Leeds Carnegie, last season's bottom club, got off to a flier, downing close rivals Northern Thunder 54-27 in a thrilling and hard fought encounter. Former Thunder stars Karen Greig and Tracey Neville set the tone for the game for Leeds with their neat interplay and scintillating pace which left the Thunder defence on the back foot on numerous occasions. After a tight first quarter, which Leeds took 14-8, the home side settled into its stride, outscoring the visitors 17-6 to lead comfortably at half time, and pushed on for a relatively simple win which now leaves them at the top of the league.
Loughborough Lightning took an entertaining win over Celtic Dragons 57-32 to move into second place on goal difference. However, Dragons, missing seven Welsh international players preparing for the forthcoming World Championships, will be heartened by a dogged performance which saw them regroup after a shaky start to take the fight to their highly rated opposition. Despite their Superleague inexperience (five players were making their debuts in the competition), Celtic Dragons kept the pressure up, and closed the gap to within ten in the second half, but some impressive defensive work by GD Kara Luck and solid shooting from former England squad members Heather Clarke (who netted 17/24) and Alex Astle (22/32) saw Loughborough home.
In the day’s biggest shock, Team Northumbria upset the highly rated Brunel Hurricanes (who were missing captain Sonia Mkoloma to England’s World Championships preparations) 43-30 to move into third place on goal difference. Team Northumbria's summer signings from overseas - New Zealand GK Megan Hutton and Australian attacking players Elissa Macleod and Laura McLeod - were in fine form, with Hutton, in particular, having a storming game to deny the Hurricanes' GS Vicklyn Joseph any sort of regular possession. Former England U21 Vicky Burgess also impressed in centre court for the visitors, while Hurricanes will rue the loss of discipline which lost them possession when in key attacking positions during the second and third quarters. Hurricanes' own overseas players, Lara Welham and Kate Mahoney, had solid games, but were forced to work hard for any sort of regular possession, and their efforts were stifled by a superb Northumbria defensive effort.
The final match of the round, between reigning champions TeamBath vs last season's runners up Mavericks, takes place on Monday evening at the Hertfordshire Sports Village. Both teams will be missing international stars preparing for the World Championships - six players for TeamBath and three for Mavericks - and with last season's top scorer in the league, Rachel Dunn, out with a serious knee injury, Bath's head coach Jan Crabtree will be looking to her bench players to get the title defence off to a solid start. Play starts in Hatfield at 7.30pm and the game will be shown in its entirety on Sky Sports on Thursday 1 November.
FRANK UIJLENBROEK WORLDSPORTPICS