Team Bath Netball will face Loughborough Lightning in the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final on Sunday.
Anna Stembridge’s Bath side, who are going in search of their first title in eight years, overcame the defending champions Manchester Thunder 41-38 at the Copper Box Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Lightning, who have never won the title, showed their firepower with an impressive 58-38 victory against Leeds Rhinos Netball
Bath and Lightning will duel for the crown on Sunday afternoon. The season-defining contest has a 5pm first centre pass and it will be shown live on Sky Sports Main Event, Action and Mix.
For the beaten finalists, third place remains on the line and they will take to court for a 3pm start. Both matches will also be streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel.
Bath bounce back to beat defending champions
Team Bath Netball overcame two challenging weeks to knock out the defending champions and book their place in Sunday’s season-defining game.
Stembridge’s outfit went into the semi-final off the back of successive defeats, the second being a 19-goal loss at the hands of Lightning. In contrast, Thunder had racked up high-scoring victories and were flying.
In the semi-final, Karen Greig’s outfit created an early three-goal run by forcing Bath to make nervy errors on their opening centre passes and coolly converting their own.
|Team Bath Netball||11||11||9||10||41|
As a trio, Laura Malcolm, Emma Dovey and Kerry Almond were making Bath work exceptionally hard around the circle edge, but Stembridge’s attackers fought their way through the pressure well.
As the first quarter progressed, Bath’s defensive-end stepped up too. Layla Guscoth shut Eleanor Cardwell out of the game and Imogen Allison worked hard on Caroline O’Hanlon.
Bath led 11-9 at the first pause and throughout a breathless second quarter, internationals thrived.
Malcolm and Allison continued to pick off turnover after turnover for their respective teams, both sets of shooters didn’t miss and Serena Guthrie showed her big-game mentality.
Speaking to Sky Sports at the pause, Dovey implored Thunder to show their ‘northern grit’ in the second half while Eboni Usoro-Brown wanted Bath to keep on attacking the contest.
And, attack it Bath did. Usoro-Brown, Guscoth and Allison continued to set the platform for their success, and their relentless pressure rattled Thunder throughout the second half.
While Bath remained as a settled unit, Thunder were forced into making changes to try and turn the game. An initial mid-court shift invigorated the defending champions early in the fourth quarter. They reeled it back to 33-32 before Bath restored their composure and charged over the line.
Lightning overpower Rhinos to keep title dream alive
Loughborough booked their return to the Superleague Grand Final with a dominant display across the second and third quarter that ended Leeds Rhinos Netball’s hopes of a remarkable title in their debut season.
After a thrilling first quarter with little between the teams, Lightning turned the screw but only after weathering a determined start from a Rhinos side that have overcome every challenge they have been faced with this season.
|Leeds Rhinos Netball||14||9||7||8||38|
Having not played since May 31 due to Covid-19 quarantine protocols, twice Dan Ryan’s team opened up a two-goal advantage in a goal-for-goal opening quarter as Sienna Rushton and Rhea Dixon settled well in the absence of Donnell Wallam, who has flown to Australia following a family bereavement.
Lightning, led by the relentless Sam May – who claimed the Player of the Match honours – stayed within touching distance in a high-scoring opener.
Defences were more than playing their part too, Vicki Oyesola starring for Rhinos and Jas Odeogberin for Lightning who forged the first significant advantage and it proved pivotal
From a one-goal deficit early in the second quarter, a blistering run – with Clark and Cholhok to the fore – saw Sara Bayman’s team into a 20-16 lead. When Dixon’s shot rolled agonisingly around the goal and out, Lightning pressed on to take a five-goal lead.
@LboroLightning defence has been relentless, asserting themselves in this game & providing their attack with plenty of scoring opportunities. Rarely give the ball away in possession. @tkeenan_ @VickiOyesola getting some good front positions and not shying away from the challenge
— Jess (@JessThirlby) June 26, 2021
The table-toppers have an ability to score at a relentless pace and they were at it throughout the final four minutes of the quarter.
Beth Cobden and Nat Panagarry joined Odeogberin in cutting off the supply to the Rhinos attacking end and allowing their own shooting circle to cash in and give them a 31-23 half-time lead.
Battle-hardened by their pursuit of top spot and big games across the final weeks, ruthless Loughborough continued to push on and by midway through the third quarter they were 15 goals to the good.
An injury to star shooter Cholhok forced a change in set-up, but with Clark pressed into the shooter bib there was little let-up from Loughborough, who maintained their double-figure lead.
At the other end, May, who announced she would be retiring at the end of the season earlier in the week, was giving Rhinos’ rapidly emerging teenage England starlet Rushton no sympathy as Leeds were kept quiet at the attacking end.
Two years on from losing their last semi-final by 20 goals to Wasps, Lightning closed in on a victory by a similar margin. Bayman took the chance to make changes as Susie Liversedge, Alice Harvey and Lucy Parize came on to see the game out.
Significantly with Sunday’s Grand Final in mind, Cholhok returned to the court as Lightning closed out a 58-38 victory and yet another final with English netball’s biggest prize again within touching distance.
Sky Sports is your home of netball. The Vitality Netball Superleague continues on Sunday, with the third-place play-off and the Grand Final live on Sky Sports Action and Mix and streamed on the Sky Sports YouTube channel from 2.45pm.