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Vitality Netball Superleague 2022: Grand Final Preview

Thunder finished the season unbeaten. Image: Ben Lumley

After 19 weeks, it all comes down to this. Undefeated Manchester Thunder against reigning champions Loughborough Lightning in the Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final.

The two best sides have 60 more minutes to fight it out for the crown of 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague champions, and it’s going to be a rollercoaster.

Thousands of fans will be packed into the Copper Box in London to watch, along with loads more watching on Sky Sports at home, and here’s what you can expect from the biggest game of the year.

Road to the Final 

Both sides enjoyed superb regular seasons, with Thunder going undefeated and Lightning losing just twice.

The duo secured their playoff spots with weeks to spare and the extra preparation seemed to do them the world of good in the semi-finals on Friday.

Thunder were first to secure their Grand Final tickets with a 64-54 win against Team Bath at Belle Vue on Friday.

It was not plain sailing for Thunder, who went into the game as favourites, with Anna Stembridge’s visitors leading 17-16 after the first quarter.

But Thunder quickly began to reel their opponents in, producing a huge second quarter to lead by five at half-time.

From there, Karen Greig’s team never let go and controlled the game to finish 10 goals ahead and ensure they would have a chance of clinching the title on Sunday.

Lightning then followed with an impressive 56-44 win over London Pulse. 

The home side led from the start and kept Pulse to just eight goals in the third quarter to ensure they would have the opportunity to defend their crown on Sunday.

Alice Harvey was completely dominant at goal keeper, forcing Pulse into a number of changes in attack to try and find a way through, while Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark were irrepressible in the circle.

Previous Meetings 

Thunder may be undefeated but Lightning lost just two of their 20 games in the regular season.

However, both of these came against Thunder, meaning it will have to be third time lucky for Vic Burgess’ team if they want to defend their title.

The sides first met in Round 10 at the Sir David Wallace Arena, with Thunder emerging 66-61 victors to end Lightning’s unbeaten status.

Thunder took a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter, with Eleanor Cardwell and Joyce Mvula shooting the visitors to a lead they would not relinquish.

Lightning’s Mary Cholhok and Ella Clark continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over for the hosts but it was not enough to close the gap.

The two teams then met again on the final game of the season, with both sides having already secured a place in the playoffs.

Both sides used their squads as they looked ahead to their semi-finals on Friday and Thunder once more emerged victorious 71-63.

Key Match-Up – Caroline O’Hanlon v Nat Panagarry 

There has been plenty of talk about both teams’ attacks, and rightly so.

In Mary Cholhok and Joyce Mvula, each side has one of the best goal shooters in the league while Ella Clark and Eleanor Cardwell are two of the standout goal attacks.

The players charged with stopping them have had plenty of focus, too, with Alice Harvey outstanding in Lightning’s semi-final win over Pulse and Emilia Roscoe stepping in terrifically in the absence of Shadine van der Merwe.

However, there is a mouth-watering midcourt match-up that simply cannot be ignored.

Caroline O’Hanlon has been fearsome at centre for Thunder but will come up against Nat Panagarry, who is back firing on all cylinders after injury earlier in the season.

Whichever side is able to control ball, keep their nerve and feed their forwards will be the one that will come out on top and O’Hanlon and Panagarry will be crucial for their sides.

Both are supremely experienced, and have played in Grand Finals before, so will be key for the team both on and off the court.

Who will be crowned champions? Vitality Netball Grand Final 2022 takes place at London’s Copper Box Arena this Sunday 5 June. Get your tickets here

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