Leeds Rhinos 32 Manchester Thunder 43: Play-off debutantes fall just short as Thunder utilise height advantage

Leeds Rhinos fell short of a top-three finish in the Vitality Superleague play-offs after an intense battle against Manchester Thunder at the Copperbox arena, writes MEGAN WORSELL.

Brie Grierson, of Leeds Rhinos, passes the ball during the Vitality Netball Super League third-place play-off defeat to Manchester Thunder at Copper Box Arena. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images for England Netball.
Brie Grierson, of Leeds Rhinos, passes the ball during the Vitality Netball Super League third-place play-off defeat to Manchester Thunder at Copper Box Arena. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images for England Netball.

Despite only making their debut this season in the Superleague, Leeds Rhinos made an outstanding impression, setting the standards high, week in week out.

Coach Dan Ryan used the same starting seven as Saturday, with Sienna Rushton once again as goal shooter replacing Rhinos star shooter, Donnell Wallam, who has returned to Australia owing to a family bereavement. Rhinos lost 43-32 but took the early single-goal lead.

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Thunder had the height advantage in the circle and Nicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenen delivered class performances in their defensive end, intercepting several high balls and maintaining a level playing field despite not having the inches against Ellie Cardwell and Joyce Mvula.

Leeds Rhinos in defensive action against Manchester Thunder. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images for England Netball.

As half-time approached the Rhinos started to slip away from third-place contention, falling five goals behind forcing Ryan to make a defensive change, swapping Emily Hollingsworth for Fi Toner.

Defensive pressure from Thunder proved difficult for Sienna Rushton and Rhea Dixon to find space under the post and, as a result, the Rhinos were forced to shoot from distance time and time again without troubling Manchester.

However, it did not faze the youngsters as they managed to reduce the goal difference to two going into the final quarter.

As the game came to a close, Thunder looked more dominant across the court, playing the ball round with intent and having an aggressive approach to the post, which the Rhinos could no longer fend off, leaving them 11 goals down.

However, ‘disappointing’ was not the word to describe the afternoon’s match.

Although the Yorkshire side did not return victorious, finishing fourth in their debuting season comes as a great achievement and has indicated they are a tough side worth keeping an eye on next season.