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Loughborough Lightning lift the Netball Super League trophy

Image: Ben Lumley

Loughborough Lightning were crowned Netball Super League Champions after coming from behind to beat London Pulse 57-48 at the Copper Box Arena.

Pulse fought hard against an experienced Lightning side but could not hold onto their early lead after being dominated in the mid-court.

It is Vic Burgess’ first title as head coach after being assistant coach during Lightning’s 2021 victory and tasting defeat in her first Grand Final at the helm last year, as Manchester Thunder claimed their fourth crown.

Lightning were ecstatic at the signal of the final claxon and attributed their win to the culture of the club in times of deep adversity.

Here are five things were learned from the Netball Super League Grand Final:

Lightning can strike twice

Lightning said they prepared for every outcome coming into this year’s Grand Final after losing Ella Clark to an ACL injury inside two minutes in last year’s final.

Vic Burgess’ squad put the woes of 2022 behind them and entered the year with a formidable mentality, stronger for the tribulations of the season just gone.

The club that has seen itself in five of the last six Netball Super League Grand Finals used all of their experience to bring home a second title in three years against a Pulse side making its maiden bow at the season showpiece.

Lightning roared back from a four-goal deficit at the end of the first quarter, with Fran Williams leading the charge with a Player of the Match performance at goal defence.

Pulse will bounce back

London Pulse have become a force to be reckoned with since their formation in 2019. Though this was their first-ever Grand Final, it certainly won’t be their last.

Sam Bird has built the youngest squad in the league and their potential is frightening.

Funmi Fadoju and Halimat Adio have one of the strongest defensive partnerships in the league, some might call it telepathic.

Fadoju alone had eight turnovers and 12 deflections across all four quarters on Sunday, proving yet again just why she is off to the Netball World Cup aged just 20 this summer, while Adio’s rapid return from injury has been nothing short of remarkable.

And more experience can only bolster this side’s title chances for next season – those deflections will turn into intercepts, and connections will get even stronger.

Make no mistake, this Pulse side will be back with a vengeance next season.

The future is bright

The Grand Final was a showcase for young talent in both squads, with Pulse sensation Berri Neil once again impressing at goal attack.

The 20-year-old has had a breakthrough season for Sam Bird’s side and earned herself Young Player of the Season as well as a place in the All Star VII, forming a terrifyingly good shooting circle with Mary Cholhok.

Her fluidity in Pulse’s goal third freed up space for teammate Olivia Tchine, 22, at shooter and their connection will be one to watch for both Pulse and the Roses for many years to come.

There is plenty of talent in defence, too, with Fadoju is already being discussed as one of, if not, the best defensive talents England has to offer.

The youngest member of Jess Thirlby’s Roses squad is certain to continue her form in South Africa next month.

Lightning’s side boasted plenty of experience, but 22-year-old Alice Harvey stepped up to the plate on Sunday at goal keeper in an absorbing battle with Tchine in the circle.

Defences win championships

The relentless attack of Lightning in the second half of their Grand Final was something to behold but their defensive work should not be ignored.

Nat Panagarry at centre put in a career-defining performance, turning over Pulse’s centre pass in the second quarter set the tone for Lightning to push on and get their just rewards.

By the second half, Williams and Harvey alongside Beth Cobden overwhelmed Pulse and dominated space all over the court.

The introduction of Cobden at half-time, who missed the majority of the season, was a pivotal moment as Lightning shut the door on Pulse, limiting them to just eight goals in the third quarter.

Cholhok and Rhea Dixon deserve plenty of praise for their work at the other end, but the defensive determination brought out all the emotion in Lightning and the pendulum swung their way because of it.

World Cup connections

London Pulse are the most represented side for England at the World Cup, and Roses fans will hope their strong season bodes well for Cape Town.

The experience of Chelsea Pitman and Jade Clarke has guided Sam Bird’s young squad to end the season as league leaders for the first time in their history.

The connections created between Tchine, Pitman, Clarke and Fadoju from attack to defence is certain to bring an added spark to the Roses this summer.

Add in Lightning’s Fran Williams and when the time comes for the finalists to merge under Jess Thirlby in less than two weeks, the result is sure to be electric.

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