Loughborough Lightning defend their title with an imperious Grand Final win over Manchester Thunder

Loughborough Lightning have achieved back-to-back titles in the Netball Super League (NSL) Grand Final with a 54-70 win over Manchester Thunder at the Resorts World Arena.

The defending champions were only ever temporarily behind as they fought for every ball, stifling a usually free-scoring Thunder.

Lightning built the biggest lead of the game in the final quarter to become only the fourth team to defend their NSL title.

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With just seconds gone in the Grand Final, the Lightning bench were up on their feet as Nat Panagarry put in an interception and chased after a free ball before Mary Cholhok produced her trademark lay-up.

It showed how fired up the defending champions were as they stormed to an early advantage of seven goals.

But Thunder are not a team to give up and that proved true once again as they closed the gap with Karen Greig making a change only nine minutes in.

Paige Reed made way for Elmere van der Berg in the goal shooter bib with the South African immediately sinking a goal as Thunder closed the gap to just two at the first quarter break.

For Thunder in the second quarter, it was all about passing the ball as quickly as possible when they had it and interrupting Loughborough Lightning when they did not as they chased the turnover to level proceedings.

It finally came through Shadine van der Merwe as the Northern supporters in the crowd roared her brilliance before shouting even louder as Thunder took the lead.

The closeness of the game saw Thunder become willing to take risks drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the delighted crowd.

But the risks did not always pay off with Amy Carter sending a pass too long for Van der Berg who was under pressure from Alice Harvey.

That loss of focus allowed Lightning to build up another big lead that stood at six when the half-time whistle blew.

Things were not to get any easier for Thunder in the second half with Harvey producing an early steal to see the lead only grow as the pressure started to tell on the challengers.

The now well-oiled partnership of Cholhok and Rhea Dixon helped to grow Lightning’s lead into double figures with the team in purple not making a change until the 55th minute.

They were forced to adapt however when Panagarry was sent to the bench for a two-minute suspension that allowed Thunder to close the gap to eight while Lightning eked out the time remaining with passes in the centre third.

The injury to Ella Bowen seemed to galvanise Thunder with Reed getting a buzzer beater to see their target stand at seven goals to claw back with the final 15 minutes to go.

But the third-quarter break halted Manchester Thunder’s charge as Cholhok proved she could do it all with a steal as Thunder looked to build from the back with the rangy shooter intercepting a pass.

The Ugandan then finished off a slick move to the post as Lightning played with freedom knowing the trophy was staying with them.

Ella Clark and Annabel Roddy came on for the final moments with the players moving to the bench but staying on their feet to cheer the final whistle as the confetti rained, and Loughborough Lightning reigned.

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