Teamwork (noun): the combined action of a group, especially when effective and efficient
Netball pundits often comment that a team of seven committed players, working together, is better than a team of seven individuals playing for themselves.
The Vitality Netball Superleague clash between Loughborough Lightning and Manchester Thunder provided ample evidence of what can be achieved by hard work, dedication and playing for each other. It was Thunder who took the game, but both sides can take credit for a hotly-contested, highly-skilled game which ebbed and flowed right to the end.
At the end of the 2017 season, both sides had reasons to be positive about the future: Manchester Thunder withstood a wholesale exodus of players, as well as the departure of head coach Dan Ryan at the start of the year. Thunder drove their way into the finals, under the watchful eye of new leader Karen Greig.
Meanwhile, Loughborough ended the season on top of the league table and made it through to the Grand Final, where they narrowly failed to contain the eventual champions Wasps. With both sides undefeated thus far in 2018, the stage was set for a memorable encounter.
Starting line ups
Changes: Q2 GA Grierson, Q2 GA Clark, Q4 WA Grierson
Changes: Q1 GS Mvula
Thunder scored the opening goal, but it was Loughborough who settled into a rhythm first, with Hannah Joseph and Natalie Panagarry combining seamlessly to drive the ball through court to the hands of shooting superstar Peace Proscovia.
The lead soon stretched to 7-1 in the home side’s favour, with Jamaican Shameera Sterling, who was outstanding all evening, creating turnover ball and unsettling Thunder’s young shooter Amy Clinton into errors and missed shots.
Something had to change if the Manchester side was to stay in touch, and coach Greig was swift to insert Malawian Joyce Mvula in Clinton’s place. The change had an immediate effect – Mvula’s strong holding game kept Sterling occupied, while releasing Kathryn Turner into space where her speed and clever drives kept Vicky Oyesola guessing.
The gap narrowed to a single goal, before the Lightning midcourt of Cobden, Panagarry and Joseph once again pushed forwards, making a couple of clever interception to give Proscovia easy shooting changes, which she converted.
Proscovia and Mvula were once again their side’s spearheads for the second period, with neither side able to establish a convincing lead. The introduction of Brie Grierson for a seemingly out-of-sorts Ella Clark midway through the quarter made it easier for Thunder to use the aerial ball through court.
With Liana Leota and Amy Carter working tirelessly round the circle edge, Thunder edged closer. Mvula and Turner started to use lookaway passes to gain closer positions to the post and their understanding and guile bore dividends.
Thunder levelled the score shortly after half time, only to see Loughborough draw ahead once more, with Proscovia and Ella Clark, back on court for Grierson, starting to establish some real understanding and connections. The lead edged to three goals, before Thunder’s superior work rate brought them right back into contention.
Manchester Thunder’s heritage, established when the club was known as Northern Thunder under the watchful eye of celebrated coach Mike Greenwood, is based on a “never say die” mentality.
As the final period started, Thunder seemed to step up a gear once more, with the ever-dynamic Leota tireless in her pursuit of the perfect feeding position. Mvula and Turner were now working as one, and six unanswered goals from the pair at the start of the last quarter seemed destined to decide the game.
Proscovia tried to lift her side with a run of four unanswered goals, but Thunder responded through Skingsley and Dovey to shut down the easy ball into the goal third.
As bodies tired and brains became fatigued, errors started to creep in, but both sides continued to work tirelessly for each other. Lightning closed the gap to two, but could not get past the defensive pressure mounted across court by a united Thunder side.
Proscovia netted the game’s final goal, to take her personal tally to 50, but Thunder had done the hard yards earlier in the period.
It would be foolish to assume that both sides will not be involved at the sharp end of the season – although which one will end up on top at that stage will depend on who can maintain their bonds and playing structures over a long and broken season.
After the opening four rounds, both sides sit inside the top four.
In what must be one of the closest Superleague round ever, Sirens overcame Northumbria 45-40, Celtic Dragons overcame a depleted Surry Storm 55-50 in an upset, Team Bath survived a 48-47 contest against Severn Stars and Wasps beat Mavericks 66-52 after a stellar opening half.
Manchester Thunder 56 def Loughborough Lightning 55
(13-17, 27-28, 43-44, 56-55)
Player of the match: Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)
Clinton 2/3 67%
Mvula 31/37 84%
Turner 23/26 89%
Proscovia 50/59 85%
Clark 5/7 71%
Umpires: Ian Fuller and Louise Travis