As the Superleague takes a break for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Denise Evans has taken a look at the season so far, reflecting on Thunder’s performances after six games.
Best starting seven
GK Almond, GD Dovey, WD Carter, C O’Hanlon, WA Leota, GA Turner, GS Joyce Mvula
Coach Karen Greig has experimented with her combinations, most notably in the shooting circle and centre court.
Her defence pretty much picks itself, with Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey two of the most experienced defenders in the league.
She’s started with either Amy Clinton or Joyce Mvula at shooter, with the Malawian edging out the young England shooter in terms of court time.
Mvula struggled against Team Bath’s physicality in the corresponding away fixture last season, but she was far more assertive and in control this time, and in turn was instrumental in her side’s attacking confidence and ability to secure the win.
Kathryn Turner has carried the form which lead to her being named in the Superleague’s 2017 All Star Team of the Season, while Liana Leota continues to add flair and an unrivalled ability to read the game, at wing attack.
Amy Carter (who has also played as a defensive-minded centre) has been a revelation at wing defence since making her Superleague bow in the season opener, while Bea Skingsley has acquitted herself well when she’s been called upon and is expected to keep the pressure on Carter for that starting spot.
Northern Ireland international Caroline O’Hanlon has made Thunder’s centre court more robust and authoritative and she has linked well with her new team mates, especially in attack.
Star player so far – Amy Carter
There have been strong performances across court so far this season, with the defensive and attacking units producing some match-winning moments.
Joyce Mvula is looking stronger and more confident in her second season in England, while her shooting partner Kathryn Turner has once again been at her reliable best
New signing Caroline O’Hanlon and Liana Leota formed a useful partnership, linking the play from centre court to the shooting circle effectively, while Thunder’s experienced defence in Kerry Almond and captain Emma Dovey has come up with intercepts to wrestle the impetus back to Thunder at vital moments.
But it has been Amy Carter‘s performances that have been the biggest talking point so far. The young wing defence/centre won the Player of the Match Award in her first two games in the senior team. And you would struggle to find anyone who would disagree with that.
Carter has been inventive in her passing, a pivotal link in bringing the ball out from the defence, and her defensive positional play has resulted in a number of intercepts or tips each game.
She was a key player in driving Thunder over the finish line in the opening win over Stars and is clearly relishing playing on the country’s biggest netball stage.
Her maturity on court is beyond her 19 years and she is now expected to be one of the first names on coach Greig’s team sheet.
Best game – Loughborough Lightning 55 – Manchester Thunder 56
Thunder have arguably been part of two of the most entertaining – and dramatic – wins of the Superleague season so far.
The Lightning game may snatch victory in this instance, but there’s no taking away from the fact that the opening round win over Severn Stars was a classic snatch and grab.
As the clock ticked down to less than 10 seconds to go, the ball fell to Amy Clinton, who calmly slotted in the winner to secure a stunning comeback, after her side had been 10 goals down at half time.
There is clearly something about that venue in Worcester, as Thunder famously won the title there in 2014, with a goal from Helen Housby in the dying seconds.
And the pulsating victory over last season’s runners-up in round four was similar, with the Black and Yellows again coming from behind to see-off Lighting in their own back yard.
This game was won in the third quarter, as Thunder, clearly reeling from a brutal half-time team talk from Greig after a poor first half, were ruthless and soaked up anything Lightning threw at them.
It was a professional and assured performance from Thunder against a strong Lightning side packed with international stars, and one which made many who had made them outsiders as title-contenders, rethink.
The mid-season break has arrived at an inopportune time for Thunder, as they will have wanted the chance to instantly bounce back from their disappointing loss to benecosMavericks at the Thunderdome.
But the five-week hiatus is the perfect opportunity to take a breath and evaluate player-combinations, undertake extensive performance analysis and rest, for the the players not on international duty in Australia.
While the loss to Mavericks will have given Greig cause for concern, the five victories prior to that game are a much clearer indication as to what level Thunder are at.
The season is shaping up to be one of the most closely-contested in years, with five teams currently vying for the four play-off places.
Thunder are still to play league leaders – and unbeaten after eight – Wasps home and away, and these games are already being touted as the key fixtures in suggesting where the Superleague trophy will end up come July.
If Thunder can push Wasps and win at least one of those matches, they will be firm favourites to make the Grand Final.