Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Netball Super League 2024: Loughborough Lightning beat Manchester Thunder in final

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Loughborough Lightning beat four-time champions Manchester Thunder 70-54 to win a second consecutive Netball Super League (NSL) title at Resorts World Arena in Birmingham.

Thunder struggled to recover from a slow start as Lightning dominated a thrilling final, leading from start to finish to secure their third title.

At the final whistle Lightning’s players hugged each other and danced with the crowd of more than 8,000, a record for a Super League Grand Final.

It is the first time a team has won consecutive titles since Surrey Storm in 2015 and 2016.

This was the last season of the NSL in its current guise as it relaunches in 2025, in a move towards professionalisation.

Thunder beat Lightning in the 2022 Grand Final and it was clear Vic Burgess’ side had done their homework on the Manchester side, to avenge the defeat which gave Thunder a fourth title.

Thunder started poorly and some sloppy play and wayward passing left them trailing by six after just nine minutes.

But defensive pair Shadine van der Merwe and Josie Huckle combined well to close the gap to two after the opening quarter.

The introduction of South Africa shooter Elmere van der Berg immediately provided a smoother path to goal for Thunder, but Lightning were slick in attack.

Rhea Dixon and Mary Cholhok, the league’s top goal scorer, provided outlets for the defending champions to take a 33-27 lead at half-time.

Lightning continued to build their lead in the third quarter and, trailing by 10, Thunder head coach Karen Greig made changes before the match turned scrappy.

Lightning captain Natalie Panagarry was suspended for two minutes for catching Thunder defender Ella Bowen on the head but Thunder failed to capitalise on having an extra player.

The only defeat Thunder had tasted during the regular season came against Lightning and Greig delivered a rousing team talk before the final period, urging her players to “show how much they want it”.

But a seven-goal deficit proved too much as Lightning seemed to win every ball and forced errors from Thunder.

Dixon led from the front, missing just one of her 20 shots, while Panagarry provided the engine in mid-court and Beth Cobden, who missed most of last season through injury, was a solid presence at wing defence.

Thunder had finished top of the league with just one defeat all season but victory for Lightning means they will enter the new phase of elite netball in the UK as champions.

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