By Rona Hunnisett at The Copper Box for Manchester Thunder
Missed shots and powerplay opportunities hurt Manchester Thunder hard in this year’s British Fast5 All Stars competition, with the reigning Netball Superleague champions failing to reach the semi final stage of the competition.
However, there was much to applaud during the afternoon at London’s Copper Box, with the club’s new defensive line up of Loreen Ngwira, Rebekah Airey and Emma Dovey switching combinations effortlessly, and Thunder actually scoring their first win in the competition’s three year history!
After signing former Australian international shooter Erin Bell and Malawian midcourt dynamo Takonda Lwazi as All Stars for the tournament, hopes in the Thunder camp were high at the start of play, but failure to capitalise on powerplay opportunities hit the Manchester side hard in the first game of the day. During the two minute period, in which all points scored count double, Thunder’s azsKathryn Turner and Bell failed to land several long range shooting opportunities which would have pushed the scoreboard on. Loughborough’s Jo Harten punished Thunder’s failures with a five point shot in her own side’s powerplay, which yielded ten vital points, and despite the best efforts of new defensive line up Rebekah Airey and Loreen Ngwira, the gap was too big to close in the final minutes of the game.
Thunder kept their Fast5 fortunes alive with an impressive 27-14 win over Severn Stars – the side’s first win in Fast5. Despite failing to take full advantage of the powerplay once again, steady three point scoring in the rest of the game by Erin Bell, Ash Neal and Joyce Mvula kept the scoreboard moving in Manchester’s favour. At the other end, Airey, Dovey and Ngwira once again showed superb understanding to make life difficult for Stars and shut them out of shooting positions.
And so it came down to a winner takes all game against former champions Wasps, the side which Thunder defeated to take the Vitality Superleague title last year. Wasps’ sharpshooter, and last year’s player of the tournament, Rachel Dunn, made several uncharacteristic errors early on, which Thunder capitalised on to push out to an 11-3 lead. However, as shots failed to drop during the Thunder powerplay, Wasps sniffed an opportunity. Dunn found her range to net a five pointer, worth ten at the start of the champions’ powerplay, and from there on in, Thunder were chasing the lead. Despite a superhuman effort in midcourt from O’Hanlon and Lwazi, the ability of Wasps’ Harris and Dunn to net the long range shots when it mattered kept the champions ahead. Final score 27-20 to the champions, but Thunder can take positives from some improved passages of through court play and an impressive first outing for the squad’s new look defensive line.