Leeds Rhinos left with plenty of Vitality Superleague positives despite playoff loss to Loughborough Lightning

Leeds Rhinos saw their hopes of reaching the Vitality SuperLeague play-off final crushed by a strong Loughborough Lightning in Saturday’s semi-final.

UP FOR IT: Action from Saturday's Vitality Superleague play-off semi-final match between Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos at London's Copper Box Arena. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images.
UP FOR IT: Action from Saturday's Vitality Superleague play-off semi-final match between Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos at London's Copper Box Arena. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images.

Three-time Superleague finalists Loughborough Lightning ran out 58-38 winners, leaving Leeds to face Manchester Thunder in a third-place play-off.

Rhinos entered their highly-anticipated semi-final against Loughborough as the underdogs, their preparations not being helped by having not played a competitive match since May 31 due to a positive Covid-19 case within the squad.

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Dan Ryan’s side were also without star shooter Donnell Wallam due to a family bereavement. providing Sienna Rushton with a place in the starting seven.

TOUGH GOING: Leeds Rhinos’ Brie Grierson, above left, Loughborough Lightning’s Sam May battle for posession at the Copper Box Arena.Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images

Afterwards, Ryan spoke positively of his side.

“I was pleased with parts of the game, especially in the first quarter,” said Ryan. “But, ultimately, Loughborough were too good.”

Both teams started full of intensity, with Rhea Dixon finding herself in lots of space for Rhinos and Vicki Oyesola and Tuaine Keenan applying lots of defensive pressure.

Their efforts paid off as they went in at the end of the first quarter protecting a narrow 14-13 lead over Lightning.

Leeds Rhinos' Jade Clarke challenges Loughborough Lightning's Ella Clark. Picture: Chloe Knott/Getty Images

The quality and experience of Lightning began to show in the second quarter, however, and the began to dominate in all areas of the court.

Going into the third quarter, Rhinos had a shot conversion of 82 per cent compared to Lightning’s 91 per cent.

The underdogs continued to show impressive resilience, though, yet a few brilliant defensive interceptions from Loughborough allowed them to quickly feed into the inner circle.

Halfway into the third quarter, Lightning were forced to make a change when Mary Cholhok was substituted due to an ankle injury.

However, Rhinos couldn’t capitalise on this at the other end of the court and missed a number of shots meaning they went into the final quarter 46-30 adrift, knowing they faced an uphill struggle to overturn the deficit against a team who had proved among the most consistent teams throughout the regular season.

Lightning made a couple of changes in the fourth quarter, with Vitality player of the season Beth Cobden resting up, no doubt in readiness for yesterday’s final.

Try as they might, the Rhinos couldn’t haul their opponents in, finishing well-beaten on the wrong side of a 20-goal defeat, with player of the match deservedly going to Lightning’s Sam May.

Starting Line-Ups – Leeds Rhinos: Tuaine Keenan, Vicki Oyesola, Fi Toner, Jade Clarke, Brie Grierson, Rhea Dixon, Sienna Rushton

Loughborough Lightning: Samantha May, Jasmin Odeogberin, Beth Cobden, Natalie Panagarry, Hannah Joseph, Ella Clark, Mary Cholhok.