Last year’s bottom franchise London Pulse got off to a winning start, beating Strathclyde Sirens as the Vitality Netball Superleague season got under way in Birmingham.
Despite the slightly controversial nature of the opening round of fixtures – an extra game brought into the schedules for all ten teams – a sold out Arena Birmingham was treated to a couple of early thrillers between four teams out to improve on their 2019 campaigns.
Pulse got the better of the team that finished one place above them last season, edging out Sirens 53-51, and it was the same story in the second game with Surrey Storm, eighth last season, grabbing a last-gasp 44-43 win having trailed Celtic Dragons throughout.
- Round Two fixtures
- Updated Vitality Superleague standings
Season Opener – Saturday’s results
Shooting circle crucial as Pulse claim victory
Two of Sirens three wins last season came against Pulse, but the team from the capital got their revenge as South Africa shooter Sigi Burger proved to be the deciding factor in a hard-fought victory.
After an impressive first season in the Superleague with Surrey Storm, Burger switched to the pink of Pulse and her performance under the posts will thrill new coach Sam Bird as the team look to improve on their debut campaign.
Sirens are also under new leadership, Lesley MacDonald taking charge, and there was plenty to impress her as Scotland’s only franchise stayed in touch throughout – despite being without talented teenage shooter Emma Barrie.
Shooting proved to be Sirens problem last year and while they improved in their volume, MacDonald will be keen to see the final third improve their conversion rate as missed opportunities allowed Pulse to turn a one-goal first quarter advantage into three by half-time.
Burger’s fellow Protea Zanele Vimbela was electric in defence on her Sirens debut, showing her excellent elevation and going on to secure Player of the Match honours. But the problem was in attack. After three-quarters Sirens had created 11 more opportunities to score than their opponents but trailed by four.
With little between the two in the closing 15 minutes Pulse did enough to keep Sirens at arm’s length and put a five-game losing stretch to the end of 2019 behind them by closing out a keenly-contested affair with a two-goal victory.
Lots to be positive about for @Pulse_Netball and @SirensNetball in their first hit out for the season! Great coaching from Sam Bird too, well timed changes and great impact by her players. Exciting young group! @NetballSL @SkyNetball #Super10
Up Next – Last year Pulse won their opener in January but didn’t win again until April, they travel to Storm in front of the Sky Sports cameras in Round Two hoping this season’s wait it isn’t as long.
Sirens are also on the road again, heading south from Glasgow to face last year’s beaten semi-finalists Loughborough Lighting in the hope of ending their losing run.
- Netball on Sky Sports
- ‘We won’t be finishing bottom this season’ – Pulse
Storm dig deep to edge victory
Two-time Superleague champions Surrey Storm somehow found a way to squeeze a victory out of their game with Celtic Dragons to scramble over the line for a 44-43 success.
Dragons did the double over Storm last year, on the way to their best season since 2016, and they looked good value for another win by settling fast and opening up an early advantage after an impressive first quarter.
With a three-goal lead, Dragons played with bags of confidence while Mikki Austin’s Storm struggled to find any rhythm and it was the team from Wales that went on to extend their lead to five by half-time.
Defences continued to hold the upper hand, but Storm’s off-season recruit Karyn Bailey was beginning to grow into the game and while it was honours even during the third quarter the warning signs were there for Dragons.
Bailey chipped away at the five-goal deficit in the final quarter, and with four minutes left levelled the contest for the first time since the opening 15 minutes and then put her side 42-41 in front with just three minutes remaining.
A nail-biting conclusion saw neither side able to force a game-deciding turnover and they split the final four goals of the match to Storm to clinch the narrowest of victories.
Hey there @KarynLBailey ?
Entrance… [email protected] | @NetballSL
? Sky Sports Arena
YouTube: https://t.co/WzXRwqz9F5#VNSL2020 pic.twitter.com/quuwtBRewa
Up Next – Storm return to Surrey Sports Park for the second round of Superleague action when they take on Sirens on Monday, both teams looking to take the opportunity for a first win of the season.
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