IN the wake of the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) season finishing, we have taken a look back at how each team fared. We finish the 11-team countdown with the premiers, Manchester Thunder who went undefeated in a remarkable 22-game winning streak to lift the trophy aloft – their fourth overall – in the grand final.
Position: 1st (Premiers)
Goals For: 1509 (1st)
Goals Against: 1168 (6th)
Goal Difference: 341 (1st)
SEASON IN A NUTSHELL
Manchester Thunder had a flawless season, not losing a game in 22 rounds, so it is hard to summarise it up other than near-perfect. They were easily the most potent side, piling on 1509 goals at an average of 68.6 per game, far more than any other side all season. Though they often engaged in high-scoring shootouts (as emphasised by being ranked sixth defensively), the Thunder were superb across the court with stars on each line.
Starting the season, the Thunder thrashed most sides, with Surrey Storm getting within eight goals (68-76) the closest any side did until the Saracens Mavericks pushed the Thunder to within three goals in Round 5. Another four-goal win over Team Bath gave opposition sides some hope, but they were surrounded by 20 and 14-goal thrashings to Wasps and Leeds Rhinos. London Pulse got closer still with a three-goal defeat in Round 9, though the Thunder answered that threat and then again with fellow undefeated side Loughborough Lightning in the grand final rematch.
Manchester Thunder piled on four consecutive matches of 70-plus goals after that, including a record-breaking 88 goals against Wasps in a 31-goal victory in Round 15. Another tight two games to finish the season against the Pulse and Lightning tested the Thunder, but they got past them, then accounted for Team Bath by 10 goals in the semi-final and the Lightning by seven goals in the final, 60-53.
There is no better feeling than being crowned champions, and therefore the seven-gaol win over the Lightning was always going to slot in here. The Thunder raced out of the blocks in the first term to pile on 20 goals to eight to almost settle the deal in the opening term. They extended the lead out to 13 by half-time before the Lightning hit back.
Loughborough managed to reduce the deficit back to single digits by the last change, but could only get to within seven by the final siren, as the Thunder own 60-53. Eleanor Cardwell was superb, piling on 26 goals from 28 attempts, as well as 19 feeds, three intercepts and three turnovers in the win, while Joyce Mvula (34 goals from 36 attempts) was also strong.
The standout performance went to Laura Malcolm though, with the captain and wing defence picking up two intercepts, two deflections and three turnovers. In the midcourt, both Caroline O’Hanlon (14 feeds, one intercept, one deflection and one turnover) and Natalie Metcalf (11 feeds, one intercept and one turnover) were strong once again.
There were multiple players who could fit this bill, but being the best goal attack in the competition certainly stands out, and that was Cardwell. The England Roses shooter scored 641 goals to finish fourth overall – behind teammate Mvula, as well as other holding shooters Peace Proscovia and Olivia Tchine – showing just how valuable she was as a second shooting option. Able to slide into goal shooter herself, Cardwell finished with a 90.7 per cent shooting efficiency, but also 244 feeds. When working hard around the circle and up the front third, Cardwell managed 12 rebounds, 10 intercepts, 12 deflections and 13 turnovers.
ONE TO WATCH
A really exciting and developing talent who managed to earn her stripes in each of the VNSL matches this season, defender Millie Sanders was outstanding. The almost 21-year-old only played the two games last season, but featured in all 22 matches, picking up 10 rebounds, 12 intercepts, 17 deflections and 27 turnovers, even winning a Player of the Match for her efforts. She has a bright future and is one that no doubt the Roses will keep a close eye on.
Though both Mvula and Malcolm have departed to test themselves overseas, the Thunder still has an incredible core across the board. They always recruit well and will undoubtedly land a big fish or two to complement the already strong list. With the youth such as Sanders that has developed well this season even during the team’s dominance, expect the Thunder to be a team to watch yet again in 2023.