Playing in front of a vocal sold-out crowd at the Genting Arena, Thunder went toe-to-toe with the reigning champions for most of the game but lost their way in the final quarter.
The Black and Yellows were leading at the end of the opening period but that implosion in the final quarter proved costly and Storm surged to a 58-48 win. It has been a frustrating start to the season for Thunder, with two games and two losses in this new-look Superleague. But they again played with plenty of passion, skill and composure and the final scoreline today does not reflect their performance. And coach Karen Greig remains bullish that her side can turn their fortunes around, starting with their home game with Scottish Sirens next weekend.
It was a promising performance from Thunder’s old and new guard in defence, with Bea Skingsley and Gabby Marshall producing a number of timely intercepts, while Emma Dovey and Almond plugged away in the circle.
Greig added: “Defensively we put out a really good performance and turned over a lot of ball. Whoever was in that defensive unit, it worked. We can win ball but we need to make sure when we have it at the other end we are putting it in the net. We will click and the full performance will come and the players just need to go out on court and believe in themselves and come out with the result they deserve.”
The rival sides traded blows – and they led throughout the first half, with Thunder sneaking a lead at the first interval (12-15) before Storm edged ahead at the half time break.
Thunder started more patiently and had periods of excellent combination play, especially in the second phase of attack. They were also having intermittent luck against the towering Storm shooter Megan Craig, who was locked in an intense battle with Thunder’s 6 ft 1 keeper Kerry Almond.
The Black and Yellows were forced to change their line-up after Leota suffered a knock and it seemed to affect their rhythm. The Kiwi re-entered the fray at the start of the second quarter, this time at wing attack, and Thunder looked far more assured again. Almond continued her battle with imposing Craig in the third quarter, with the former coming up trumps with a number of flying intercepts.
Greig tried to switch things up by bringing on Amy Clinton at shooter at the expense of Malawian Joyce Mvula, while Bea Skingley came on at wing defence and Marshall moved to centre. Kathryn Turner, who had an assured game, was later sacrificed for a tactical change with Mvula returning to the fray as Greig attempted to break Storm’s momentum.
The scores were locked on centre-pass for the majority of the third term, with Thunder showing moments of class and confidence, but Storm never let them open up a lead of more than two goals and eventually forced a mini break of their own. Both sides still had belief they could win it at the start of the fourth quarter, with Storm 41-39 goals to the good. But a powerful five minutes from the defending champions appeared to throw Thunder off their game plan and errors started to creep into their game. The Black and Yellows were forcing turnovers at will but only managed to convert one out of 12 of them. And as Storm continued to tick their own score over at the other end, a 10-goal lead soon opened up and with only five minutes to play, Thunder were running out of time – and ideas. But they never gave up and pushed Storm to the final whistle, having the final say of the game with Mvula scoring on the buzzer.
Thunder starting 7: GK Kerry Almond, GD Emma Dovey, WD Gabby Marshall, C Liana Leota, WA Beccy Hoult, GA Kathryn Turner, GS Joyce Mvula
End of Q1: 12-15
Half time: 30-26
End of Q3: 41-39
Full time: 58-48
Report by Denise Evans :: Photo Credit to Steve Porter