Celtic Dragons 41, Team Bath 58
Celtic Dragons are intent on grabbing the attention of Vitality Netball Superleague rivals this season.
New coach Tania Hoffman has a new-look Dragons squad which has the confidence and belief of a group intent on causing a stir at the top level of netball in the UK.
There is no doubting the commitment, energy and athleticism of Dragons players, but they have to make a fair bit of progress over the coming weeks and months.
“We are a work in progress,” admitted Hoffman following their 58-41 defeat against a Serena Guthrie inspired Team Bath in the first match at Super10, a day which involved all the Superleague clubs and five matches at Arena Birmingham.
There were moments when Dragons had Bath worried, particularly when they stormed back to within three goals during the second period.
“There were some moments of brilliance from us and really showed what we’ve been working on in pre-season with our exciting new additions,” said Nia Jones.
“Team Bath are clinical. We’re not happy it’s a loss and we would have loved to build momentum for the start of the season.
“We are just going to have to be better next week.”
The next test for Dragons is against new Superleague team London Pulse next Saturday and it was clear Hoffman’s team are going to battle all the way through this season.
They have attracted players from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, England and Wales, recruiting a team capable of upsetting quite a few teams at Superleague level.
— Steve Porter (@steveporterpics) January 5, 2019
Test Bath’s dominance in this opening fixture was built on a masterclass performance by birthday girl Serena Guthrie.
The inspiration of Guthrie, an intense, highly skilled centre who celebrated her 29th birthday on Saturday, kept Bath rolling, while Imogen Allison at Wing-Defence also caught the eye.
Dragons battled. How they fought and scrapped. Stacian Facey, their new defender from Jamaica, was a powerful presence in a physical match.
Hoffman and her players, though, will work on momentary lapses which let them down.
There are signs, though, that Dragons are going to unsettle opposing teams this season. This looks likely to be their best Superleague season for some time.
Bath had the better shooting percentage in their clash with Dragons, while the team from Somerset produced a phenomenal number of interceptions.
Dragons were at their best when they stormed back into the match, clawing back a deficit to move within three goals. From that high, though, the Welsh team faded, allowing Bath to regain control.
There were some tough calls for Hoffman, who is still without two of her wing-attacks and had to start with Kyra Jones in that position and Nia Jones at centre.
Dragons mixed it up by sending on Abigail Tyrrell at goal-defence, moving Nia Jones to WD and Kyra Jones to centre. Alisi Nawele went in at WA.
There were, without doubt, signs that Dragons’ new-look squad is settling fast. They are no longer a team struggling to compete with the leading clubs.
Captain Nia Jones and her team are not going to win the title this season, but they are set to ruffle a few feathers in 2019 and keep building from there.
Quarter scores v Team Bath (Dragons first): 12-19; 6-12 (18-31), 11-14 (29-45), 12-13 (41-58).
Starting seven: GK Stacian Facey, GD Dee Bakakoro, WD Lucy Howells, C Nia Jones, WA Kyra Jones, GA Kalifa McCollin, GS Chelsea Lewis. Replacements: Abigail Tyrrell, Lucy Herdman, Alisi Nawele, Eleanor Roberts, Lydia Hitchings
Starting seven: GK Summer Atman, GD Eboni Usoro-Brown, WD Imogen Allison, C Serena Guthrie, WA Rachel Shaw, GA Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, GS Kim Commane. Replacements: Charlotte Curtis, Beryl Friday, Mia Ritchie, Laura Rudland, Leila Thomas.
Wasps 72, Loughborough Lightning 42
Tamsin Moala and Rachel Dunn were outstanding for Wasps, who won three of the four quarters.
Lightning hit back in the second, biut could not stay with a Wasps team who have been crowned champions for the last two seasons.
Wasps opened their title defence with a resounding win against Lightning in a re-match of last season’s Grand Final.
The two-time champions pulled away from their Midlands rivals in the third-quarter courtesy of a clinical shooting display from Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris.
It marked Mel Mansfield’s first Vitality Netball Superleague fixture as head coach of Wasps.
— Steve Porter (@steveporterpics) January 5, 2019
Her team are ready to challenge for an unheralded third successive title and she said: “It was great to be able to get ten players out there too. I was impressed with Katie Harris, she really starred for us. She has great height and is lethal on the shot.
“We’ve worked really hard to be in the best shape possible to start the season and that showed in the final quarter. We didn’t take our foot off the pedal and played at full-pace right to the end.”
Quarter scores (Wasps first): 20-10; 11-13 (31-23); 19-9 (50-32); 22-10 (72-42).
Starting seven: GK Josie Huckle, GD Hannah Knights, WD Amy Flanagan, C Jade Clarke, WA Sophia Candappa, GA Katie Harris, GS Rachel Dunn.
Starting seven: GS Amy Clinton, GA Ella Clark, WA Hannah Joseph, C Nat Panagarry (capt), WD Emily Hollingworth, GD Vicki Oyesola, GK Tuaine Keenan.
Manchester Thunder 58, Saracens Mavericks 51
Thunder set off to a flying start at the Arena Birmingham in the final fixture of the Super10 opening day of the season.
There was plenty of shooting on show at both ends of the court with Thunder’s trusty attacking duo Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula under the post.
— Dee Bolakoro (@BolakoroDee) January 6, 2019
The combination of Kadeen and Sasha Corbin along with shooter George Fisher proved a success as Mavericks kept pace with Thunder through the first quarter.
But Thunder’s defensive quality in Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey emerged in the second quarter with the Corbin sisters unable to find the right combinations to get past Thunder’s defensive wall.
Almond’s numerous interceptions proved crucial throughout the second quarter, squashing any Mavericks attempt to get the ball in the D.
By the final quarter Thunder had put to bed any chance of a Mavs comeback. Mvula and Turner remained calm when shooting under pressure and the Corbin sisters struggled to get into the game and make an impact.
Some excellent shooting from Mavs’ George Fisher aside, Thunder largely dominated the ball and were able to turn over the ball.
Player of the match Kerry Almond gave an outstanding defensive performance Her presence in the D and interceptions at vital moments proved crucial.
Starting seven: Almond GK Dovey GD Malcolm WD O’Hanlon C Leota WA Turner GA Mvula GS. Bench: Airey, Cardwell, Carter, Hall, Kindred
Starting starting seven: Trip GK Keable GD Drayne WD S Corbin WA B Corbin GA Fisher GS. Bench: Bailey, Collard, Lees, Mccalla, Quashie.
Strathclyde Sirens 56, Surrey Storm 38
Surrey’s Storm struggled to compete with Sirens’ Cat Tuivaiti’s crowd-pleasing tricks and flicks in the shooting circle as the shooter couldn’t seem to miss a shot.
With South African players Sigi Burger and Shadine Van Der Merwe unavailable on international duty, Storm arrived in Birmingham with a shorter line-up than hoped and suffered from early season nerves as the young side couldn’t get above a disappointing 67% shooting percentage.
After a close opening period, Sirens got into their stride and stretched in front, taking a 12-6 lead into the second quarter.
Despite some rapid attacking ball movement through the court from Mikki Austin and Yaz Parsons to the edge of the circle, Storm couldn’t convert the work from the centre third into goals and headed to the dressing rooms at half-time with an 11-goal deficit and all the work to do.
Sirens picked up where they left off in the third quarter with a combination of brilliant pressure, quality through court play and accurate shooting.
The second half saw some positive defensive work from Storm captain Katy Hughes and Lorraine Kowalewska as they tried to keep Tuaviti at bay, earning several turnovers, but to little avail.
The final quarter was the opportunity for Storm’s younger players to get a run out on court as Laura Morton, Alima Priest and Jessica Dale all made their official VNSL debuts.
London Pulse 51, Severn Stars 49
In a game dominated by the defence and some disjointed mid-court play, match three saw a battle between the newly formed London Pulse and a rejigged Severn Stars.
Both teams fielded starting sevens with a mix of youth and experience.
Caerleon’s Georgia Rowe missed from close range to give Pulse the chance to pull ahead. Chiara Semple held her nerve to score and a converted centre pass as Pulse snatched a 51-49 win.
“We had a really great start and showed the crowd and the world what Pulse Netball is all about,” said Semple.