It was finals time in the UK’s Netball Super League this weekend, with both Semi-Finals, the Grand Final and the 3rd Place Play Off all taking place.
It was Loughborough Lightning who eventually finished the Netball Super League 2023 as Champions, after a strong second half comeback against London Pulse saw them take a 48-57 victory, writing the wrongs from last year’s Grand Final loss.
It was a different story for the 2022 Champions Thunder though, who missed out on a spot in the Grand Final following a Semi-Final defeat to Lightning, and eventually had to settle for 3rd place which they secured through 38-55 a win over Surrey Storm.
In preparation for the Vitality Netball World Cup 2023, starting on the 28th July in Cape Town, here is our final International Player Watch of the season:
Pulse 55 – 42 Storm
Pulse made history when they booked a spot in their first ever Grand Final as they beat Surrey Storm in the first Semi-Final of the 2023 season.
The first half was a close encounter, with Storm winning the first quarter by one goal and Pulse the second quarter by three goals leaving the half-time score at 25 – 23 and that all important spot in the Grand Final still very much up for grabs.
Storm’s Layla Guscoth, who has been named in the England Netball Vitality Netball World Cup 2023 team, helped Storm take an early two-goal lead in the first quarter with a expertly timed interception from international teammate, but current domestic league opposition, Berri Neil.
However, it did not take long for Pulse to respond as their own England Rose defenders, Funmi Fadoju and Halimat Adio, began to showcase their perfect partnership that the Netball Super League fans have loved watching this year.
The second half only saw this defensive duo grow in strength, as they made winning ball look as easy, with Adio staying back and calling and Fadoju going forward to win ball constantly as they worked as a unit.
It will come as no surprise that Fadoju finished the match with 19 deflections and eight turnovers to her name, and Pulse went on the win the third quarter 17-9 thanks to her efforts.
The deflections of Fadoju were only worthwhile due to the shooters working tirelessly at the other end though, Berri Neil was forced to cover a lot of court before she was in a shooting position this match and yet still when she found herself in the right place continued to convert.
Pulse finished the penultimate quarter 42-32 up, and despite Storm coming out stronger for the final-15 minutes it was too little too late against a Pulse side who were not about to give up their first ever Grand Final spot.
Lightning 65 – 59 Thunder
The second Semi-Final was a re-match of last year’s Grand Final, as Lightning took on the defending champions Thunder looking to get their revenge.
And, get revenge they did as Lightning secured their third successive Netball Super League Grand Final when they beat Thunder 65-59.
Lightning shot into the contest, powered on by their home fans, and instantly turned over Thunders first centre pass making their intentions for this match very clear.
Thunder were not about to roll over and lose this title though, and they made the Lightning shooting circle of Uganda She Crane Mary Cholhok and England Rose Rhea Dixon work tirelessly to get free under the post.
6 foot 5 shooter Cholhok, who can usually find space with ease under the post, was struggling to be able hold against the Thunder defence leaving a lot of the work down to Dixon who showcased her athleticism as she moved with speed into and out of the circle looking to create and find space.
Lightning were eventually rewarded for their persistent efforts with a 17-14 lead at the first break, but that only fired up Thunder even more.
Thunder fort back, through their centre court defence spearheaded by England Roses Taylor McKevitt and Nat Metcalf, who started to force some mid-court errors from Lightning allowing Thunder the chance to creep in front by one and leaving it all still to play for in the second-half.
Starting the penultimate quarter how they finished the second, it was Thunder that started that came out the strongest however an interception from Lightning captain Nat Panagarry soon changed the flow of the game as the home-side got back to winning ways.
Cholhok began to find the space she needed to hold under post, and right on the buzzer she added another to her tally to make sure Lightning went into the final quarter 6 goals to the good.
England Rose Fran Williams and South Africa SPAR Protea Zanele Vimbela, who had been introduced as a sub, looked like they were only just getting started in the final quarter as they made multiple deflections and interceptions between them to hold-off the Thunder fight back and take their side into the Grand Final, with a 65-59 win.
Storm 38 – 55 Thunder
The Semi-Final results meant that it was the 3rd Place Play Off for both Storm and the 2022 Champions, Thunder.
Storm, who finished the league in 4th place, really brought the game to Thunder in the opening two quarters as the fans who packed into the Copper Box in their thousands, watched Storm Player Coach Mikki Austin go head-to-head with England Rose Amy Carter in a heated contest at centre.
However, it was clear that Austin’s side were missing their Ugandan She Crane shooter, Peace Proscovia, who they lost to injury earlier this season as they struggled without a real target shooter in the circle.
At the other end, Thunder were making good use of their on form South Africa SPAR Protea shooter, Lenize Potgieter, as she scored all 14 of her first quarter shots to give Thunder a 10-16 lead.
Storm flew out the blocks after the first break with England Rose Layla Guscoth leading the way and showing her defensive experience as she made a few key turnovers to keep Storm in with the chance of winning a medal.
Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, another Storm England Rose, also contributed in all areas of the court as she made an interception which she then went on to score off too, as Storm won the second quarter 12-10.
A quick half-time talk from Karen Greig worked wonders for Thunder, as they re-grouped and hit the ground running the second half led by their captain and England Rose Nat Metcalf.
Showcasing her versatility, Metcalf moved into goal attack for the third quarter and her speed, agility and ball placement in the circle paid dividends for Thunder as it opened up the circle for Potgieter and allowed the Manchester side to go on a goal scoring spree to win the quarter 8-20.
Grieg was then able to utilise her bench in the final-15 minutes as Thunder saw out the match and took home the bronze medal.
It was still a remarkable achievement for Austin’s Storm side though, as they secured their highest finish since 2016.
Pulse 48 – 57 Lightning
The Grand Final certainly did not disappoint at the Copper Box Arena, London, with Lightning going onto make amends for last year’s Grand Final defeat, beating Pulse 48-57 after a very closely contested match.
Pulse finished the league season in the top spot, and it was clear from the first whistle just why as they started the strongest of the two finalists.
The table toppers have been known for having the best defence in the league in 2023, and the Grand Final started off no different with England Rose’s Zara Everitt and Funmi Fadujo getting in on the early action producing tips and turnovers to take their side into the first break four goals to the good.
Fadujo then started the second quarter how she finished the first, making a deflection that allowed Pulse to get back to their six-goal lead.
However, it was not long before Lightning’s own England Rose Fran Williams began to make her mark and from the second quarter onwards, she just got better and better, winning more and more ball at goal defence, before she was eventually awarded Most Valuable Player.
Lightning were only two goals behind at the main break, and they used this deficit to fuel their comeback as they went on to force errors from Pulse in the penultimate quarter, before taking the lead for the first time.
Sam Bird made a change to her Pulse side with 15-minutes to go bringing on Alicia Scholes to wing attack, but despite Scholes injecting some late energy into Pulse, there was nothing that could stop this Lightning side on their pursuit to do one better than last year and take the gold.
In true MVP style it was one last William’s turnover that saw Lightning take a 48-57 Grand Final win.