WASPS 52 v MANCHESTER THUNDER 57
Manchester Thunder brought all their Northern grit and determination to the Copper Box for this year’s Netball Superleague grand final, coming back from six goals down at three quarter time to reigning champions Wasps, to take the 2019 title.
Key to their success was some stunning defensive work by retiring GK Kerry Almond, in partnership with Thunder captain Emma Dovey, and some ice cool shooting by replacement Ellie Cardwell, who came on for the injured Joyce Mvula with only seven minutes left in the game and netted ten straight goals to take Thunder to the title.
Wasps coach Mel Mansfield will be left to rue some uncharacteristic lapses in concentration by her side, who led by five at the first interval and by six at the three quarter break but allowed Thunder to break their rhythm and force uncharacteristic errors which gave momentum back to the Manchester side.
From the first whistle, it was clear that the game would be a defensive battle, with neither team willing to give ground or allow an easy passage to goal. It was Wasps who settled early on, pulling out to a 6-2 lead before Manchester’s O’Hanlon and Leota worked out how to break through the Coventry side’s defensive work to get to the circle edge.
Hannah Knights put in another captain’s performance for Wasps, picking up several early interceptions and unsettling Turner and Mvula on the shot. Wasps led 17-12 after the first quarter.
Thunder upped the defensive pressure at the start of the second quarter, forcing Wasps to push the ball into the back space to Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris and giving their defenders the opportunity for the tip or the clean intercept.
Player of the match Dovey and Almond used all their experience, built up over the past 11 years, to confuse the space for the Wasps feeders, and with WD Laura Malcolm putting in sterling work to get hands over the feed, the opportunities started to come for Thunder.
Moving the ball with characteristic speed and vision to the goal circle, Thunder took charge of the scoreboard, with Malawi international Mvula using all her guile and court craft to create easy shooting opportunities under the post. With Harris making a tactical error on the buzzer, opting to pass rather than shoot, Thunder took the quarter 17-10 and went into the half time interval with all the momentum, 29-27 ahead.
Wasps have not won the title for the past two years without learning a thing or two about pressure situations, and they turned the screws on Thunder once again in the third quarter, with GD Fran Williams showing all the skills which have made her sucha potent defensive force this season to reclaim the initiative for her side.
Wasps pulled level, and then moved out to a lead, but with Turner and Mvula now finding their range, the Coventry side found it hard to break free of the challengers. A flurry of midcourt interceptions by both sides kept the crowd enthralled, but with the tension rising at London’s Copper Box, it was Wasps who edged to a 45-39 lead with 15 minutes to play. Could they make it three titles in a row?
Thunder had other ideas, and outscored the champions 7-2 at the start of the final period, before disaster struck – a circle clash of legs with Knights saw Mvula hobble from the court, and replaced by Ellie Cardwell.
Despite the mounting pressure and palpable tension around the arena, Cardwell confidently slotted the penalty awarded for the contact on Mvula and then proceeded to put on a masterclass of shooting, combining effortlessly with Turner and netting 10/10 despite the rising noise and obvious Adrenalin rush.
Malcolm and O’Hanlon were now in full flow for Thunder in the midcourt, taking the sting out of Wasps’ usual precision passing game, and with Almond now forcing Dunn to move away from the ball to take passes under pressure, the errors started to creep in for the Coventry side.
Thunder struck, outscoring the champions 11-4 for the final six minutes of the game and shutting down the normally fluent Wasps midcourt. The title was Manchester Thunder’s 57-52, as they registered their third win of the season over the champions.
At the final whistle, Thunder coach Karen Greig was ecstatic: “This means everything to us – a performance really built on northern grit. It was a real team effort, and showed the value of rotating our squad through the season so that everyone was ready to come onto the court and do a job. At three quarter time, I asked the players how much they wanted to win, and I think that final fifteen shows just how badly they wanted to take the title. What a game!”
Starting line ups:
GK Knights (capt)
GD Dovey (capt)
4th Q: Cardwell to GS
Dunn 33/37 (89%)
Harris 19/26 (73%)
TEAM 52/63 (83%)
Mvula 26/27 (96%)
Turner 21/22 (95%)
Cardwell 10/10 (100%)
TEAM 57/59 (97%)
Player of the match:
Emma Dovey (Thunder)
Gary Burgess and Jackie Mizon