Lessons Learned as Berri Neil Prepares for Lightning Rematch

By Paul Prenderville

For London Pulse and Berri Neil, Loughborough Lightning brings back memories. Difficult memories, but one the England Rose believes can help inspire the chase for a first ever Superleague title.

Almost nine months ago, Pulse lined up for their first ever Grand Final and on the opposite side of the court was Loughborough Lightning – the same team that will take to the arena for Saturday’s first home game of the 2024 season.

Ticket Info

Pulse face Loughborough Lighting on Saturday March 3. A limited number of tickets are available here (online sales close at 4pm Friday) as well as tickets for all London Pulse home games in 2024.

“In the end we probably learned more from losing than we would have done from winning the Grand Final,” Neil tells us, with the regret still obvious in her voice.

“It showed us some key things, in the game, tactically and technically that we can work on to be even better this year. So probably a blessing in disguise even though it didn’t feel like it. But this year, hopefully, we will push on and get the gold.”

Pulse’s relentless start to the campaign has already featured two of last season’s top four, Manchester Thunder and Surrey Storm, and it continues in a blockbuster Round 3 that represents the ultimate test, the defending champions.

Lightning beat Pulse 57-48 in the Grand Final at the Copper Box and on reflection, experience played a part. Not that anyone wants to lose, but Neil believes a young Pulse team will only grow from what they went through that Saturday evening last June.

“We finished top of the league last year and that was a big achievement for us as a club,” Neil adds, underlining the fuel that fires this season.

“But we know if we want to be right at the top of where we are aiming to be we need to win the grand final, there is definitely a lot of determination in the group this year.”

Berri Neil

So far in 2024 it’s one win and one defeat for Pulse. A disappointing loss at Season Opener is firmly in the rearview mirror after an impressive bounceback at Surrey Storm in Round 2.

Lightning have two wins from two games and have started the season with trademark attacking verve. They have scored 146 goals, with the irrepressible Mary Cholhok scoring 103 of them. Her 70% share is the highest in the league.

Much like last season it is likely to be that fearsome Lightning front, against a Pulse defence that was the best in the league in 2023, and has looked equally impressive this year – led by Funmi Fadoju and a rich array of further options.

Pulse have their own attacking riches and in Neil have a talent who matches the growth of the club over the last 12 months. Having only just turned 21, she is a mainstay of the Pulse attack end and the combination with Olivia Tchine continues to grow.

She has also become a regular part of the England squad that have had a busy last international cycle. A Roses debut in September 2023 has added a maturity to Neil’s game, and a measured determination when she speaks.

“Having this international break has been such a good experience. Playing against teams like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Uganda can only be a good thing.

“Coming back into this environment, I’m excited to use what I have learned but keep on learning from players like Nicole (SA), Jeresia (T&T).

“It is so good in training and it’s so different, every country plays netball in a different way and tactically demands different things. So playing against them, but also having them as part of our club is an experience we’ve not always had in the past.”

The focus now has shifted to a big year for netball, and a big year for Pulse. Neil is all too aware of the threats posed around the league. She believes increased competition can only be a good thing as netball targets a professionalisation process.

“Sometimes, especially years ago you could tell who would make the top four, but looking across the teams this year, there are so many strong players, Roses players are spread out across teams, strong imports have come in across the board and there is so much young talent coming through.

“Having the league be tougher will be a good thing for viewers and fans and every game should be such a good watch.”

Saturday’s encounter with Lightning, which will be streamed live on the Sky Sports YouTube channel promises to be one of those games that proves to be a very good watch.

More than 3,000 tickets have already been sold and memories of last year’s Grand Final are sure to play a part in the build-up, as well as on player’s minds.

Unsurprisingly it will give Neil an added edge,

“I was one of them,” Neil laughs when asked about Brie Grierson‘s revelation that not all the squad were happy when runners-up medals turned up.

“I think we are a determined and passionate group. We just want to be at the top and we know that we are capable of it, so falling short was hard for a lot of us to take so we don’t want to have to put those silver medals on again.”

There’s a long way to go before a top four spot is secured, but a win on Saturday evening will go a long way to rubber stamping the desire to succeed that runs throughout the squad.