Confidence is the most important single factor in this game, and no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.” – Jack Nicklaus
In netball, as in life, the good things do not often come easily. Great performances are built on doing the hard yards in training, week in week out, establishing the elusive connections and self-confidence which make teams unbeatable. When the chips are down, teams with confidence will ride out the storm and work their way back into a game – and so it proved at the Thunderdome, where Manchester Thunder came from behind with a sparkling second half performance to deny Hertfordshire Mavericks 59-50.
Starting line ups:
Manchester Thunder: GS Mvula, GA Turner, WA Liota, C Marshall, WD Skingsley, GD Dovey, GK Almond Changes: 2nd Q (midway) GS Clinton
Hertfordshire Mavericks: GS Joseph, GA Drakeford-Lewis, WA Grant, C Morgan-Smith, WD Everitt, GD Keable, GK Artman Changes: 1st Q: GK Quashie (injury) 3rd Q: Drakeford-Lewis to GS, GA Neal, 4th Q: GK Artman, Quashie to GD, WD Drayne
At the start of the 2017 season, Manchester Thunder was a side dismissed by many Superleague watchers as unlikely to challenge for top honours, having lost key personnel to the bright lights of leagues in the southern hemisphere, alongside their inspirational head coach Dan Ryan who returned to Australia to coach the Adelaide Thunderbirds. New coach Karen Grieg, with much to prove herself in her first senior coaching appointment, assembled a young squad brimming with talent, but could they actually be in the play-off mix when the league reaches the sharp end of the season? On the evidence of tonight’s performance, the answer is a resounding yes, with the young Manchester side overturning an early five goal advantage to pull themselves up the league, level on points with Wasps, to fourth place.
With former Silver Fern Leana Leota marshaling the front line with flair and vision, Thunder were at times unstoppable, with the speed of ball movement and creation of space in the circle leaving Mavericks’ usually strong defensive line up struggling for answers. At the back, veteran GK Kerry Almond came good when it mattered, turning over vital interceptions and linking well with captain Emma Dovey to step up the pressure on young Mavericks’ shooter Sophie Drakeford-Lewis, who was the pick of the visitors’ shooting options. Meanwhile, Thunder’s inexperienced shooter Amy Clinton, who joined the game midway through the second quarter after an injury to Joyce Mvula, repaid the confidence shown in her with a sparkling game, forming a seamless partnership with Kathryn Turner to keep the scoreboard moving in the home side’s favour.
At the start, Mavericks’ traditionally strong defensive formation caused headaches for Mvula, who made several uncharacteristic mistakes and missed easy goals before being substituted with an injury midway through the second period. Thunder’s GA Kathryn Turner once again put in a controlled, creative performance and her confident court craft, linked to accurate shooting, should surely have drawn the attention of England’s selectors.
Mavericks led 16-12 at the first interval, with their young line up inspired by the shooting exploits of England U19 player Drakeford Lewis, and 16-year old Zoe Everitt at WD, who picked up several key intercepts. However, Thunder stayed in touch, and had the belief in themselves to win more ball, which they did through some impressive midcourt pressure. Mavericks buckled and Thunder pounced, closing the gap to one goal at half time, trailing 27-26.
The second half saw the game’s momentum swing firmly in favour of the home side, with some breathtaking passages of play through the court leaving Mavericks twisting and turning to keep up. Central to the pace of the game was a resurgent Leota, who drove her side forwards with creative first time ball options and clever placement to release her shooters into space. Thunder upped the pace, and Mavericks wilted, and with Clinton netting 12/12 in the third period, the home side created a 44-39 lead at three quarter time.
Confidence was much in evidence in the Thunder side in the fourth quarter, and despite Mavericks’ coach Broughton switching her defensive line, there was nothing that the visitors could do to stop a team now on song.
Speaking after the game, Karen Greig, the Thunder coach was full of praise for her young charges: “They gave me a bit of a fright to start with, but these girls trust and believe in each other, work for each other and push themselves in training and on the court. And it showed this evening. Do I believe we can win the title? Yes, I do.”
Next up for Thunder is a trip to the South West to face Team Bath, and with the Manchester side’s confidence now running high, it will take a formidable performance to stop them from registering their sixth win in a row. The play-offs beckon.
Manchester Thunder 59 def Hertfordshire Mavericks 50 Player of the Match: Leana Leota (Thunder)
Manchester Thunder Mvula 11/18 61%
Turner 25/27 93%
Clinton 23/24 96% 59/69 86%