In a repeat of last year’s Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) Grand Final, Manchester Thunder secured what could be a crucial three points against title-chasing rivals Wasps Netball.
The Manchester outfit recorded a 62-55 victory at a sell-out Arena Birmingham in what was the last game of a highly entertaining Season Opener.
It was Wasps Netball’s veteran mid-courter Jade Clarke who got this tie underway but Thunder managed to get the first goal of this contest, 1-0.
The champions found themselves narrowly ahead but managed to pull away after the first 15 minutes as Amy Carter maintained high energy levels to ensure strong reception and communication across the court.
At the end of the first 15 minutes, Thunder had carved out a six-goal advantage but the likes of Amy Flanagan and Rachel Dunn were battling hard to keep within touching distance to their opposition. 17-11.
In the second quarter, England international Laura Malcolm proved her worth with a strong defensive performance. Wasps, however, were not giving into Thunder’s pressure.
Katie Harris narrowed the gap to four points although a straight shot from Eleanor Cardwell bumped it back up to five.
The game was goal-for-goal and Harris came back with another for the Coventry franchise. Wasps’ Fran Williams was very persistent defensively and over mid court, receiving long and vital passes.
Wasps’ pressing nature made it hard for Thunder to bridge the point gap. Eleanor Cardwell, however, was on fine form and helped to maintain her side’s lead. At half-time, it was 31-25 to Thunder.
Northern Ireland’s Caroline O’Hanlon on as centre and began the third quarter. Amy Carter utilised her defensive skills and was moved to wing defence.
2019 Vitality Netball Superleague Fan’s Player of the Year Joyce Mvula then came on for Thunder and formed a strong partnership with Cardwell, who moved to goal attack. At the other end, seven-time VNSL champion Dunn progressively narrowed the six-point gap and took her side to within two.
Just as the Midlands outfit began to build a head of steam, Thunder took it up a gear as Cardwell and Mvula looked almost guaranteed to score. Despite their hard work, Wasps fell behind 47-39 by the end of the third quarter.
After further changes from Karen Grieg and Mel Mansfield – including the reintroduction of Jade Clarke and Laura Malcolm – the fourth and final quarter commenced.
The last 15 minutes proved to be a fitting finale to what was an enthralling Season Opener. A total of 31 goals were scored in the fourth quarter with the majority coming Thunder’s way.
The match – with a roaring crowd behind both sets of players – eventually ended in a 62-55 win for Thunder.
Thunder will take this momentum into their trip to Severn Stars next weekend while Wasps will be looking to bounce back at home to Saracens Mavericks.
Manchester Thunder starting seven: Eleanor Cardwell (GS), Kathryn Turner (GA), Ashleigh Neal (WA), Amy Carter (C), Laura Malcolm (WD), Emma Dovey (GD), Lauren Ngwira (GK).
Wasps Netball starting seven: Rachel Dunn (GS), Katie Harris (GA), Ioana Christian (WA), Jade Clarke (C), Amy Flanagan (WD), Fran Williams (GD), Hannah Knights (GK).
By Hannah Bradfield.