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A general view of the action between Loughborough Lighting and Severn Stars

Scramble for top four continues in Round 6

We may only be approaching the third-way point of the season but the fight for a place in the 2017 Vitality Netball Superleague Finals weekend is already well underway.

There will be little love spared this Mother’s Day weekend as those already in a coveted top four position attempt to strengthen their hold on a semi-final spot whilst those playing catch-up look to gain some much needed momentum.

One team who have risen up the rankings in recent weeks and certainly can claim to have some momentum are Manchester Thunder.

Three wins-a-row have put the 2016 runners-up on the verge of a top four place, lying in fifth and only on goal average.

They will have to be at their best on Friday evening when they head to the Ricoh Arena and face a Wasps side who have only tasted defeat once this season.

One team looking to create some distance from themselves and the chasing pack are Team Bath. A Round 5 defeat put the team in blue and gold in a precarious position, with Thunder closing the gap.

The welcome Team Northumbria on Friday and the visitors will want to kick-start this season as they continue to scrap for their first points of the year.

On Saturday evening the Surrey Storm juggernaut looks to continue rolling when they host Celtic Dragons.

In a marked contrast between the two sides, the Welsh side head into the fixture without a win while Storm are still to taste defeat this season.

An intriguing clash takes place in Hatfield on Saturday as the Superleague’s other side with a perfect record, Loughborough Lightning travel to face Hertfordshire Mavericks.

A win for the home team will springboard them up towards the semi-final places whilst another success for Lightning will give them an ever growing advantage to the teams below.

Monday Night Netball comes from the University of Worcester on Monday as Sky Sports Mix show the battle between Severn Stars and Sirens live from 7:15pm.

The two Superleague debutants have made steady starts to their first ever campaign but Monday’s victors can start to look towards the top of the table and clinching a place at Manchester Arena in June.

Stay updated with the latest scores and news from the Vitality Netball Superleague by following the official @NetballSL twitter account.

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Round 6 fixtures

Friday 24th March:

Bath v Northumbria, 7:45pm

Wasps v Thunder, 8pm

Saturday 25th March:

Storm v Dragons, 7pm

Mavericks v Lightning, 7:30pm

Monday 27th March

Stars v Sirens, 7:30pm, LIVE on Sky Sports Mix from 7:15pm

You can stay up to date no matter where you are this season by downloading the fabulous new Vitality Netball Superleague app now!

Manchester Thunder's Liana Leota

‘Underdog tag suits Thunder’ says Greig

Manchester Thunder are set for what is expected to be one of their toughest away trips of the season, as they take on Wasps in round six of the Superleague.

League newcomers Wasps have only been beaten once this season and are among the favourites to take the title. But Thunder are a team brimming with confidence and momentum – following three wins on the bounce – including their first away from home on Monday night.

The Black and Yellows will also welcome New Zealand playmaker Liana Leota back into the squad following injury.

Despite the quick turnaround between Monday’s victory over Team Northumbria and this evening’s game, Coach Karen Greig says her charge is ready for the challenge.

Greig admits Wasps, who have former Thunder player Natalie Haythornthwaite in their ranks, will be favourites for the match.

She said: “Hey, I love being an underdog! Having that tag is actually a good thing for us as we’re a team that will get out there and fight for each other and fight for the win.

“We had a lot of work to do in the week, looking as Wasps’ strengths and weaknesses, how we can combat that and get our fourth win in a row.”

Thunder take on Wasps at the Ricoh Arena tonight, with the first centre pass at 8pm.

Follow the game on Thunder social media – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.

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Old friends lie in wait for Wasps star

Wasps Netball’s Natalie Haythornthwaite is relishing the challenge of taking on her old Manchester Thunder teammates in the Vitality Netball Superleague on Friday.

The fixture will see Tamsin Greenway’s team return to the Ricoh Arena, following a successful away trip to Severn Stars, to face last season’s Superleague finalists Manchester Thunder on Friday, 24 March (8.00pm centre-pass).

Wasps Netball have won four of their opening five games this season, with Thunder experiencing a mixed start to the season, winning three of their first five.

England international Haythornthwaite made the switch from Thunder to Wasps in September 2016 – following a season where she was honoured as Superleague Player of the Year.

The 24-year-old has operated at wing attack and goal attack so far this season for Wasps Netball and says she is looking forward to facing her old team.

She said: “They’re a great group of girls, I’m still in touch with them off the court but as soon as the whistle goes it’s game on and the only thing that matters is getting the win.

“It’s always tough to leave a team, I had a great year at Thunder but when the opportunity arose to play for Wasps and work with Tamsin, I just couldn’t turn it down.

“I’ve loved it here at Wasps so far. We’ve still got so much more potential, we know we’re not playing at our best yet, and I can’t wait to see what our best is when we get there.

“It will be a very well contested match but hopefully we’ll come out on top.”

Wasps bounced back from their first defeat with a convincing 44-65 away victory at Severn Stars last weekend.

Greenway has a full-squad at her disposal ahead of the visit of Thunder and says the Manchester team will be a good test for her team.

She was also in charge of the Surrey Storm side who broke Thunder hearts last season by beating them in the Superleague Grand Final in May.

She said: “Thunder are always a well-drilled, well-organised unit. They’ve given a lot of teams a good run for their money so far this season.

“I will be expecting a really tough, physical and confident side coming to play us. We know we will have our fans behind us at the Ricoh Arena, and they will push the team to play to the best of their ability and match any challenge Thunder bring.

“We’ve got to take it to them right from the start and really stamp our authority on the game from the first whistle.”

Once again, the Wasps Fan Village will be open pre-match, with a special Mum Zone available to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend with free prosecco, a cupcake and head and shoulder massages available on a first come first served basis.

Tickets for Wasps Netball vs Manchester Thunder on 24 March start from £10 for adults while under-10s go free, can be purchased from www.waspsnetball.co.uk/tickets.

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Thunder on top four charge

Manchester Thunder ground out a win over Team Northumbria in an eventful encounter in front of the Sky Sports cameras.

It was a physical, scrappy game which saw several players warned by the umpires for their discipline and Northumbria’s Jaydene Robinson was sent off in the final quarter.

The first half was a relatively even contest but Thunder always threatened to take the game away from the hosts after the break and a fractured final period worked in the Black and Yellows’ favour.

The victory takes them to fifth in the table, teetering below the play-off places, level on points with Team Bath.

Head coach Karen Greig was delighted with her team’s grit, and determination to take their first away win of the season.

She said: “At times it was scrappy but when we stuck to the gameplan, we played some really good netball.

“We maintained composure at times when we could have lost it  and It was good to see the girls dig in deep when Northumbria started pegging us back.

“Our changes had an impact – we brought on Sophie Morgan at half time to inject some pace as they held us up really well in the first half.

“We were solid and for the majority of the game we looked after each other.”

It was an even opening quarter with the scores locked at 14-all going into the second period.

Thunder had managed to squeeze the advantage several times but failed to push on.

There were moments of brilliance though, which boded well for the rest of the game.

A rapid Beccy Hoult combined well with Gabby Marshall, who produced a stunning lofted pass to Joyce Mvula at one point, a skill reminiscent of her idol and former Thunder centre Sara Bayman.

Mvula was finding space hard to come by in the circle as she was double-marked but that resulted in Kathryn Turner freer to take the feed.

In defence a returning Kerry Almond produced a number of her signature intercepts and her partner Emma Dovey ghosted in out of nowhere for another.

The pair were again supported superbly by Bea Skingsley whose versatility, composure and work rate won her Player of the Match for the second game running.

Thunder were forced into patient build-up play in a topsy turvy second quarter, which and although they showed glimpses of getting some momentum going, they couldn’t sustain it.

With two minutes to play before half time, Thunder started to find some joy in a congested centre court and forced a four-goal cushion as Northumbria grew frustrated.

A relentless passage of play gave Thunder a deserved five-goal lead at the break following a feisty half which saw a number of players warned for their conduct by the umpires.

Thunder scored three in succession to kick off the second half, but Northumbria still had plenty of fight left in them and clawed themselves back into the contest.

A period of scrappy– and physical play – prompted a bizarre move from umpire Gary Burgess.

He called the captains together to have a word, before they then gathered their whole on-court team into a huddle to relay the official’s message.

It seemed to spark Thunder into life as they raced into a ten-goal lead, as Northumbria’s jets started to cool.

Northumbria set their stall out in the final quarter with the first two goals but Thunder were in no mood to buy anything as they picked their opposition’s pocket to produce a succession of slick passing sequences, with the fresh legs of Dani Bloomfield – on at wing defence (Skingsley switched to keeper) – the catalyst.

But Northumbria refused to give up and again closed the gap to four, which had crept up to 11.

But once again, the ever-reliable Marshall stepped up with a timely intercept and Thunder scored four on the bounce to give themselves much-needed breathing room.

The game’s most dramatic moments came with less than five minutes to go as Burgess had seen enough and sent Robinson off for a two-minute penalty.

It effectively killed the game off and Thunder comfortably saw out the game to take their third win on the trot, 49-61.

Up next is league newcomers Wasps on Friday, who currently sit second in the league.

For more Manchester Thunder news, head to their official website.