Loughborough Lightning 73 Leeds Rhinos Netball 58

Loughborough Lightning v Leeds Rhinos during NetballÕs Rise Again Pre-Season Festival at Belle Vue Sports Village, Manchester. Picture by Stephen Gaunt/Touchlinepics.com +447904833202 19/12/2020

Leeds Rhinos played only their second ever game in the Rise Again Festival against Loughborough Lightning and there were plenty of positive to take for Dan Ryan’s side, who came together as a squad just eleven weeks ago.

Dan Ryan had spoken about wanting to see a gradual improved performance from his side and there were certainly signs that this team are growing into a strong outfit.

The game started at a high pace and it was Mary Cholhok scored first for Lightning inside the first minute before Donnell Wallam responded almost immediately for the Rhinos.

Rhea Dixon and Brie Grierson showed they are building an impressive partnership already, linking up  well to feed the ball into Wallam and the Australian made few mistakes to take her team 6-4 in front.

Lightning levelled the game just as the Rhinos were dealt a blow when Vicki Oyesola was forced off with a neck injury for a short period and was replaced by Michelle Magee.  Cholhok put her side back in front, but Leeds kept pushing and kept up the tempo and were soon rewarded.

Great play by Dixon and a lovely long pin point pass from Grierson to Wallam allowed the shooter to make it 7-7.  Wallam added her ninth and then Dixon made it ten after Lightening were penalised.  Leeds kept up the pressure to build a 14-8 lead. 

Wallam and Dixon kept things ticking over for the Rhinos to put them 17-10 in front heading into the final three minutes of the first quarter.  Lightening finished the quarter strong and pulled it back to be within two points of their opponents after 15 minutes, with the Rhinos coming out 18-16 on top.

Loughborough made a positive start to the second quarter and after five minutes had established a 22-18 lead, before Leeds made the scores even again.  A great up and over from Jade Clarke then allowed Wallam to nudge Leeds ahead at 23-22, but there was little to separate the teams throughout the quarter, both teams challenging for every ball and showing their physicality and desire.  Both teams kept up the intensity in attack and the goals kept coming for both sides, but it was Lightening who went in at the break with a 33-29 lead.

At the start of the second half Dan Ryan mixed things up with Sienna Rushton coming on at Wing Attack for Dixon and Rosie Harris on at Wing Defence.  Lightening though started the half full of confidence and after five minutes had established their biggest lead of the game with Cholhok making it 42-32.  Leeds were able to build some pressure, inspired by Jade Clarke who led from the front, and scored four quick goals to reduce the gap to 46-37. As the game progressed Lightning’s experience began to show, and they looked more in control and with mistakes creeping into the Rhinos’ game they were able to establish a 54-42 lead going into the final quarter.

Lightening completed the game on top with their best quarter of the game and ran out 72-58 winners.

Speaking after the game Player of the Match Jade Clarke said: “When we stepped onto the court it felt like a real event and this is what we have been missing for months and months and we are so grateful to Manchester Thunder, Manchester Council and sponsors for making the Rise Again Festival happen so that we can we play and we had lots of fun. 

“All our values are aligning, Dan has worked with us in training this about having that relentless pressure so that’s what we wanted to put on court. We wanted to step up from our first practice game against Manchester Thunder and take some steps forward.  We haven’t been together long but we want to make some strides forward every week and put what we are doing on training into practice.

“We want to do our own jobs and take accountability and be there for each other and I can see leaders popping through.  I think Rhea Dixon was amazing and really stepped up in that goal attack role.  I gave a wayward passes and some of the other younger girls stepped up for me and did the next few feeds, so we’ve all got each other’s backs and are working really well together.”