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Season Opener Review: 2024 campaign begins with a bang

Dragons and Mavericks served up a final treat at Season Opener. Photo courtesy of Ben Lumley.

Saracens Mavericks and Cardiff Dragons played out a thrilling 48-48 draw to round out a dramatic Season Opener in Nottingham.

Elsewhere, youngsters starred as Jas Brown steered Severn Stars to a 57-41 win over Leeds Rhinos before super sub Bella Baylis helped Loughborough Lightning to a 63-50 victory against Surrey Storm.

Sophie Kelly played beyond her years as Team Bath withstood a Strathclyde Sirens fightback to win 53-49 before Manchester Thunder laid down their title challenge with a suffocating 56-40 win over last season’s league leaders London Pulse.

Brown shows a glimpse of the future

In the build-up to the 2024 season, attention had been directed to the return of England legend Geva Mentor.

But it was a young defender at the other end of the court that had the biggest impact as Severn Stars defeated Mentor’s Leeds Rhinos 57-41.

Jas Brown shone for Stars with a Player-of-the-Match performance at goal keeper, producing six deflections and eight gains.

Brown’s impact was instant, turning over the first centre pass of the 2024 season as Sigi Burger converted and Stars opened up a five-point lead in the first quarter.

Rhinos grew into the game but were never able to reel in Stars, who were able to unload their bench in the final corner and stretch their advantage to 16 at full-time.

Lightning undaunted by title defence

Bella Baylis was another youngster to show her prowess on the big stage as she helped defending champions Loughborough Lightning defeat Surrey Storm 63-50.

The centre came into the game as a second-quarter replacement for injured captain Nat Panagarry while Storm were on a resurgent path.

Mikki Austin’s side had seen their skipper Amy Flanagan go off with an injury that lit a fire in them as they closed the gap to just two points at half-time.

In the third quarter, Lightning’s mid-courters turned on the pressure as Beth Cobden and Hannah Joseph combined with Baylis to power Vic Burgess’ side into a comfortable lead.

The defence then shone in the final quarter as Alice Harvey, now acting as the senior defender for Lightning, and Annabel Roddy forced errors from a faltering Storm to get their title defence off to the best possible start.

Long bombs launch Team Bath to dramatic win

Team Bath were made to work for their 53-49 win over Strathclyde Sirens but ultimately held on to taste victory.

Tash Pavelin, on her return from an ACL injury, slotted right back into life in the defensive circle, joined by young star Jayda Pechova as she produced a delightful interception in a narrow first quarter.

Bath then eked out the lead to four points at half-time before Strathclyde Sirens hit back as their connections started to click, with newcomer Sammy Ngubane impressing on her debut.

Towera Vinkhumbo delivered a customarily strong performance with seven gains and seven deflections but could not stop Sophie Kelly’s long bombs as Team Bath powered to a narrow win.

Reflecting on the win and her return, Pavelin said: “Pure grit and determination was what got us back in front, we’ve practised those moments in training so we knew what we need to do and knew we just needed to focus on ourselves.

“I was very nervous before but it felt amazing to be back out there, I have never felt more supported going back out there today from both my team and the netball community.”

Thunder lay down a marker

Hell hath no fury like a Manchester Thunder team beaten and with the fuel of last season’s bronze medal powering them, they delivered a complete performance in their 56-40 win over London Pulse.

The Northern side made a fast start with defender Shadine van der Merwe starring on her return from injury as Pulse were unable to live with Thunder’s pressure.

New signing Imogen Allison brought her England form to Nottingham as she slotted into the Thunder mid-court perfectly as Karen Greig’s side built a healthy lead.

In the final quarter, Lois Pearson continued her quietly impressive form from the 2023 season as Thunder never let up on their way to a bruising win.

Van der Merwe was named Player of the Match as she played in her first Season Opener after two injury-affected campaigns, with the South African not afraid to mix it up and disrupt Pulse’s attacks.

Draw does not disappoint

Saracens Mavericks and Cardiff Dragons may have saved the best until last they as they delivered an enthralling 48-48 draw.

2023 Player of the Season Vicki Oyesola picked up where she left off despite being part of a new team as Mavericks halted Dragons’ fast start.

The teams went goal for goal throughout much of the second quarter before Camilla Buchanan’s side moved into a four-point lead at the break.

Shooters Hannah Passmore and Georgia Rowe were near-faultless while Leah Middleton dominated in defence as Cardiff Dragons slowly closed the gap and went into the final quarter with a one-goal lead.

The two teams traded goals from each other’s centre passes with neither side able to pull away as the tension inside the Motorpoint Arena rocketed.

A stray Dragons pass found Aliyah Zaranyika in the dying seconds, but Mavericks could not convert as the first draw of the 2024 season came in the final game of the Season Opener.

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