Netball Superleague: Champions Manchester Thunder make winning start

By Denise EvansBBC Sport at Arena Birmingham
Manchester Thunder against Wasps
Thunder made a positive start to the defence of their title

Manchester Thunder head coach Karen Greig said it "feels good" to open her side's Superleague title defence with victory in Birmingham.

The Black and Yellows beat Wasps 62-55 in a replay of 2019's Grand Final.

Thunder were 47-39 up at half-time and a disappointing Wasps never looked like overhauling them.

"Facing Wasps is always a tough task and it's a good way to start the season," Greig said.

Having a seven-goal cushion allowed Greig to experiment with her side, switching up her centre court and testing player combinations, something she said has given her "a headache, but a good one".

"It's exciting that we're starting to find connections," Greig said.

"We've done a lot of work with Lauren [Ngwira] on the off-season and she's working well with Emma [Dovey].

"I played my four centre-court players who can all play in different positions, same with the shooters and it's exciting to see what they can do.

"We were sloppy at times today and taking responsibility at critical moments let us down but it's a good base to start going forward."

Where Wasps were uncharacteristically sloppy in the opening exchanges, Thunder were crisp and clinical, especially in their passing and feeds into shooter Ellie Cardwell, who carried on her form from the Nations Cup with England.

The second quarter was more open, with Thunder suddenly hesitant in attack, and Wasps started to play with zip and guile.

But the Black and Yellows regained composure and took a handy six-goal buffer into half-time (31-25).

Wasps enjoyed a resurgence and roared back to within three goals in the third quarter but Thunder did not panic, with Dovey and Ngwira stifling feeds to Rachel Dunn, as Joyce Mvula, on at shooter, continued to pop them in at the other end.

In the end, Greig's side were comfortable in their victory, and a disjointed Wasps have plenty of work to do if they want to stop Thunder winning their fourth Superleague crown.

Manchester Thunder starting seven: GK Ngwira, GD Dovey, WD Malcolm, C Carter WA Neal, GA Turner, GS Cardwell

Wasps Netball starting seven: GK Knights, GD Williams, WD Flanagan, C Clarke, WA Christian, GA Harris, GS Dunn

Team Bath 72-58 Loughborough Lightning

Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath played in the penultimate match of the day, a rematch of last season's third-place play-off and once again Anna Stembridge's side comfortably came out on top.

But the result isn't a fair reflection of a gutsy performance by Lightning, who suffered an early blow when England World Cup bronze medallist Natalie Panagarry hobbled off with an injury and it proved a decisive moment.

Her added defensive vision in centre court was missed as Bath patiently worked the ball to shooter Kim Commane and they showed moments of class across court, with Mia Ritchie, now in her 11th season with the Blue and Gold, pulling the strings in centre court.

Pulse edge Sirens, Storm pip Dragons in thriller, Mavericks beat Stars

The day's opening fixture between Strathclyde Sirens and London Pulse gave snippets of quality but a scrappy first half was more indicative of new-season nerves and rustiness from last season's bottom two sides.

Neither team could force and maintain a significant lead, but Pulse's attacking calibre in centre Ashleigh Dekker, wing attack Adean Thomas and shooters Chiara Semple and Sigi Burger was the difference, as they edged the win 51-53.

There was a dramatic end to Saturday's second game, with Surrey Storm pipping Celtic Dragons 44-43.

Storm somehow pulled level for the first time in the game with five minutes to play.

Dragons' defensive duo Abby Tyrrell and player of the match Latanya Wilson had combined brilliantly to keep Storm at bay, but hesitancy in their attack in the final minutes and calm play from Storm ultimately decided a thrilling tie.

The intensity remained in Birmingham as Saracens Mavericks and Severn Stars battled it out in a physical contest packed with international experience, including England's Kadeen Corbin, Gabriella Marshall, George Fisher and Razia Quashie.

Those Roses players were key to Saracens powering into a nine-goal lead at half-time (34-25) and it was too much for Stars to pull back, last season's fifth-placed side cantering to a 70-49 win.

Netball Superleague 2020 Season Opener results:

Strathclyde Sirens 51-53 London Pulse

Celtic Dragons 43-44 Surrey Storm

Saracens Mavericks 70-49 Severn Stars

Team Bath 72-58 Loughborough Lightning

Manchester Thunder 62-55 Wasps