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Lightning edge Thunder to seal Grand Final return

Loughborough Lightning secured their place in a third successive Netball Super League Grand Final with an impressive home display, defeating last year’s champions Manchester Thunder 65-59. 

In a repeat of the 2022 NSL final, Lightning took an early lead at the Sir David Wallace Arena before the defending champions hit back to hold a one-goal advantage at the break.

Like London Pulse in the earlier semi-final, Lightning turned up the dial in the third quarter to pull away from Thunder before closing out the final 15 minutes to book their place in the Grand Final on Sunday.

The visitors got the game underway with the first centre pass but saw the ball immediately turned over after a brilliant read from Jas Odeogberin.

Hannah Joseph was her usual combative self and found Rhea Dixon in space consistently to stretch Lightning’s lead.

Manchester Thunder made an immediate response through Lenize Potgieter who found good space under the post and converted clinically.

The Thunder defence continued to make life difficult for Mary Cholhok to find and hold space under the post as Lightning responded through the versatility and dynamism of Dixon.

An end-to-end quarter finished with great sustained defensive pressure from Alice Harvey, which led to a flying interception from Fran Williams to take Lighting into the first break leading 17-14.

Thunder came out the blocks quickly in the second quarter, forcing Lightning errors through the middle, eventually taking the lead in the game, with Lightning working hard to stay in the game through patient play around the attacking circle.

Possession went back and forth as experienced mid-courters Nat Panagarry and Joseph continued to find attacking options for this year’s top scorer Cholhok who levelled the score for Lightning.

Thunder took a narrow lead heading into half-time meaning it was anyone’s game for the taking heading into the final two quarters.

Head coach Vic Burgess made her first substitution of the game bringing on experienced Beth Cobden in place of Odeogberin.

It was Thunder who made the brighter start to the quarter following an interception in the mid-court after a long, forced pass by Lightning.

Lightning maintained their cool and kept the game going goal-for-goal. Another tweak to the defensive circle for Lighting saw Zan Vimbela replace Harvey at goal keeper, but it was an interception from Panagarry that changed the flow of the game completely.

Cholhok also found her rhythm and provided the Lightning fans with her beloved trademark lay-up to extend Lightning’s lead.

Cobden then got in on the act with a great defensive tip to set Lightning away to extend their lead.

It was a battle of the noise with both sets of supporters chanting loudly for their respective team in the final quarter.

Lightning’s defensive pair, Vimbela and Williams who were relentlessly making tips and interceptions to set Lightning off on their attacks.

Thunder struggled to respond to Lightning’s relentless pressure and Loughborough continued to flourish in attack.

The crowd raised their volume an extra notch during the final minutes as Lightning continued with their patient play around the circle through Dixon, Joseph and Panagarry.

It was a fitting end as the ball was fed to Cholhok right under the post and she saw Lightning take the win with a magnificent trademark lay-up.

The Sir David Wallace Arena erupted in celebration for Lightning who came away winners after a performance to be proud of.

Report supplied by Loughborough Lightning.

The Netball Super League Grand Final is being shown live on Sky Sports Arena and YouTube from 1.45pm on Sunday 11 June.

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