History repeats as Lightning strikes Thunder to rule all again

THE Loughborough Lightning are back-to-back champions of the Netball Super League for the first time in their history, after defeating Manchester Thunder 70-54 in this morning’s grand final.

The match started much tighter than the final score would suggest, but as the match progressed the Lightning grew in confidence and really blew it open in the second half, particularly the final quarter.

Player of the Match honours went to Rhea Dixon, who finished with 95 per cent shooting accuracy, 20 feeds, two rebounds, two deflections and one gain in her side’s win.

Unusually simple errors from the Thunder really cost them early as the Lightning quickly shot out to a two-goal lead. Natalie Panagarry was a woman on a mission as Mary Cholhok was on fire and proving really difficult to match up on.

That lead kept growing as the errors piled up and the Lightning defenders took their chances better than their Thunder counterparts. This saw the Lightning begin to play with real confidence as their arguably more fancied opponents were really on the back foot.

However as the quarter ticked down into its final minutes, everything finally started to click for the Thunder. Josie Huckle started to pick up some crucial defensive turnovers, as up the other end the introduction of Elmere van der Berg gave the Thunder a much needed focal point in the shooting circle.

From a quarter high of six goals in the Lightning’s favour, the margin at quarter time ultimately sat at two in their favour.

The match remained tight in the opening third of the second term as the teams traded blows and it was so tight that even the smallest errors were going to get properly punished. That moment eventually came when Huckle capitalised on a wayward pass in the Lightning circle to send the ball down the other end and finally level the game up for those in yellow.

However, just as the game started to look like the Thunder were going to finally take control of the game, the Lightning pulled off a defensive turnover of their own and quickly re-established their two-goal buffer.

As the quarter progressed into its final few minutes, Alice Harvey’s influence on the game really started to lift, and Dixon and Cholhok rewarded her efforts up the other end and as such the Lightning lead finally started to properly grow.

As the half-time siren went, the Lightning’s lead was at six goals.

Lightning maintained their momentum early in the third term, and did not take too long to grow their margin out to double digits. It forced the Thunder to make some massive changes to their line-up, really changing things up in the hope of changing up their fortunes.

But, no matter what the Thunder tried they just could not get that deficit down.

However, the contest did take a turn with only a couple of minutes to go when Panagarry picked up a two-minute suspension for a big clash with Ella Bowen, sending the Lightning down to six players. The Thunder made a dent in the deficit during Panagarry’s absence, but it was not more than a couple of goals.

With one final goal from Paige Reed, the margin sat at seven goals in the Lightning’s favour heading into the final term. It did not get any better for the Thunder from there. The Lightning continued to grow in confidence and momentum in the final quarter, shooting 21 goals to 12 in the final quarter to ultimately run away with the win.

MANCHESTER THUNDER 12 | 15 | 15 | 12 (54)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 14 | 19 | 16 | 21 (70)

Player of the Match: Rhea Dixon (Loughborough Lightning)

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