Last weekend saw pre-season outings for a number of the Vitality Superleague sides looking to test combinations ahead of the first round of Superleague fixtures on Saturday 5th January.
Saturday (8th December) saw Manchester Thunder take on Celtic Dragons in Deeside, and Loughborough Lightning hosted another pre-season Tri tournament, this time taking on the benecos Mavervicks and new Superleague side London Pulse.
Manchester Thunder showed they're a force to be reckoned with this season, with a very convincing win against Welsh challengers Celtic Dragons. Thunder's attack started with intent, and O'Hanlon and Leota serviced Turner and Cardwell exceptionally making it difficult for the Dragons defence to limit the damage. They went into the break 20-13 up.
The game got a little scrappy in the second quarter, but both teams continued to make changes, and Thunder fans were excited to see the return of Laura Malcolm who also impressed in the WA position, showing that Thunder have a number of attacking options for the season ahead.
Thunder went into the final break 33-61 to the good.
For the final quarter, Greig gave Ally Thomas a run at goal attack and Dovey and Leota returned to the court. Thunder could have taken their foot off the pedal but they pushed on and took the win in style, 48-80.
Head Coach Karen Greig commented:
“I am really pleased, ultimately we got all 12 players out there on court as planned and were able to try many different combinations started well and started each quarter with purpose and intent.”
Down in Loughborough, the first match of the day was between Lightning and Mavericks, and the opening five minutes didn't disappoint with both teams going goal for goal. The quarters were shortened to 12 minutes, meaning both teams needed to capitalise on their chances. Mavericks proved more clinical towards the end of the quarter and went six goals ahead to lead 9-15.
Mavericks stretched further ahead in the second quarter, and went in at half time 15-27.
Lightning changed up their defence in the third quarter with Oyesola moving to WD and Roddy coming into GD. The change initially put more pressure on the Mavericks shooting circle, however they continued to press ahead leading 25-42 at the end of Q3.
With a win out of sight for Lightning, they used the opportunity to get all twelve players onto court and test new combinations. Mavericks held strong in quarter four, and took the victory 32-59.
The second game of the day was between London Pulse and benecos Mavericks, and was an evenly fought battle, with Mavericks edging ahead early on, and pushing out to a ten goal lead 21-13 at half time.
London Pulse started to fight back in the second half, however Mavericks held on to make it two wins from two, and took the win 48-40 over Pulse.
The final game saw Lightning take on Pulse, and this proved to be an interesting one for spectators, with lots of new combinations on show.
Lightning pulled away to an early lead, and seemed keen to right the wrongs of their first game, with Joseph and Harris servicing Clinton well in the circle. They ended the first quarter 15-8 up against the London side.
Pulse came back fighting in quarter two, but Oyesola and Keenan held strong in the defensive end to help Lightning maintain their lead, and they went in at half time 29-21 to the good, winning the quarter by one.
Clark and Coleman entered the shooting circle for Lightning and Clark's long range shooting was on point as she continued to sink long bombs and stretch the lead to ten early in quarter three. Once again however, Pulse fought back and reduced the lead to 36-31 going into the final quarter.
The final twelve minutes was exciting for fans with Pulse closing the gap to just four goals with one minute on the clock, but Lightning remained calm and took the win 47-42.
The 2019 Vitality Superleague starts on Saturday 5th January, with all ten teams in action on the same day at Birmingham Arena. You can buy your tickets here.
By Kate Lightfoot