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Elite Netball is back with a bang for 2024!

All 10 Netball Super League franchises came to Nottingham last Saturday for their opening match of the NSL. All teams had both new signings and old faces and this season looks to be as competitive as ever.

First up was Severn Stars against Leeds Rhinos. The latter had recently recruited England legend Geva Mentor, who was surely a morale boost for the side who finished seventh in 2023. Severn Stars came just above them last season, but with a 2023 champion Suzie Liverseidge at GA to back up the South African shooter Sigrid Burger, they looked up to the challenge. On paper, both teams were relatively even, with Stars just having the edge. On court, this edge became a gap as Rhinos struggled to cope defensively, allowing Stars to gain depth down the court quickly, giving the circle defence too much work to do by themselves. The side from Worcester will be the happiest as they took the win 57-41, but both sides will take learnings from their opening match.

In the second match of the day, reigning champions Loughborough Lightning faced Surrey Storm, who also made the final four last season. Lightning had lost some players in the transfer window, but the key talent was there in England’s Nat Panagary, Beth Cobden, Alice Harvey and Hannah Williams, not forgetting Ugandan star shooter Mary Cholhok. On the opposing side, Storm had coach-player Mikki Austin, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Amy Flanagan. Unfortunately for both sides, we hadn’t even reached half-time before captain Flanagan ruptured her Achilles and Panagary, Lightning’s long-serving captain, also came off injured. As play resumed, Loughborough were lightning down the court, seemingly in full flow from last season’s victory. Storm did capitalise on some hesitant balls into Cholhok and reduced the deficit, but in the end the game finished 63-50 to Lightning.

Slap bang in the middle of the netballing madness was Team Bath versus Strathclyde Sirens. Having finished second to bottom last year, Bath were looking to move upwards this season and their campaign is off to a positive start after a hard-fought win against the Scottish side 53-49. Former England international, who represented Barbados at the most recent World Cup in Cape Town, was integral to the win with some lovely work in the attacking end. Strathclyde proved a mighty challenge for Bath though- the lead was passed back and forth between the two teams until Bath pulled away in the second half of the final quarter. Looking at the opposition, neither team should expect to be in the final four, but they could certainly challenge for higher than last year!

As the sun moved westwards in the sky and the sky darkened, the arena was still buzzing with life. The 2023 bronze medallists took on the silver medallists London Pulse in what was arguably the most eye-catching battle of the day- on paper, at least. In reality, the youth of Pulse struggled against the experience of Thunder. Despite the exciting talent of Funmi Fadoju providing the team from the capital with plenty of intercepts and turnovers, they just couldn’t capitalise on this, travelling down the court at such pace that they couldn’t keep up with themselves. Thunder, who are consistently final four favourites, punished them for it. Stacked with a wealth of experience in Imogen Allison, Kerry Almond and Natalie Metcalf, they opened out a lead on Pulse and gained a momentum that couldn’t be stopped. Final score: Manchester Thunder 56-40 London Pulse.

Dragons and Mavericks at the Netball Superleague kick-off

Dragons and Mavericks at Season Opener. Photo credit: Ben Lumley.

Finally, newly branded Cardiff Dragons played Saracens Mavericks. After finishing bottom of the table last season with only seven points, Dragons have been through a rebrand and have notably signed former captain Nia Jones, who also captained Wales to ninth place at the World Cup. It was an end-to-end game throughout, with the Mavericks coach frustrated with their feeds into Emma Thacker, another previous champion who left Loughborough for some more time on court last season. The game had a thrilling ending, with Saracens looking to convert a turnover with ten seconds left, only to throw the ball off court to end the encounter all square. Dragons debutant Hannah Passmore received player of the match as both teams went home with a point.

You can catch the NSL action throughout the season on Youtube, Sky Sports and BBC Sport.

Additionally, if you want to hear more from me, you can head over to @tash_talker1 on Instagram to find my viewpoints and predictions!

By Natasha Callis

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