What a shame that Hertfordshire Mavericks versus Surrey Storm, both sides' final game on the season, a derby clash that always delivers, wasn't chosen as the Sky TV game of the week - it was a classic. At least you can see highlights in Thursday's TV programme.
It was one of those games where the score yo-yo'd; in the first quarter it was Surrey Storm pulling at the advantage but they could only get two in front, it was one at the break. In the second quarter Mavericks stretched it out to five goals with Storm cutting that to four at the whistle. The third quarter the lead went to six but the visitors cut that by winning the quarter and despite winning the final (and their third) quarter of the match the best they could do was draw.
If you've watched the preview video for next season that's on the FIAT Netball Superleague website, you'll have a good idea about how the last few minutes played out on court.
As the clock ticked past four minutes to go Mavericks drew level at 44-44, having trailed since the start of the quarter; with a minute to play, Storm scored making it 47-47! The crowd was at fever pitch as the Hertfordshire side worked the centre pass in to Monique Wood who was half way out from the post on the left of the court but put the shot up and it didn't touch the sides: 48-47.
The clock ticked on Storm's centre pass found Rachel Dunn in two passes and she scored 48-48. The crowd noise was hair-raising as Karen Atkinson got the ball back in play, it reached the circle but also went out of court, despite Louisa Brownfield's best efforts the whistle was blown before a shot could be taken. Woah what a finish!
So many great one-on-one battles were going on around the court that is was a match that was hard to watch - following the fast flowing ball couldn't allow you to keep up with everything happening around it.
At the Storm end Rachel Dunn may not have wanted it but she received an excellent close protection service on two fronts from Lindsay Keable and Layla Guscoth who were determined to shield the shooter from aerial bombardmment; Dunn found herself either trying to sneak past the pair - which at not quite 6ft 2 is a bit tricky - or having to lope off in the opposite direction to the ball, taking the scenic route to a position under the post.
All 15 players did a good job on the court today but Surrey's Katy Holland and Hannah Reid deserve commendation for the work they put in against Monique Wood and England's Louisa Brownfield who were on top form. The young pair had quite a gap to fill at the start of the season and they have both stepped up and earned themselves credit and respect for good work all term - gold stars all round.Surrey Storm's Mary Beardwood enjoyed the match, even if it was a nail-biting finish: "Good wasn't it!" she said after the game in Hatfield, "I think a draw was a fair it would have been gutting if either team had lost today.
"The competition on both sides was fantastic. We played a superb first half against Bath and to be able to step it up again three days later is a very pleasing aspect."
Maverick's head honcho Maggie Jackson also thought it was just result: "I felt we had an opportunity to pull it away but we didn't pull away far enough and all credit to Storm that they came back at us. I don't think we got the best out of our players, we need to learn one or two things but it was good."
Voicing the thoughts of Storm's Mary Beardwood though it a shame that all netball fans didn't get to see the match: "The crowd was on the edge of the seat the whole way through and there are Sky highlights but it's shame it wasn't a scheduled game as a Sky match because it was always going to be tight and tough.
"From the point of view of netball it's tremendous to see these players every one so fit and athletic right up to the last minute, everyone was just giving it their all."
The quality of netball was top-drawer and both coaches agreed that's what's needed to improve standards in the game, Maggie Jackson: "What I've been saying for the last few years is that it's such and expensive thing for franchises - it costs us a lot of money to travel everywhere - which makes it important for us to have these really close games for the top players and for the younger talent coming up."
The one point secured means Northern Thunder will have to travel to Hatfield for the first bite of the cherry play-off and Maggie is delighted to have secured home advantage: " We've got a great crowd, the crowd was fantastic today, the match was brilliant for the crowd.
"It's important to get home advantage as we know Northern Thunder also have a great home crowd so I'm pleased I won't hear the beating of a drum! Or if I do it will be in Hatfield."
For Surrey Storm next up is a return to TeamBath: "Bring it on that's what I say," Mary Beardwood enthused. "We've just got better and better as this season's gone on. We know they'll be coming out as a completely different team and they'll be absolutely determined, but we have the confidence now we know we can beat them."
And the Storm coach, who's very good friends with her London rival Denise Holland, admitted a secret: "If Surrey Storm aren't winning I quite like Mavericks to do well, they're my second team so from my point of view it's great to have a home match so we can come and watch it."
LEEDS CARNEGIE 34-47 NORTHERN THUNDER
Northern Thunder's win over Leeds Carnegie wasn't enough to keep alive the fight to finish top of the FIAT Netball Superleague after their rivals Hertfordshire Mavericks banked the point they needed in a draw with Surrey Storm.
Thunder didn't have an easy game against a Leeds side looking for a big finish to the season, and the underdogs won the last quarter although the game was decided long before then.
It wasn't a great game for the shooters on either side - none were at their best and while Thunder controlled the score-line they will be seeking improvement before their play-off in Hatfield on Saturday 28th May, against Hertfordshire Mavericks.
Leeds Carnegie's Lisa Ferneyhough was the first to admit they didn't do enough to win: "Scoring 34 goals is not enough in the Superleague we need to be beyond 40".
But she thought her side deserved praise for their performance: "We were pleased, all through this season have been in the process of developing young players and they have more than stepped up.
"We put a really good game up and because we knew they would be without Sara Bayman and Karen Greig our target was to try to stay with them give them a better game than last time. WE still lack experience though and slacked off making silly errors.
"I really want to add that I'm really pleased with the defence they are really playing together more, rather than as individuals .
Northern Thunder's assistant coach Suzy Chapman says they had key objectives for the match: "We wanted to improve on our turnover to goal percentage which we certainly did today.
"A great defensive game, our focus was on ball placement in attack which improved from our last game. A good opportunity to try different combinations ready for playoffs."
Thunder have one more game before facing Mavericks, they play Glasgow Wildcats in a re-scheduled match on the 22nd May, 2011.
photos Janos Schmidt