Team Bath and Saracens Mavericks are the early pacesetters as the Vitality Netball Superleague returned with a bang in Wakefield.
After the 2020 season was cancelled with just four rounds played due to the coronavirus outbreak, anticipation was high ahead of the beginning of the 11-team competition and the on-court action did not disappoint.
Five-time champions Bath and two-time winners Mavericks have set their stall out early with two wins from two while Loughborough Lightning and Wasps duked it out in a thrilling encounter on the opening weekend of competition.
Bath, widely tipped to be major contenders after winning all three of their opening fixtures before the league was suspended last year, got their season up and running with a routine 61-29 win over Celtic Dragons.
Anna Stembridge's side quickly found their groove, with England co-captain Serena Guthrie particularly impressing while Betsy Creak netted 22 goals and there was an encouraging performance for Eboni Usoro-Brown, making her return to court for the first time since giving birth.
Then, on Sunday, Bath impressively edged out their old rivals Lightning 48-44 with Guthrie again outstanding as a second-half push proved pivotal, the scores having been tied at 25-25 at the break.
“We were expecting it to be a really competitive game and it was good to see us get put under that kind of pressure, stick to the task and come out with the win,” Stembridge said.
“The changes we made had such a positive impact again, which was pleasing to see, and we are obviously delighted to finish the weekend with two wins.”
Picture perfect 🖼️
Check out a selection of the best images snapped at Production Park Studio 001 last weekend 📸
All the biggest moments caught on camera 🙌
— Vitality Netball Superleague (@NetballSL) February 16, 2021
Mavericks are keeping pace with Bath so far though after victories over Surrey Storm and Leeds Rhinos.
An impressive 54-40 win over Storm was spearheaded by the goal shooting efforts of Kadeen Corbin, who registered 25 from 27 attempts.
Then, they returned on Monday to edge a determined debutant Rhinos 43-39, who lost Fi Toner, Donnell Wallam and Tuaine Keenan all to injury during the contest but still managed to hang in the contest.
Just two points separated the teams throughout most of the game but, ultimately, Saracens had just enough in the tank to see out the win.
On the same day Lightning and Wasps, sides with one victory apiece from their two games so far, contested a 77-goal thriller decided by just the one in the end.
Wasps had earlier beaten Severn Stars but came out on the losing end of this one as Lucy Parize brilliantly forced a match-winning turnover with barely 30 seconds of the match remaining, with the scores tied at 43-43.
Under intense pressure Mary Cholhok scored her 39th goal of the game to secure a memorable victory.
Elsewhere, 16-year-old Sophie Kelly stole the show for Storm in their opening-game 42-40 win over London Pulse.
Kelly, part of the England U17 and U19 squads, came off the bench to make her Superleague debut after just four minutes of the game when starting goal attack Emma Magee went down injured.
From the get go, Kelly showed that she belonged by displaying her physicality alongside scoring 18 of her 22 goal attempts to earn the Player of the Match award, while it was her goal in the dying embers of the match that secured the win.
Meanwhile, defending champions Manchester Thunder got underway with a 53-36 win over Strathclyde Sirens, who responded by overcoming the Stars 36-30.