The long wait for the 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague had finally come to an end and Celtic Dragons made their first long journey up to Wakefield for the opening fixture of this year’s league. Nobody knew quite what to make of their opposition, newcomers Leeds Rhinos, but by the end of the match viewers were left in no doubt about the ability of Dan Ryan’s fledgling franchise.
It was an even start as both teams traded blows in the opening few minutes, with Amy Clinton looking measured in front of goal. However, the warning signs were there early as Annika Lee-Jones found no joy in trying to disrupt the pinpoint shooting of fellow Perthite Donnell Wallam who was a looming presence throughout the game. As the quarter progressed, Leeds forced more and more long balls from Dragons and eventually they gained the upper hand. A caution for Leeds’ Fi Toner did little to dampen the Rhinos’ enthusiasm.
Looking to regain the initiative from Rhinos, Dragons made some changes, opting to add the experience of Sophie Morgan at wing-attack. Clare Jones demonstrated awesome tenacity and hunger as she threw herself across the court in search of interceptions, but Rhinos were able to absorb the pressure and add to their lead. At half time, Rebekah Robinson said that the team would be looking to improve their ‘control and position’ in order to find a way back into the match.
Some further changes came for Dragons as Laura Rudland entered the match and Lucy Howells was retained at WD after coming on for Christina Shaw. However, an injury to Amy Clinton was one disruption too many and Leeds were able to take full advantage and put Dragons to the sword. Rebekah Robinson did her all to enthuse her teammates but Clarke and Oyesola just found another gear to help the Rhinos put the game to bed.
The final quarter saw Leeds make some changes, with the win now secure. Clinton’s return to court along with these changes helped Dragons to find some more periods of consistency and the coaches will at this point have had one eye on tomorrow’s game against Team Bath. It was certainly not the start Director of Netball Tania Hoffman will have hoped for, but with limited preparation time and match play opportunities, she will now have a far clearer picture of her starting seven for Dragons’ Round 2 fixture.
Celtic Dragons: A Lee-Jones, A Tyrrell, C Shaw, C Jones, S O’Dwyer, R Robinson and A Clinton. Replacements: L Rudland, L Howells, S Morgan and M Dunn.
Leeds Rhinos: T Keenan, V Oyesola, F Toner, J Clarke, B Grierson, R Dixon & D Wallam
Quarter scores: 6-14 (6-14); 11-15 (17-29); 6-19 (23-48); 12-17 (35-65).