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NSL Grand Final 2023: The home-grown connections powering Thunder and Pearson

Manchester Thunder starlet Lois Pearson is relishing the chance to make her mark on the Netball Super League Grand Final after a sparkling first season as a starter.

The 23-year-old could only watch on from the sidelines as Thunder romped to a fourth title thanks to victory over Loughborough Lightning at last season’s showpiece, following an undefeated regular season.

But Pearson has stepped up following several key departures to become one of the league’s standout goal attacks and help Thunder to the semi-finals where they will face Lightning on Friday evening.

“It is going to be quite exciting,” said Pearson. “There is not a lot in it between the top four teams, everyone has beaten each other so you never know what is going to happen.

“For us as a team, we are just focusing on our own strengths. We just want to play with confidence and how we know we can.

“At Thunder, you definitely get that winning mentality. Last year, although I didn’t play in the semis and final, I was still there with the team and this year it will be nice to have a different responsibility where I can contribute more.

“Last year I was more of an impact player, which can sometimes be a lot less pressure. It has been more difficult being in the starting position, with more pressure and responsibility but the more experience you get, the easier it gets.

“A few of our players left last year, so I was given that opportunity this year to step up. I definitely didn’t expect to start every game. It has gone a lot better than I could have ever expected.”

Pearson’s progress into one of the first names on the teamsheet has been the latest step in a journey spanning over a decade with Thunder after she joined their pathway in 2012.

The 23-year-old is not the only current Manchester Thunder star to have come through the club’s youth ranks, with the likes of Taylor McKevitt, Ella Bowen and Iona Christian all returning to Belle Vue this season as part of the franchise’s ‘Homecoming’.

It means Thunder have been able to capitalise on pre-existing connections between players, with head coach Karen Greig a key figure in nearly all the players’ development.

“What has been really nice about this year is that we have had a lot of players return who I played with in the pathway when I was younger,” she added.

“People have gone away and done their own things and then we have all come back together at the same time. We already had those connections and trust in each other.

“I have been coached by Karen since I don’t know how long. I have been in the pathway for quite a long time, so that connection was built through the years.

“When I am playing well, it is usually when I am feeling confident and I think I am a lot more confident playing with players I am comfortable with and I know believe in me and have got my back, and that comes from players and coaches.”

The connections have been all-important for Thunder this season, with Greig having to rebuild her invincible squad after the loss of high-profile players including England stars Eleanor Cardwell and Laura Malcolm.

It meant many doubted Thunder’s ability to retain their crown, but Pearson revealed the doubters have only spurred them on with a first-ever title defence now just two games away.

“Internally, we still had the belief that we had the players and the talent to put out those performances,” she admitted.

“There were probably other people looking in and saw that we lost four of our starting seven players and might have doubted whether we would make the top four.

“But we have worked really hard to build those connections and it has been going well. There is definitely more motivation to prove people wrong.

“There are definitely nerves but sometimes you play better in those big games as there is more riding on it and you have more to prove.”

Tickets for Manchester Thunder’s semi-final at Loughborough Lightning can be bought here.

The Netball Super League Grand Final is being shown live on Sky Sports Arena and YouTube from 1.45pm on Sunday 11 June.

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