Nova took an important 38-34 win over Inner Glow and it was an even closer winning margin as unbeaten leaders Souths held off Kotara South 43-41 in a Newcastle championship netball arm wrestle on Saturday.
Going into round four, player-coach Katie Robinson said Nova would have a point to prove after being well-beaten by West Leagues Balance in their previous outing and Thunder hit the court flying to be ahead 14-3 by quarter-time.
But Inner Glow, who went into the match unbeaten from two starts, showed their top-four credentials with a character-building fightback throughout the remaining three quarters. They outshot their opponents 14 goals to seven in the second period to only be down 21-17 by half-time.
Nova had increased the lead to 34-23 by three-quarter-time and managed to hold off a fast-finishing Inner Glow in the last quarter.
"They just kept pinching a little bit back all of the time and their intensity in defence just got better and better and better," Robinson said. "Without that first quarter I don't know if we would've had that same result.
"We felt confident in the first quarter but once they came back at us we tightened up and hesitated.
"They managed to shut down [goal shooter] Brooke [Fennings] in the second, third and fourth quarters. Our shooting was really good in the first three quarters and only sort of fell apart in the last quarter. Abbie [Gray] and Brooke did a really good job once they got the ball in their hands but they just made it really hard for us. They're a good side and they never gave up."
The win moved Nova to eight points and on level footing with Inner Glow and left the sides in fourth and fifth positions respectively on goal percentages.
Inner Glow coach Dwight Graham was excited by his side's prospects despite the result.
"Nova started really well and fed their tall shooter beautifully and we struggled to compete with that," Graham said. "And a couple of things went wrong for us and we put our heads down a little bit then one thing turned into five things and we went into that first quarter 11 down and it was tough to come back.
"But very proud of the rest of the game, very strong. It's exciting. In the second and fourth quarters we completely dominated, so if we can get it together and hold it together for four quarters, I think we'll be very competitive."
Kotara South held a 12-10 advantage over Souths at the end of their first quarter but the Lions hit back in the second to be up 24-21 by half-time. They led 34-28 at three-quarter-time before the Tigers staged a fourth-quarter fightback and got within one goal on multiple occasions.
Souths were without Narelle Eather and Lucy Tonkin due to injury and are still without goal shooter Millie Tonkin due to commitments with the NSW 17-and-under team but coach Tracey van Dal was making no excuses.
"We started a little bit flat but we picked up our defence in the second quarter and then we got a bit flat again in the third quarter," van Dal said post-match on Saturday. "It was probably the worst shooting stats that Lions have ever had in the whole history of the competition. But it was a good game and all credit to Kotara. They were good, they were strong. They had a very good tall shooter and that's hard to stop.
"What was really pleasing was that we kept our composure at the end. They clawed their way back to only one goal but the experience of our girls at that level showed. They just kept their composure and didn't panic and we were lucky that sort of got us over the line."
Kotara South player-coach Rachel Gardner said the Tigers were continuing to grow with each outing.
"We're building every week, it's just finding that consistency," Gardner said. "But I think that performance just showed the potential of our team, so I hope the girls take that away more than the fact that we went down by two.
"I think it could've gone either way. A couple of calls didn't go our way when we needed it to but we were really solid. I'm super excited moving forward because that's the kind of netball I know we're capable of. It's just everybody finding their place and their confidence to be able to deliver."
West Leagues Balance, who are also unbeaten, led at every change to defeat Junction Stella 43-24.
University of Newcastle were up at every break in their 60-35 win over BNC Whanau.
Round 4 results:
Nova Thunder beat Inner Glow 38-34. Q1: Nova led 14-3; Q2: Nova led 21-17, Q3: Nova led 34-23.
Souths beat Kotara South 43-41. Q1: Kotara South led 12-10; Q2: Souths led 24-21; Q3: Souths led 34-28.
University beat BNC 6035. Q1: University led 14-7; Q2: University led 30-16; Q3: University led 47-24.
West defeated Junction 43-24. Q1: West led 12-4; Q2: West lead 20-11; Q3: West led 29-13.
Pointscore: Souths 10, West Leagues Balance 10, University of Newcastle 8, Nova 8, Inner Glow 8, Kotara South 4, BNC 4, Junction 4.
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