After one of the closest seasons to date, the stage was set at the Copper Box Arena for the 2016 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final.
Manchester Thunder and Surrey Storm took to court with the help of raucous roars from the crowd as they clapped their Vitality cheer sticks creating an electric atmosphere.
The first steal of the day went to Storm as they forced a held ball from Thunder which was quickly followed by a Storm three seconds from Georgia Lees.
Lees soon redeemed herself with an interception and Storm took the lead by a goal to nil.
The last time the two sides met, the battle between Malysha Kelly and Rachel Dunn was definitely a tasty affair, and the opening to this game was no different.
The Gilbert Goalden Shot winner, Dunn, managed to get the better of Kelly to increase the lead 3-1, shortly by a goal from Pamela Cookey to make it four.
Both defences were working hard in the opening five minutes to make things difficult in the circle for the shooters – but it was Storm who faired the better as Thunder found it tricky to work the ball to goal.
With seven minutes left on the clock in the opening quarter, Storm took an 8-2 lead, quickly followed by a flurry of goals to make it 13-3 with four minutes to go.
Defensive pressure was the key in the first period as Storm really seemed to have their formula spot-on, with the attack displaying incredible patience to maintain their lead.
Towards the end of the quarter, Thunder found their rhythm and were galvanised by two flying Malysha Kelly interceptions to pull back some momentum.
The first 15 minutes finished with Storm leading by 15 goals to 9.
Neither side made any changes going into the second quarter – as they came out on to court, the Copper Box crowd was louder than ever!
Cookey scored the opening goal of the second 15 which was quickly followed by two bagged by Dunn as Storm pulled out to 18-9 leaders.
Kelly was once again the spark to ignite a Thunder attack and make the score 19-12 in Storm’s favour.
Storm remained determined to hang on to their lead and even after an on-court chat between the experienced Laura Malcolm and Sara Bayman, Thunder couldn’t seem to get a hold on the game.
With just over six minutes left on the clock in the quarter, Storm took an 11-goal lead at 25-14.
Shortly after, Thunder called time and Jodie Gibson made way for Emma Dovey to take ownership of the Goal Defence bib.
Despite her confident performances this season, Storm’s defence made Ellie Cardwell think twice about putting her shots up – but the former basketball player stuck to task to make it 27-17 and get her side back within ten.
It didn’t take Storm long to respond, and with just a minute to go, they made it 31-18 in their favour
On the buzzer, Dunn made the crowd go wild as she sunk a long shot to make the score 32-19!
Only a fool would have written off Thunder at half time, but all seven of Surrey Storm’s side were playing the game of their lives.
It was all set up for a thriller of a second half…
Dan Ryan made his side take to court during half time to warm up again, and also made some big positional changes going into the second half.
Gabby Marshall was put into Wing Defence, replacing Malcolm, Kathryn Turner was pulled on to Goal Attack, moving Cardwell to the bench and Housby to Goal Shooter.
Storm, confident with their first half performance, remained unchanged.
The Thunder switches made the attack flow more freely as Turner and Housby linked up beautifully – the score moved to 35-25 after five minutes gone in the quarter.
Reid and Holland weren’t phased, though, as they stuck to task, working together to take tips and interceptions to shake up the new Thunder attack.
A contact call for Dunn meant Turner and Housby could take the game back to within eight goals at 38-30.
With five minutes to go, the momentum shifted to Thunder’s favour as their renewed confidence moved them to within six goals – 39-33.
Housby clung on to a tricky feed with the very tips of her fingers at 41-35 to bag the goal and roar her team forwards.
At the other end of the court (unlike the finish to the first half) Dunn couldn’t successfully shoot a long-range effort to finish the third quarter with a goal.
The third period finished 43-36 to Storm, the game still in the balance with everything to fight for.
The final 15 minutes saw Kat Ratnapala make a flurry of changes, bringing Josie Huckle on at Goal Keeper and moving Reid into Goal Defence. Kat Ainsworth took the Wing Defence bib, moving Amy Flanagan in to Centre, and Sophia Candappa in to Wing Attack.
Thunder were unchanged for the final quarter of the 2016 Vitality Netball Superleague and looked hungry to take the win, making it difficult for Storm’s attack to work the ball to post.
With ten minutes to go it was 47-42 to Storm and Thunder were slowly, but surely, creeping their way back in to the game – the Thunder bench louder than ever!
With just five minutes to go in the final game of the season the score line was 52-47 to Storm, and Dan Ryan gave Laura Malcolm and Kerry Almond the nod to come on in Wing Defence and Goal Keeper.
With that change, Cookey fell victim to some dreaded cramp, bringing Katherine Hayes to the court, but Cookey shortly came back on with the score at 52-49 with two minutes on the clock.
A crucial turnover for Thunder with less than a minute to go made it 54-53, but once again on the buzzer, Dunn made it 55 to take the game, and the Vitality Netball Superleague title for the second year in a row!
Manchester Thunder fought back as hard as everyone in the Arena expected, but it just came too late to break the spirit of Surrey Storm.
The crowd inside the Copper Box Arena was louder than ever and created an incredible atmosphere for the players from both sides.
The same could be said for the first game of the day in the third against fourth play-off, as Hertfordshire Mavericks and Team Bath really gave the crowd something to cheer about!
The unbelievably close and entertaining encounter finished with Bath winning by just a single goal against a heartbroken Mavericks to take third place in the Vitality Netball Superleague.
Both games were final-worthy, making this day of netball an amazing advert, not just for women’s sport, but for sport in general.
Congratulations to Surrey Storm for winning the Vitality Netball Superleague for the second year in a row!