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Eleanor Cardwell takes a shot for Manchester Thunder against Team Bath (Morgan Harlow)

Eleanor Cardwell takes a shot for Manchester Thunder against Team Bath (Morgan Harlow)

After 20 rounds and five months, the Finals Weekend of the Vitality Netball Superleague (VSNL) 2021 season is finally upon us and Manchester Thunder are hoping to retain the trophy on June 27.

They will join Team Bath Netball, Loughborough Lightning and Leeds Rhinos Netball when four top-class sides descend on the Copper Box Arena this weekend.

Get the lowdown on Manchester Thunder ahead of their semi-final encounter with Team Bath on June 26:

Coach: Karen Greig
Captain: Emma Dovey
Nickname: Thunder
League Position: Second (51 points)
VNSL Best: Winners (2012, 2014, 2019)

Semi-final Fixture: Manchester Thunder vs Team Bath Netball (16.00 June 26)

Current Squad: Rebekah Airey, Kerry Almond, Eleanor Cardwell, Amy Carter, Emma Dovey, Laura Malcolm, Elia McCormick, Joyce Mvula, Berri Neil, Caroline O’Hanlon, Lois Pearson, Emilia Roscoe, Millie Sanders, Alicia Scholes, Ella Standring.

Last Starting VII: Almond (GK), Dovey (GD), Malcolm (WD), Carter (C), O’Hanlon (WA), Cardwell (GA), Mvula (GS).

Form Guide: WWWWWW

The Lowdown: Manchester Thunder were perennial winners in the 2010’s. One of the league’s founding members, it took the north west outfit six years to win their first league title in 2012 and they haven’t looked back.

After that two-goal victory against Surrey Storm nine years ago, Thunder went onto win it again against the same opposition. This time, the difference was one goal and the game produced arguably the most memorable Grand Final moment to date with a last-second Helen Housby winner. It would be five years until they won it again and they did so in typically dramatic fashion against Wasps in 2019.

Now, Karen Greig’s side will be aiming to regain their title with one of the youngest squads in the division. The title-winning Head Coach will be delighted with how her side are entering their semi-final and are the form team going into Finals Weekend, winning seven of their last seven. Their last defeat came at the hands of Team Bath Netball back in Round 14.

Notably, Thunder’s famous pathway has meant that their squad has been bolstered by a host of young players. In that all-important victory over Stars, five of the players left on the pitch were 21 or under. The majority of these young players are going for their first-ever title and they will have been so important over the season if they do lift the trophy in June.

It has been a long journey to secure a spot in the last four which was confirmed against Severn Stars on 29 May. In a season where ‘big game players’ have shared the court with a host of debutants, the squad showed their winning mentality by bouncing back from two successive defeats to Team Bath and Wasps in early March. They have lost once since.

Indeed, this late surge helped them finish second in the league which sets up a semi-final clash with Team Bath on June 26.

Their original title defence – when they won four of their first four in 2020 – was cut short but perhaps take two can end in a fourth title for Thunder. Can they become the third side to win two titles back-to-back?

Dovey lifts the Vitality Netball Superleague trophy at the Copper Box Arena on May 18, 2019 in London, England.

Key Players: As mentioned, Thunder’s squad is a split of youth and experience. It is their senior stars, however,  that have stood out in the opening 20 rounds of the season.

Kerry Almond – normally joined by captain Emma Dovey at the back – has returned from retirement with a vengeance this season. The 35-year-old looks as though she never went away with the second-most deflections in the league with 71.

Laura Malcolm has been a stalwart for Thunder in 2021 the Vitality Rose can operate all over the court and has showed her class at wing defence, centre and wing attack so far. Her versatility has allowed her to contribute heavily both to Thunder’s defence and attack.

Thunder ended the 2021 campaign having scored the most goals. They netted 1096 times over 20 matches which is an average of 54.8 per game. Although Joyce Mvula has rightly taken the plaudits due to her 650 goals,  Eleanor Cardwell has been a creative source for the champions.

The Vitality Rose is the highest-scoring goal attack in the league this season with 368 goals and has also been seen contributing with an abundance of assists.

Where to Watch: You can watch Manchester Thunder’s semi-final with Team Bath live on Sky Sports Arena and Mix. You can also watch for free on YouTube here.

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