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The Time Is Now for the Final Four

The time is now to crown the 2023 Netball Super League champions, as four sides battle it out to add their name to the history books across Grand Final weekend.

Friday night is semi-final night as London Pulse host Surrey Storm at the Copper Box Arena in a local grudge match before the 2022 finalists meet in the Midlands with Loughborough Lightning take on reigning champions Manchester Thunder.

Only two can prevail from these titanic tussles, with the netball world then descending on the sold-out Copper Box on Sunday for the Grand Final.

Leading the way are table-toppers London Pulse, young pretenders no more after a season that saw just two defeats for Sam Bird’s side.

A fourth-placed finish last season displayed the plentiful potential at Bird’s disposal, in tandem with a rawness that inevitably comes with youth.

But there has been a new ruthless cutting edge to their game this season, with the additions of experienced England pair Chelsea Pitman and Jade Clarke complementing the frightful young talent at both ends of the court such as Funmi Fadoju and Olivia Tchine.

It has all added up to Pulse reaching the regular season summit with a match to spare, and a number of games where Bird has had the comfort of emptying her entire bench, in turn demonstrating scarily impressive depth.

In their way of a first-ever Grand Final appearance stand Surrey Storm, who return to the Grand Final for the first time in seven years.

That they have done so this season is no surprise to those who watched player-coach Mikki Austin’s recruitment, as she brought in Player of the Season Layla Guscoth and Vitality Rose Sophie Drakeford-Lewis from Team Bath, while veterans of Storm’s back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 Hannah Knights and Amy Flanagan returned.

A rapid start to the season saw Storm win five from five and sit top before their run was brought to a halt by their semi-final opponents.

The double for Pulse was then achieved in April, meaning Storm will hope it is third time lucky against a side who have had their number so far this season.

They will have to do so without the services of star shooter Proscovia Peace who is absent with injury, meaning eyes will turn to Drakeford-Lewis to star in the circle alongside either Francesca Wells or Sienna Rushton.

How those relatively nascent connections fare compared to the well-oiled Pulse machine of Tchine and Berri Neil could well be decisive.

The other semi-final sees a repeat of last season’s Grand Final, as Loughborough Lightning welcome Manchester Thunder to the David Wallace Sports Hall.

If it is difficult to separate Pulse and Storm, the task is even more arduous here with just goal difference splitting the sides in the regular season.

Both clubs also bring a win each from their regular-season meetings, with Thunder earning a home win in March before Lightning finally got their first win in eight attempts against their rivals nearly two months later.

For Thunder, the prize is a place amongst an elite club of sides that have won back-to-back titles.

Only Team Bath, Surrey Storm, and Wasps have ever successfully defended their crown, with Wasps the last to do so in 2018 and if Karen Greig’s side are to join them, they will have done it with two very different squads.

Following an unbeaten 2022, high-profile departures such as Eleanor Cardwell followed for Thunder, with Greig rebuilding with young talent reared in the North West pathway alongside a sprinkling of South African stardust in the form of Lenize Potgieter.

While the possibility of a second unbeaten season was swiftly removed by Storm, Thunder have gelled quickly despite a number of injuries, with young stars such as Lois Pearson and Amy Carter stepping up to the plate alongside the calming constants of Kerry Almond and Nat Metcalf.

Their first obstacle is a familiar one in the form of Loughborough Lightning, with Friday’s second semi-final a repeat of last year’s Grand Final.

Thunder ran out comfortable winners that day despite a stoic late Lightning fightback, but Vic Burgess’ side are stronger for the experience and have now finally broken their dismal streak against Thunder.

Defender Fran Williams has been one of the standout performers in the league this season, and in Mary Cholhok Lightning boast the league’s top scorer, while the mid-court pairing of Nat Panagarry and Hannah Joseph have looked revitalised in their pursuit to reclaim the title they won two years ago.

While both results are uncertain, there is one thing for sure, you do not want to miss it.

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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