Leeds had recorded a fine home win over Hucclecote in their opening fixture of 2020, whilst Grangetown had suffered a heavy defeat against the high-flying New Cambell.
Those results left Grangetown in sixth position, one win and seven points ahead of the visitors, but as no team outside the top three had won more than five games, the table had become quite congested, and this fixture therefore represented a real opportunity to take a big step towards securing Prem 1 safety.
The recent Manchester Thunder signing Ash Neal and her sister Kyra Jones, who has a wealth of Super League and international experience, were both available for Grangetown. Tuaine Keenan and Brie Grierson were also playing in Super League last season, and their inclusion was another boost to an already strong-looking squad.
Kyra and Brie were named at centre and goal attack in a starting seven that was completed by Katie Walton (GK), Jenny Mrozik (GD), Vicky Rees (WD), Ria Small (WA) and Alice Currie (GS).
After the opening fifteen minutes, Grangetown led 14-13. Leeds had twice been three goals to the good and, despite plenty of pressure from the Grangetown defenders, they had looked assured in possession.
Emily Hollingworth and Francine Hall were both impressive in setting up scoring chances, and the shooting combination of Annie James and Maisie Bickerton took no time at all to find their range inside the circle.
Grangetown played well in parts and did well the recover the deficit, but their cause was hindered by a number of errors and missed shots; Leeds being more than capable of capitalising when the chances came.
The interplay between Kyra and Brie was the feature of the first quarter, and the most entertaining passage of play saw Kyra leap to secure a fine turnover from a Leeds centre pass. The ball found Brie, who clearly expected to be penalised for a replayed ball, but the whistle never came; Leeds claimed a rebound from the subsequent shot, only for Katie Walton to gather an overthrown pass and start the attack from which Alice Currie eventually netted.
Tuaine and Becks were introduced at goal defence and wing defence respectively, and both were involved in arguably the play of the match. Superb anticipation allowed Tuaine to turn over possession; she fed Becks, who threw a long pass down the right-hand side of the court; the ball was drilled across to Brie, whose airborne catch and finish were of the highest quality.
Ria and Kyra then combined to set up Brie for another fine goal as Grangetown began to take control of the game. The defensive trio of Katie, Tuaine and Becks were putting their opposite numbers under intense pressure and all three made crucial interventions.
Becks produced one outstanding running interception, and Tuaine parried a shot with a perfectly-timed jump before calmly gathering the rebound. The subsequent goal took Grangetown’s lead into double figures and when the half-time hooter sounded, Grangetown led 29-18.
Ash was brought on at goal attack for the third period, with Brie moving to wing attack, but it was the visitors who made the better start; quickly and impressively reducing the arrears by four goals.
There was one remarkable spell of play when Grangetown turned over possession, only to lose the ball, win it back and give it away again. A footwork call against Leeds then gifted Grangetown the ball, but a three-second penalty inside the circle handed back possession to the visitors … only for great defensive pressure to force a similar call against Leeds; and Alice finally found the net for a valuable goal against the centre pass.
The eleven-goal advantage was maintained into the final quarter. Hannah Raine played the last 15 minutes at centre, and her first involvement was a typically athletic running catch and pass to set up Alice under the net.
The outstanding moment of the closing minutes came when Kyra forced a three-second violation, then sent a bullet pass down court which was brilliantly collected one-handed by Brie, who then fed Alice to score.
Cathy Hewitt’s subsequent introduction ensured that the whole squad had spent time on court, and Grangetown pulled further away as the visitors began to tire. The final score was 58-39 to Grangetown, an important result that should give the squad a great deal of confidence going into the final third of the season.
There were a number of fine individual performances at both ends of the court, Katie, Tuaine and Brie all had tremendous games, but Kyra was simply outstanding throughout all four quarters and was my player of the match.
For their part, Leeds played some excellent netball, especially in the opening period, and never stopped battling even when the game was beyond them. Goal attack Annie James was the visitors’ player, just as she had been in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. She is still a teenager, but already one of the finest shooters in the division.