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Manchester Thunder win 2022 VNSL

Thunder take the title but theres concern for Ella

Manchester Thunder won all 20 of their regular-season matches; beat Team Bath Netball in the semi-final and produced a 60-53 result against Loughborough Lightning in the Grand Final; Lightning lost starting goal attack Ella Clark to injury in the opening minutes of the final in London.

Manchester Thunder have won the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague title and completed a perfect season, after a 60-53 victory over Loughborough Lightning in the Grand Final.

Thunder created a 12-goal cushion during the first quarter, after Lightning lost their goal attack Ella Clark to a nasty injury.

Karen Greig’s Thunder team were put under significant pressure during the third and fourth quarters, but they kept their tally moving when it counted to secure their first Superleague title since 2019.

This Vitality Netball Superleague title is Thunder’s fourth and they are only the second team in Superleague history to deliver an unbeaten season and go on to win the title.

After an unbeaten season, Greig had implored Thunder to approach the final like any other match, but also admitted that this one “really did matter”.

Both head coaches had fielded largely unchanged starting sevens to the ones that had set them on the way to their semi-final victories.

Greig amended one, as Millie Sanders was selected to start at goal defence, and Victoria Burgess named the same Lightning seven, which meant that Beth Cobden wasn’t fit to take to court.

Thunder turned the first centre pass of the match and pressed into a 3-1 lead, before the contest was halted due to Clark’s injury. The goal attack landed awkwardly, instantly screamed in pain and was forced to leave the court via a wheelchair.

The dual netball and basketball international had been Lightning’s mainstay at both goal attack and goal shooter this season, and her replacement was 18-year-old Emma Thacker.

Lightning’s bench did their utmost to support their players while Clark received treatment on court. Head coach Burgess and Cobden, who knew exactly what a Grand Final injury is like, provided key words of advice.

Greig and Neville also kept Thunder calm and Thunder instantly attacked the match after the restart. In the next few minutes, they turned ball quickly and frequently to press 12-5 up and 20-8 ahead at quarter time.

During the second quarter, Lightning settled again and got back into their stride. Nat Pangarry’s move to wing defence helped them to lessen the impact of Nat Metcalf and brought goal defence Fran Williams into the game more.

At the other end of the court, Thacker shook off her nerves and rose to the occasion. Mary Cholhok also provided Lightning with a quick route to goal.

A 16-15 quarter, narrowly in Thunder’s favour, was a sign of what was to come. Lightning simply refused to back away from their opponents.

In the circle, Joyce Mvula and Eleanor Cardwell rewarded almost every pass that came to them. In 60 minutes of netball, Thunder’s shooters each missed just one goal.

During the closing minutes, Lightning pulled it back to within six goals but two final shots from Cardwell finished the job for Thunder and completed the perfect season.

Laura Malcolm, as she has done all season, led by example and was unrelenting in work, while Caroline O’Hanlon’s efficient presence in mid-court ensured Thunder were able to transition through to their shooters.

The second 30 minutes were fuelled by intense emotions from both sides, with Thunder now in touching distance of a perfect season and Lightning sensing a further comeback.

Lightning fought for everything and were boosted further when Clark returned to watch from the bench. However, Thunder’s internationals continued to play composed and clinical netball.

Match Report: Sky SportS Netball

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