Thunder displayed patches of fluid and dominant form but they failed to make it count and they only out-scored Dragons in one quarter. It was a lacklustre and ultimately disappointing performance from the Black and Yellows and they will be relieved to leave Wales with a win.
Coach Dan Ryan expected more from his players, especially with consistency in all four quarters. “Our focus going into the game was to be as clinical and consistent as possible as we haven’t won four quarters for a couple of weeks now and we were really conscious of winning all four today but it didn’t work out that way, which is pretty disappointing,” he said. “We made a lot of basic errors on our decision making and we played into their hands and kept giving them opportunities. We didn’t learn from those mistakes and they kept happening. We need to rectify it as top ranked teams will punish us.”
Eyebrows were raised before the first whistle with coach Dan Ryan’s team selection. He chose Natalie Haythornthwaite as his shooter and dropped Helen Housby to the bench, with Kathryn Turner instead chosen to partner her in attack. On the decision to play Haythornthwaite at shooter, Ryan said: “I’ve always been conscious to change the line-up so that does take away from continuity. Nat has been out at wing attack for the past couple of weeks and I wanted to get her back in a focused shooting role – she’s short and dynamic and camp play the circle well. I think she did some really good stuff for us in there.”
New Zealand import Liana Leota was brought straight back into the team after two games out rested and it looked like an experimental and exciting attacking front line in equal measure. Ryan’s gamble paid off to some extent, with Thunder starting with intent but they tailed off near the end of the opening quarter and the sides went in level at the break.
There were moments of personal brilliance from the Black and Yellows, with Sara Bayman – who was named player of the match, constantly probing and working to control the momentum of Thunder’s play. It was a true captain’s performance from the England star. Ryan added: “solid across the board in defence and attack and she came up with key intercepts when Dragons were challenging or we were trying to push on.”
Ryan put faith in in-form Ellie Cardwell for the second half and despite doing little wrong, she was sacrificed for the more familiar shooting pairing of Helen Housby and Haythornthwaite in the final quarter as he attempted to put the tie to bed. Thunder worked hard to edge themselves in front on several occasions throughout the match, including a 10-goal advantage in the final quarter, but they failed to push on and sloppy errors allowed Dragons to carry on puffing in the hope of a famous victory.
It was an ugly win for Thunder and they will need to be far more clinical against Team Bath when they visit the Thunderdome next weekend, to secure the three points.
Report by Denise Evans