Manchester Thunder cruised to victory against Team Northumbria in Newcastle.
The partisan crowd tried their best to unsettle Thunder and urge their team on, but the visitors dominated from the first centre pass to the last, despite not being at their best.
The Black and Yellows will need to cut out their handling errors and occasional slack passing ahead of the double header against title rivals Hertfordshire Mavericks and Surrey Storm next weekend.
Thunder started with the shooting partnership of Helen Housby and Eleanor Cardwell for the second match in a row. But coach Tracey Neville opted to mix up her centre court, bringing in Beth Cobden at wing defence ahead of Laura Malcolm.
The shooters were relatively solid for the opening phase of the game, scoring four without reply before the game became more open. But Neville, continuing her habit of rotating the shooters, brought Housby off at quarter time, with young England shooter Alice Travis replacing her.
Meanwhile Cobden seized her chance, pulling out a number of interceptions from her locker to snub out Northumbria’s attack.
The blossoming on-court relationship between Chelsea Pitrman and Sara Bayman continued to grow, with neither player under any kind of pressure. Both work hard to use every millimetre of the court and no pass or feed into their shooters is too ambitious.
Despite Thunder already out of sight, Northumbria kept their score ticking over. The home side were unlucky to not have the final say of the half as shooter Lisa Bowman’s difficult chance failed to beat the buzzer.
It was a new-look Thunder on court for the third quarter as Neville road-tested her combinations. Georgie Webster entered the fray at wing defence and Jodie Gibson came on at keeper for an ever-reliable Kerry Almond.
Captain Bayman and former world champion Aussie Pitman took a breather on the bench, with Malcolm replacing the former and Cobden shifted to wing attack.
Kathryn Turner – on at goal attack for an out-of-sorts Cardwell – threaded straight into the game, working well with Cobden and Travis. Malcolm, unlucky not to start, really put in a shift at centre, dictating the play and losing her marker at will.
The second half was disjointed as both sides started to show some tired legs. A loose Northumbria pass sailed out of court and was a let-off for Thunder, who had given away possession seconds earlier. It was the story of Northumbria’s game.
Pitman and Housby were back on for the final quarter and the duo were instrumental in Thunder stepping up their tempo. Pitman flirted with the Northumbria defence with some audacious dummy passes around the circle and Housby, waiting patiently under the post happily rewarded the Sydney-born star’s efforts.
The game petered out but Northumbria managed to wake up the increasingly disinterested crowd with two goals on the bounce.
It wasn’t vintage from Thunder but in sport, champions need to find a way to grind out a win and last night they did just that.