A clinical performance from reigning champions Manchester Thunder gave them a convincing win against Celtic Dragons, 68-42.
With an unbeaten run last season winning all 22 games played, Thunder had quite the image to uphold. But with only two of the starting seven from last year’s final starting this year, there was a mysterious element surrounding the team, with opponents and fans alike not knowing what to expect.
With players also being away on international duty, the team was only fully assembled to train together just over a week before the season began.
The players came out with force to the 6,000 strong crowd at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham. Celtic Dragons had signed 10 new players ready for the season but didn’t have their first choice shooters.
Thunder got onto the front foot earlier, slotting the goals in the first half. With some strong and well timed interceptions from Taylor McKevitt and Nat Metcalf, Thunder looked settled despite being a mix of new and experienced members.
Captain Natalie Metcalf spoke at half time about nailing the basics, building connections quickly and clearing sloppy mistakes. As a voice for the team, Metcalf wanted to keep the connections and encouragement going.
Into the third quarter, Thunder knew that Dragons wouldn’t be giving up the fight. They made some vital interceptions, with 11 turnovers completed throughout the full game. As Sky commentator Pamela Cookey highlighted in her commentary, Thunder became known for snatching some well worked goals in the latter part of quarters, reeling the opponent in to then push on forward, and they followed a similar pattern in the opening game of the new season.
Throughout the second half Thunder brought on a whole host of ‘new’ faces with Iona Christian (Wasps) at centre, Ella Bowen at goal defence (Loughborough Lightning) and Josie Huckle at goal keeper (Wasps).
Heading into the final quarter, Thunder were still working hard on every ball and their persistence paid off as their feeds into South African international shooter Lenize Potgieter and Lois Person reaped the benefit of further goals. The consistency and improvement on each quarter from the Welsh Dragons meant that Thunder couldn’t relax back, despite the score gap, with the last goal of the game being scored from centre pass to net in the last five seconds of the game, thanks to Potgieter’s fast hands.
Thunder battled until the end to claim a big win to start the new season, extending their winning streak in the Netball Super League to 24 games.
POTM Taylor McKevitt, said, “It was good to be back in the yellow dress having a great team performance and to get the win is extra special. Thunder have a big reputation being undefeated but with a new group, people don’t know what to expect so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Head Coach Karen Grieg, said, “There’s a lot to take from [today’s game], there was a lot of preseason talk about the squad put together and today we’ve proven we’ve got a decent squad together. I’m proud of the intensity and purpose the girls played with today. Was it a finished article, no, but who wants that in round one. We’ve still got a lot to do and a lot to build on but hopefully, we’ll get to where we want to be but I’m really happy with what they put out today.”