The off-season has been a whirlwind of exciting import players coming in, senior players moving on and young blood stepping up from the NPL to the big time. Versatile New Zealand international Liana Leota has joined a mid-court already brimming with talent and experience, in England players Laura Malcolm and Sara Bayman and rising star Gabby Marshall.
Top Jamaican defender Malysha Kelly has blended in well with a solid defensive unit, which is also sure to benefit from young Jodie Gibson’s run-out in the recent tri-series against the World Champions, Australia.
In addition to the overseas players, Thunder signed 2015’s Superleague Player of the Season, Natalie Haythornthwaite, from Rose Rivals Yorkshire Jets, to further strengthen their attacking options.
With an ambitious, new-style coach setting the tone and another match at the Manchester Arena, this time against Jets, and all home games at the Thunderdome in Gorton heading for a sell-out, the 2016 Superleague season could be Thunder’s most successful – and demanding yet .
With all eight of the Superleague teams also strengthening their ranks with international experience, including the return of Jade Clarke and Eboni Beckford Chambers from the trans-tasman ANZ to Loughborough Lightning and Team Bath respectively, player movement in the off-season has been unprecedented. It has sparked genuine excitement for what is expected to be the most competitive season yet, with at least six teams genuine contenders for the title.
The first hurdle for Thunder will be facing Team Northumbria in the inaugural Super Saturday event at the Genting Arena in Birmingham on Saturday (January 30). It is the first time all eight teams will compete at the same venue, with four matches taking place over six-hours. Ryan, who was also appointed England under-21 coach earlier this month, said: “We’re extremely keen to kick off the season this weekend and finally start playing matches. The build up to Super Saturday has been awesome, it’s a great concept that will hopefully showcase just how exciting the 2016 season will be.” Despite losing five member of his squad to England duties for the test international against the Diamonds, Ryan is bullish about is team’s preparations for the season. He said: “January has been a challenging month. But I think we are in a good place right now, everyone has been training really well, they’re looking sharp and the healthy internal competition is certainly there.”
Although he is happy with having competition in each position for a starting berth on Saturday, Ryan is facing a real challenge of who to pick week-to-week.
The Melbourne-born coach added: ”I’ve been really happy with the depth of talent within our 15, so selecting the travelling 12 will be challenging enough, let alone who will be in the starting line up week to week. I do want to get as many athletes as I can out on court in the early part of the season to see what they can do. It’s critical that I expose them to the level and provide the opportunities to really give us some solid options for the season ahead.”
Report by Denise Evans
EnjoyCarLife, a car and van sales company that also specialises in vehicle servicing, is the latest firm to offer their financial support to Thunder for the 2016 Superleague season.
A spokesperson for EnjoyCarLife, said: “We became aware of the huge growth of netball in the UK thanks to our Stock Manager Andy Lowe, who has a close connection through his daughters, who both play for Cheshire. So when the opportunity to sponsor Manchester Thunder came up we jumped at it. At EnjoyCarLife we sell used cars and vans all over the UK, so the national exposure that Thunder provides us will be invaluable. We’re looking forward to being associated with such a successful and fast-growing team.”
For a quote and to find out more information, click here www.enjoycarlife.co.uk