Manchester Thunders to 2022 VNSL title

WITHOUT a doubt the best team all year, Manchester Thunder stood up when it counted, claiming a memorable seven-goal win over Loughborough Lightning to take out the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) title. The Thunder dominated early, then weathered the second half comeback from the Lightning, to secure the 60-53 triumph and win their second flag in three seasons, and fourth overall.

MANCHESTER THUNDER 20 | 16 | 10 | 14 (60)
LOUGHBOROUGH LIGHTNING 8 | 16 | 14 | 16 (53)

Manchester Thunder’s championship-winning game was in many ways a snippet into their overall season. Racing out to a massive lead, scoring 20 goals to eight in the opening term – after leading 11-3 to start the term – the Thunder really set themselves as the benchmark for the 2022 season. From there, they had their challenges, still holding a double-digit lead at the main break, before a 14-10 third term in favour of the reigning premiers brought the Lightning back within nine goals. Keeping that momentum going into the last quarter, the Lightning won the final term 16-14, but it would not be enough as the Thunder triumphed 60-53.

In what was a massive day for her, Thunder captain Laura Malcolm won Player of the Match, with an outstanding performance from wing defence, recording two intercepts, two deflections and three turnovers, working hard up and down the court. She had her work cut out for her trying to limit the feeds through to Mary Cholhok, with her direct opponent Hannah Joseph picking up 12 feeds, two intercepts, three deflections and two turnovers. Cholhok still managed the 35 goals from 36 attempts, but her opposite goal shooter Joyce Mvula (34 goals from 36 attempts, three feeds and a deflection) and Roses star Eleanor Cardwell (26 goals from 28 attempts, three intercepts and three deflections) were too strong of a partnership.

The Thunder midcourt was varied, with Cardwell picking up the 19 feeds as well, while Caroline O’Hanlon (14 feeds, one intercept, one deflection and one turnover) and Natalie Metcalf (11 feeds, one intercept and one turnover) were both able to have a bit more freedom without Roses wing defence Beth Cobden who was still missing due to injury. The Lightning did have the defensive pairing of Fran Williams (six deflections, one intercept and five turnovers) and Alice Harvey (six deflections) who are both in great form this season, with Emma Thacker (17 goals from 24 attempts) – who had to come on for an injured Ella Clark in the first term – and Hannah Williams (12 feeds, one deflection) also working hard throughout the match.

The defensive combination of rising star Millie Sanders (one rebound, two intercepts, one deflection and three turnovers) and veteran Kerry Almond (one rebound, four deflections and four turnovers) both managed to stem the flow of Cholhok’s stranglehold under the post throughout the match, with Emilia Roscoe and Yasmin Roebuck also earning court time in the decider. The balance across the board for the Thunder allowed Manchester to take home its fourth overall title, and second in three seasons, having fallen one win short in the same game, against the same opponent last year, but that all changed yesterday.

Manchester Thunder coach Karen Grieg said the season was as near to perfect as one could get, going undefeated from 22 games.

“I don’t think you can get any closer than that,” Greig said. “A lot of our girls will probably turn around and say this is the best squad we’ve ever had. “The [unity] of the team has been phenomenal, the girls have got each other’s backs. They get on, on and off the court, which for me is a culture thing and you see transfer from off to on. You couldn’t ask for more.”

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  • London Pulse
  • Team Bath

Meanwhile in a lower scoring Third Placed Playoff, Team Bath defeated London Pulse by four goals. Bath lead by two goals at the first break, only one at half-time, before piling on 13 goals to eight in the third to open up a handy lead. The Pulse hit back in a low-scoring final term, but fell short with Bath getting up, 36-32.

Kim Borger farewelled the VNSL with 25 goals from 30 attempts in her last game, while the defensive end of Layla Guscoth (four rebounds, three intercepts, eight deflections and eight turnovers) and Tash Pavelin (three intercepts, five deflections and six turnovers) worked well with captain Imogen Allison (11 feeds, two intercepts, three deflections and two turnovers) on transition. Funmi Fadoju was a clear star on the court in a losing side, racking up a mind-boggling 13 deflections, 11 turnovers, four intercepts and three rebounds for only 10 penalties. She worked well with Lindsay Keable (six deflections, seven turnovers, two intercepts and two rebounds) and Zara Everitt (three intercepts, five deflections and four turnovers).

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