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Natalie Metcalf was brought in during the 2022 signing window

Natalie Metcalf was one of the signings of the 2022 window. (Image: Touchlinepics)

It is fitting that at the halfway point of the season two unbeaten records go head-to-head in the Monday Night Netball as Loughborough Lightning host Manchester Thunder.

A sold out Sir David Wallace Arena is the venue as the last two champions put their perfect starts to this year’s quest on the line – and after Monday night 10 of the 20 rounds of regular season action will be complete.

Defending champions Loughborough have won all eight games they have played, 2019 champions Thunder have won all nine games they have played.

A win for Lightning by three goals or more – yes that’s how close it is – will take them top of the table at Thunder’s expense, while a win for the visitors will see them open up a six point advantage.

It’s the best attack in the league – Manchester Thunder have racked up 603 goals – against the best defence – Loughborough Lightning have conceded 391 goals.

Coverage is underway on Sky Sports Mix & Arena from 5pm with first centre pass at 5pm. Seven-time VNSL winner Tamsin Greenway will be part of Sky Sports coverage so we got her to break down the teams and what is on the line.

“Individually and player-for-player they are the two strongest squads across the league, they are littered with international talent throughout.

“They match-up so well and there will be lots of individual court battles, but in terms of style they are very different too.” Tamsin Greenway.

It’s the regular season but what else is on the line?

There is huge anticipation around the game because the teams are playing exceptionally well so the talk is what will be the outcome, what will both teams throw at it.

Natalie Panagarry captains Lightning as they look to stay perfect (Image: Ben Lumley)

I always stay at this stage of the season, bearing in mind they are both unbeaten, it is not going to be a disaster for whoever loses – and I think both teams will approach it slightly differently.

I think Loughborough will perhaps be a bit more pragmatic and see whatever happens as a bit of a learning curve, I think Thunder are enjoying their run of unbeaten wins.

They also have the mentality to keep going at teams hard, especially with the way they are attacking teams at the moment.

Both teams are clearly going for the win, but looking at the way the teams are playing maybe Thunder are going to want it a bit more and just have the edge at the moment.

How do the defensive ends match up?

GK – Alice Harvey (Loughborough Lightnning), Kerry Almond (Manchester Thunder)

GD – Fran Williams (Loughborough Lightning), Shadine Van der Merwe (Manchester Thunder)

As defensive units they work together and deliver the same sort of outcomes, individually each of the players will have something different and they all play slightly differently.

Kerry Almond made her 200th appearance for Thunder recently (Photo by Stephen Gaunt of Touchlinepics.com for Manchester Thunder)

Kerry Almond will slide in behind and try to shove the shooter out of the circle which will be interesting against Cholhok as a holding shooter. Alice Harvey is a bit tighter, a bit more physical and slightly sitting in front position. 

Shadine Van der Merwe is a bit of a tighter goal defence than Fran Williams but over the last few weeks we have seen Harvey and Williams turning over more ball in their defensive circle and being a real disruption.

Thunder’s hassle comes a little bit more out the front but now with Van der Merwe in the team and getting a taste for turnovers.

Loughborough have a whole unit sharing the load, putting on so much pressure out the front allowing the defensive partnerships to build.

And I think we are going to see Thunder get better following the introduction of Van der Merwe who has had a couple of stormers the last few weeks.

After some chances at GD that partnership with Almond is now going to grow.

Mid-court crucial

WD – Beth Cobden (Loughborough Lightning), Laura Malcolm (Manchester Thunder)

C – Nat Panagarry (Loughborough Lightning), Caroline O’Hanlon (Manchester Thunder)

WA – Hannah Joseph (Loughborough Lightning), Nat Metcalf (Manchester Thunder)

The reality with Thunder is you have to try and stop them attacking!

They’ve scored so many goals so far this season, you cannot pick apart everybody – so highlighting those mid-court battles is going to be key.

For Lightning, Hannah Joseph is sometimes overlooked, but she is in that England set-up but her relationship with Mary Cholhok is incredible and she is one of those wing attacks that you just can’t seem to take ball off.

If Laura Malcolm can’t win ball off her how can she stop her feeding into Cholhok – only Wasps’ Ella Powell-Davies has really managed it so far this season.

Differing attacking options

GA – Ella Clark (Loughborough Lightnning), Eleanor Cardwell (Manchester Thunder)

GS – Mary Cholhok (Loughborough Lightning), Joyce Mvula (Manchester Thunder)

Mary Cholhok has started the season impressively after claiming the top scorer award in 2021 (Image: Tara StClair)

For Thunder you have Cardwell and Mvula who will share the shooting load quite a bit more as Mvula is moving quite a bit more.

In comparison, Lightning have a more holding shooter style with Mary Cholhok and then Ella Clark backing her up

I think Thunder have the ability to make more changes in the attacking circle, while for Lightning it’s in the defensive circle and that allows them to make changes in the match-ups aren’t working.

That could give them the edge. If Almond doesn’t match up to Cholhok what is Plan B – I am not sure they have one and work out what that looks like.

It’s one reason why this type of game at this point in the season is important, it’s not necessarily about winning it’s working out what you can do and how to stop people.

Key Match-Up

Beth Cobden vs Nat Metcalf. England teammates.

Cobden is going to have a huge job to stifle that feed from Metcalf into the Thunder attacking circle.

When Wasps ran Loughborough really close Iona Christian exposed Beth a little bit, and the following week against Team Bath it did not happen.

Nat is the playmaker, she makes everything tick. She will get on the ball, open things up and feed Ellie and Joyce equally well.

If you take out Mvula you can switch Cardwell to GS and Metcalf to GA. The same if you take Cardwell out, but if you take out Metcalf it is a youngster or Caroline O’Hanlon moving out to WA – that’s all very different.

And Finally…..

Individually and player-for-player they are the two strongest squads across the league, they are littered with international talent throughout.

They match-up so well and there will be lots of individual court battles, in terms of style they are very different too.

There are more defensive options for Loughborough and more attacking options for Thunder and if one or two players could be stifled or even taken out of the game that will allow one team to get the edge.

I think at times they may cancel each other out and that just makes it even more interesting, you can get the bragging rights it’s going to be so intriguiing.

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