The inaugural Vitality Netball Superleague Super Saturday saw over 7,500 fans make their way to the Genting Arena, Birmingham for an action packed day of netball as the 2016 season started with a bang.
With all eight franchises starting their campaign on one day at the same venue, anticipation was high as the impressive venue started to fill in the early afternoon.
First up were the 2015 runners-up, Hertfordshire Mavericks and they were to meet the second placed side from 2013, Celtic Dragons.
Both teams were featuring new faces and it was one of these debutants who quickly caught the eye.
Trinidad & Tobago international Sammy Wallace found herself quickly in the groove as she accurately made shots from around the circle. Her sharp shooting pushed Mavericks 32-13 ahead at the half-time interval.
Another new arrival impressing in the black and purple was kiwi star Joline Johansson, her clever work in the centre bib was allowing Mavericks to extend the lead and seal the game.
Changes to the defensive end did provide some encouraging signs for the Dragons as the Welsh side refused to roll over but the early damage had proved too costly and Mavericks were able to wrap-up a 60-39 victory.
The next set of Superheroes on court were Loughborough Lightning and Yorkshire Jets.
It was an off-season of change for the two franchises and Lightning were able to show why they are being rated as title contenders by many with an emphatic 65-34 win.
Fresh from her heroics with the England team, Ama Agbeze led her side from the back with a sparkling performance. At the other end of the court, Peace Proscovia showed just why she is so highly regarded by Karen Atkinson’s side.
It was a case of attacking struggles for the visiting team from Yorkshire. The defensive unit were working relentlessly, led by new captain Stacey Francis but they were unable to convert chances in the final third.
Another one off the pre-season favourites were on court next as Manchester Thunder faced off against Team Northumbria.
Once again these were two sides who had made significant changes to their team from last season. Thunder handed debuts to Liana Leota, Malysha Kelly and Natalie Haythornthwaite. Northumbria had Nicole Dixon, Shanice Beckford and Lynsey Armitage to call upon.
A tentative start from Thunder saw them pegged back to a one goal lead midway through the second quarter as the new look Northumbria side impressed in the mid-court.
The crowd found its voice as a flurry of intercepts had them on their feet. This was the closest encounter of the day so far and it was being well appreciated.
New Thunder head coach Dan Ryan made the changes for the second half and Helen Housby was able to inspire her side to a decisive surge. Eventually the team black and yellow were able to see out a 59-37 success.
Arguably the most highly anticipated match of Super Saturday was saved for last. Five times Superleague winners Team Bath, taking on reigning champions Surrey Storm. They didn’t disappoint.
It was a fantastic start to the game with both sides linking brilliantly in the final third, young English players Rachel Shaw and Georgie Lees both impressing at WA. At the end of the opening fifteen minutes, Storm edged into a 14-11 lead.
The momentum was with the team from London and they continued their fine run as the defensive duo of Katy Holland and Hannah Reid stemmed the flow of Bath attacks. At half-time the advantage had grown to 26-17.
It was a professional display by Storm and in the third set of fifteen minutes; they continued to keep Bath at arms-length, with the gap remaining at nine for much of the quarter.
A great rebound from Karla Mostert helped to start a move which reduced the gap to eight, 30-38 with the final quarter remaining.
That spark proved pivotal. Chelsea Lewis was now in command of the shooting circle for Bath and within moments the lead was down to four.
The pressure was telling and suddenly a nine goal run had Anna Stembridge’s team in the lead. A shell shocked Storm fought back but their accuracy in the circle had disappeared.
A sensational ten minutes had completely turned the game on its head and the vocal Bath following were able to roar their delight as the final whistle signalled an incredible 47-44 win.
If the rest of the season matches up to the intensity, quality and atmosphere of Super Saturday, a thrilling three months lie in wait.