By Denise Evans
Another Superleague season is almost upon us.
Players are back in pre-season training and many familiar faces will return to play in the Black and Yellow dress for another year.
And while we’ve said goodbye to some during the off-season, we have also welcomed back others into the Thunder family.
Let’s take a look at the squad, which players could be set to shine and who will be wanting to end their Thunder career by lifting the Superleague trophy.
Don’t forget you can meet them at our Season Launch Day, including a pre-season friendly with Loughborough Lightning, on Saturday 17 November. Buy tickets here >>
The Superleague Squad
There’s 10 players in Thunder’s 2019 Superleague squad, with five additional training partners yet to be announced, two of which will be selected for each match day squad.
Kerry Almond, Emma Dovey, Rebekah Airey
Thunder stalwarts Dovey and Almond return to the fold, with young England defender Airey joining the defensive end from Loughborough Lightning.
Almond plans to make 2019, which will be here 11th season with Thunder, her last.
The club will be hoping the experienced defender, who has spent her entire senior career in the Black and Yellow dress, can retire with a Superleague winners’ medal around her neck.
While her circle-mate Dovey returns to lead Thunder in her third season as captain.
Dovey rejoins pre-season training following a trip to Australia to play for England in the Fast5 World Series competition. It marked a return to international netball for the goal defence, following a long absence from the Roses side.
Caroline O’Hanlon, Laura Malcolm, Amy Carter, Liana Leota
Thunder mid-court for 2019 has a plethora of international experience.
O’Hanlon will play for Thunder for her second season, after a successful debut term which also included captaining Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in the spring.
Malcolm has returned to the club where she came through the youth ranks, following two seasons at new Superleague franchise Severn Stars.
The England international, who mainly plays at centre and wing defence, will also work as a head coach of Thunder’s Pathway Academy squad.
Malcolm will face competition for her place in the starting seven from emerging England talent Carter, who enjoyed a successful breakthrough season in the senior team in 2018.
Carter also joined up with the senior England Roses squad for the first time earlier this month, to play in the Fast5 tournament Down Under.
Former New Zealand international Leota brings her ample experience and leadership to the Thunder squad for a fourth season.
Can the Kiwi wing attack make it three seasons in a row to be named in the Superleague All-Star VII Superleague team in 2019?
Joyce Mvula, Ellie Cardwell and Kathryn Turner
Malawi’s Mvula really flourished in her second season at Thunder in 2018, adapting her game to the English Superleague’s style and growing in confidence with every shot.
It was a successful international season for Mvula, too, with the Malawi Queen selected to carry her country’s flag at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.
She was also a key member of the Malawi squad which beat England at Fast5, despite the efforts of her own Thunder team-mate Emma Dovey playing for the Roses against her in defence.
Like Malcolm, Cardwell is back in the Thunder fold following two seasons at Stars and the England shooter recently returned from the Roses tour to Jamaica, after her Superleague form cemented her as one of the top shooters in the country.
Turner, who is also gunning for a hat-trick of spots in the Superleague All-Star VII team next season, completes the attacking line-up for Thunder.
Widely regarded as the best goal attack in the league, fan-favourite Turner, who has spent a decade at Thunder and rose through the youth ranks, is a vital member of the squad.
A good start could be key to Thunder’s season, with confidence and momentum coming from by winning games and putting in consistent performances – to pile pressure on their rivals.
Thunder begin their Superleague 2019 campaign during Super10, with a tough fixture against benecosMavericks.
Their challenging start then leads them to a mouth-watering away tie against Wasps, before two home games on the bounce at Belle Vue against Strathclyde Sirens and league newcomers London Pulse.
If Thunder can get at least three wins in that opening period, it should leave them with real belief and also well placed in the table with a tough away trip already negotiated.
The Black and Yellows can expect a testing run-in, when they host Team Bath in the penultimate game of the season on April 29 and they then close the season with an away trip to Surrey Storm.
Who is set to shine in 2019?
Every Thunder player will have personal motivation to play well and produce good performances for four quarters.
And collectively, they will want to at the very least qualify for the play-offs, and then go one step further to take a place in the Grand Final, for the first time since 2016.
But keep an eye on Laura Malcolm and Ellie Cardwell, who will want to prove Thunder were smart to bring them back into the fold, after two seasons away.
However, it’s Amy Carter who is my pick to shine in 2019, with the young mid-courter showing maturity, skill and ability to read the game far beyond her 21 years.
Carter is smart and efficient and could be a real asset for Thunder in a competitive centre-court.
We’ve been easing into life at Belle Vue for the last couple of seasons, but in 2019 the majority of our home games will be played at the new venue.
It’s got a peak capacity of a whopping 2,000, which is almost double Wright Robinson.
It’s time to make the stadium our new Thunderdome!
For the first time, fans can book allocated seats for every game and season tickets are of course available once again.