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Manchester Thunder make an emphatic start to their title defence

Blink and you will miss it: Round 5 is on the way and with it, a quarter of the season will be done and dusted.

It might have felt like just yesterday that the Season Opener kick-started the season in style, but there has been plenty of enthralling action since then that leaves just two teams remaining unbeaten, and all teams vying for precious points.

That won’t change this weekend, where a full slate of fixtures includes a replay of last year’s Grand Final and Storm head to the capital looking to keep their place at the top. Here are five things to keep an eye on.

Grand Finalists meet again

Nine months on from their titanic battle at the Copper Box, Manchester Thunder and Loughborough Lightning go to head-to-head once more.

This time, however, it’s Lightning that boast the unbeaten record having blitzed their opening four matches while Thunder’s 23-match record was brought to a halt by Storm.

Fran Williams has been the standout star for Lightning, earning three Player of the Match awards in a row and will be hoping to make it four.

She will have to deal with the threat of Lois Pearson, who shone in a Player of the Match performance last weekend as Thunder bounced back with an impressive 58-51 victory over London Pulse.

Last year’s Grand Final also saw Lightning youngster Emma Thacker thrust into the limelight, and the 19-year-old has picked up this season where she left off, shining in the shooting circle with the inimitable Mary Cholhok, but will have toShadine van der Merwe.

Mavericks and Dragons looking to bounce back

Both Saracens Mavericks and Celtic Dragons have performed well against sides looking to challenge at the top of the table, but both will be disappointed with just one win each from their opening four fixtures.

Mavericks were leading unbeaten Surrey Storm at half-time after a stunning second quarter but were eventually reeled in by the relentless league leaders.

Dragons too put in strong showings against Thunder and Lightning to open their season before picking up an important win versus Team Bath, only to be comfortably defeated by Severn Stars.

It sets up an intriguing encounter in Hertfordshire, with both sides likely to have this circled this match as one that is eminently winnable.

With neither yet to really get their season up and running, Saturday could be the perfect time to do just that.

Rhinos hunting for first win

New-look Leeds Rhinos are still looking for their first win of the 2023 season but will have their eyes on putting that right in Glasgow on Saturday against Strathclyde Sirens.

Rhinos have shown plenty of promise in their opening three matches despite coming away with nothing, but it will be no easy feat to beat a Sirens side who beat Stars and impressed in defeat to Storm.

All eyes will be on the midcourt in this one, where Elle McDonald and Beth Dix will be looking to dictate the play for their sides.

McDonald has 61 feeds this season, an average of over 20 a game, while Dix has 77 in her four matches, and both will be looking to provide regular service to the shooting circle.

With the likes of Caroline O’Hanlon, Nia Jones, Abi Robson, and Claire Maxwell also set to get involved, this one won’t be one to miss.

Pulse face the eye of the Storm

London Pulse know the best way to respond to defeat to Thunder last weekend will be to end Surrey Storm’s unbeaten start to the season.

Pulse’s own winning start came to an end at the hands of the reigning champions Thunder in front of a sold-out Copper Box, but Sam Bird took plenty of positives from their performance.

She said: “I’m proud of the resilience the team showed to win the second half.

“I want to send a huge shout out to the biggest crowd we’ve had at a Pulse home game. They were amazing and I’m so excited to play more and more games in that phenomenal atmosphere.”

They will need the crowd to get behind them to help stop Mikki Austin’s Storm, who currently sit pretty at the summit with five wins from five.

It has not all been plain-sailing though, with Mavericks showing it is possible to go toe-to-toe with them – and Pulse will certainly have been watching.

Stars out to 2022 tally

Severn Stars won just three games in 2022 but could already reach that number for the 2023 season by Round 5.

Jo Trip’s side have already notched two wins this term, following up a 59-55 win over Mavericks at the Season Opener with a 61-40 win over Dragons alongside defeats to Storm, Sirens, and Pulse.

Much of that success has been driven by South African shooter Sigi Burger, whose 208 goals so far this season is just two behind league leader Proscovia Peace.

Burger will be up against Bath hotshot Jayda Pechova, who has made a big impression in her opening four games.

The 18-year-old’s 15 intercepts are second only to Fran Williams, while 23 turnovers puts her in the company of Layla Guscoth and Shaquanda Greene-Noel.

Pechova will face a mighty battle against Burger, while there will also be eyes on young shooters Lily Smith and Sophie Kelly in each circle.

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