retain the trophy next month 🏆
Congratulations on another finals appearance, @thundernetball 👏 pic.twitter.com/5C6Uw4M3VI
After an arm-wrestle of a first 12 minutes, in which both teams struggled to find quick routes into their respective shooters, Thunder flicked the switch.
They upped their intensity in defence, shutting down all of Stars’ options, and used their trademark accuracy in attack to turn a four-goal cushion into an 11-goal lead at the midway point.
The third quarter belonged to Stars though, as Jane Taylor provided the magic ingredient in their attack-end and Melissa Bessell’s third defensive combination of the game, grew in stature.
Thunder’s players started the fourth quarter with steely looks in their eyes. They gained key turnovers during the first half of it and that allowed them to extinguish any further threats, and take the game away from Stars yet again.
“It’s great that we’re in the top four,” Karen Greig said to Sky Sports after the encounter.
“The performance wasn’t necessarily a complete one. We had a pretty sticky third quarter and Stars asked a lot of questions of us, but we managed to keep our composure and push on when we needed to.”
Sirens beaten by slick Bath
Strathclyde Sirens, one of the teams still in contention for the final top-four place, found themselves on the wrong end of the result against Team Bath Netball.
A difficult first quarter proved to be the Scottish team’s undoing, as a full-strength Bath line-up made the most of Towera Vinkhumbo not being selected to start, due to her court-time being managed.
With her presence missing in defence, Sirens weren’t able to turnover a single ball during the first 12 minutes and that allowed Bath to put their foot on the gas
Bath then raised the tempo further over the course of the second quarter; player of the match, Rachel Shaw was inspired at WA and their attack-end played at a speed that few sides in the competition could match.
Another 15-goal quarter added to Sirens’ problems before they made personnel changes at half-time. The changes, which included Vinkhumbo’s arrival and Bethan Goodwin spending time at shooter, helped them to build during the second half.
With an important contest against Mavericks on Sunday, the momentum will have been welcomed, however it didn’t change the result of the contest at hand.
Lightning overpower Dragons
In the first match of the day, Loughborough Lightning kept their foot on the gas with a 24-goal result against Celtic Dragons.
Having beaten the Welsh franchise 76-23 in Round 10, Lightning once again proved to be Dragons’ greatest nemesis in the competition.
Sara Francis-Bayman’s starting seven found their feet from the very first centre pass and didn’t look back. The head coach also used the 48 minutes to take a look at different combinations, while Dragons struggled to fight back after an under-confident start.
A 21-4 first quarter set the writing on the wall for Dragons and created Lightning’s unassailable lead. Hannah Joseph’s return ensured that there was crisp and clean service into Mary Cholhok, and Annika Lee-Jones wasn’t able to get her hand to anything.
A much closer second quarter, and an 11-10 final quarter in Dragons’ favour, rewarded the Welsh outfit’s endeavour and ability to stick to task, however they didn’t have the weapons to halt Lightning’s momentum across the 48 minutes.
“Motivation could have been a problem for us today and it definitely wasn’t,” Francis-Bayman said to Sky Sports.
“The girls took on board what we were trying to do. We know that we’ve got a huge game now against Rhinos on Monday. There are a few things to fix up but generally we’re heading in the right direction.”
Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues on Sunday with Round 18 and three successive matches streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel from 2pm.
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