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Manchester Thunder

Image: Ben Lumley

Manchester Thunder were crowned Fast5 Netball All-Stars champions for the first time on an electric Friday evening at the Copper Box Arena.

On a night replete with plenty of glitter and lots of glam, Thunder powered past defending champions Team Bath 51-9 in the final to take the trophy back up north.

On-loan Celtic Dragons attacker Gabby Sinclair was the star of the show, with some sensational shooting on show throughout as part of an eye-watering shooting circle with fellow loanee Mary Cholhok, as the domestic netball season signed off in style.

Thunder take the trophy 

Despite being one of the country’s most successful franchises, Fast5 had eluded Manchester Thunder, until now.

Fresh from a third-place finish in the league, they made a dramatic start when Gabby Sinclair sealed a late victory over Strathclyde Sirens before defeat to Sophie Kelly-inspired Bath.

But Thunder bounced back to book a semi-final spot with another win against Sirens before getting past Mavericks 26-14.

And Karen Greig’s side saved the best until last as they blitzed the Blue & Gold 51-9 to seal a maiden title.

Rhinos and Mavs reach semis 

While there may have been more fancied sides on Friday, including Grand Final runners-up London Pulse and fourth-placed finishers Surrey Storm, Saracens Mavericks and Leeds Rhinos were the other two semi-finalists.

Mavericks reached the final in 2021 and looked intent on repeating their feat, opening up with a 27-20 victory over Severn Stars before booking their semi-final spot with a 37-21 win over Rhinos.

That defeat meant Rhinos, who beat Pulse in their opener, had to do the same again for a spot in the semi-final and they duly did so thanks to some late action from Paige Reed.

The pair might have lost out in the semis, but both put on a superb show to sign off the season.

Kelly inspires Bath 

Anyone who watched the 2023 Netball Super League will know all about the prodigious talent of Sophie Kelly, but she gave everyone another reminder at Fast5.

The Team Bath goal attack enjoyed a breakout season for Asha Francis’ side at goal attack, scoring 229 times in 18 appearances in the Blue & Gold.

The 19-year-old quickly gained a reputation for the long bomb and put it to good use on Friday, scoring from all over the court including a series of five-pointers.

It was enough to power Bath all the way to the final, with Kelly coming up with a last-minute winner against Thunder to seal a semi-final spot before taking advantage of the golden buzzer for a pivotal 10-pointer against Rhinos to seal a final spot.

Walk the walk 

If there is one thing Fast5 does best, it’s walk-ons and 2023 was certainly no different.

Severn Stars captain Gabby Marshall treated the Copper Box crowd to her vocal talents with a rendition of Outkast’s Hey Ya, while Thunder entered the final to ABBA’s Does Your Mother Know.

Surrey Storm, led by TikTok duo Yasmin Brookes and Niamh Cooper, opted for some Black Eyed Peas, while a sunglasses-bedecked Team Bath bookended their performances with Beyonce.

What was for sure was that all players certainly brought the party as the curtain came down on the 2023 season.

Golden buzzer back with vengeance 

Timing is everything when it comes to the golden buzzer, and there were plenty of displays of exactly how to use it on Friday night.

Pressing the buzzer gives a team two minutes in which their points will count double, meaning it can be the difference between winning and losing and can create huge momentum swings.

Strathcylde Sirens demonstrated just how to do it, as they went from four points behind to six in front when Rachel Dunn landed a five-pointer in the last few seconds of their buzzer against Thunder.

Saracens Mavericks also made the most of their buzzer against Rhinos, as Kira Rothwell scored a five-pointer to send her side 10 points ahead.

Sirens were at it again, taking advantage of Dunn’s pinpoint shooting against Storm to run out comfortable 30-6 winners.

And while it usually head coaches hitting the buzzer, Leeds Rhinos showed mascots can get it on the action too as Ronnie the Rhino pressed it in time for Brie Grierson to turn a three-pointer into six.

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