There was plenty of passion and positivity on offer at Beckett University in Headingley last Saturday as hundreds of netball fans turned out to cheer on Leeds Rhinos at their first home fixture this season.
With close to 300 tickets sold prior and more again on the day, Yorkshire proved it has a genuine appetite for netball with fans of all ages eagerly watching from the bleachers while athletes from the u15, u17 and u19 Academies took on their respective teams from Loughborough Lightning, with the u19s fixture Rhinos' first NPL match on home soil this year.
Also on offer for the first time was Rhinos' 'Extra Time' coaching initiative, led by International coach Dan Ryan and designed to upskill netball coaches on performance matchplay during a live game, which many from the region were attending as part of a mentorship programme they are undergoing with Rhinos.
In play, the Rhinos' teams always had a tough job ahead of them with Lightning a long-time established club that is familiar with success in both the NPL and Superleague in recent years. The u15s, up first at 11.30 am, took it to one another with a very close fought game from beginning to end, the Rhinos' newly formed competition squad challenging their opponents throughout and only narrowly missing out when Lightning snook past them in the fourth quarter to take the win 43-48. The u17s, again, finding the game tight during their opening quarter found a way through in the second and pulled back from a 3-goal deficit to lead 22-19 entering the third, before ramping up during the second half for a 47-30 victory. Last up, the u19s - who again, looked strong during the first quarter despite a 3-goal deficit - very quickly looked less so as Lightning applied more and more pressure over each quarter, eventually scoring at will to finish victorious with 57 goals to Rhinos' 39.
Throughout the day the home crowd never wavered in its support, providing non-stop cheering from the side of the court regardless of any scores while their teams played their hearts out on the court. Although many were parents and family of athletes from both sides there was also a large collective of younger children who watched in awe at every pass, intercept and change-over, jumping from their seats at each Rhinos goal scored and giving huge praise to their idols at the end of every game.
Director for Netball, Anna Carter, was impressed with the event:
"Saturday was a great day with competitive games across the board against Lightning. All games were really well supported, the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic and its a great opportunity for all players to perform under these conditions. For me, I’m proud to see such an early Pathway like the Leeds Rhinos keeps on coming together and improving with every year to give young people a fantastic experience."
Head Pathway Coach, Emily Perry, added:
"We are focusing on connections in our attacking game and being competitive across 60 mins. There has been some good progress in patches of the game and now we are striving for more consistency across the four quarters. I'm looking forward to seeing the team build game by game."
Rhinos are looking for more support at their next home fixture on Feb 15 - also at Beckett - when the same three age groupings take to the court against Wasps. Tickets for the u19 and u17 games, and the next installment of 'Extra Time' for any coaches looking to learn more about performance, are on sale now at the Rhinos website.
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