Memorable Matches: 2019 VNSL Grand Final

WITH netball taking a back seat to coronavirus in 2020, Draft Central is taking a look at memorable matches in world netball history. Next up is Manchester Thunder’s impressive come-from-behind win over Wasps Netball in the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final.

It was a match of pure intensity, with the see-sawing match-up proving to be just as good as suspected in the lead up. While the Wasps had been ahead on the ladder for much of the season, Thunder had gotten the chocolates both times the two teams played during the season, making for an interesting and exciting match-up.

Both sides battled hard from the get-go, with Wasps pulling out an early lead thanks to defensive efforts from Fran Williams and Hannah Knights, who were clinical and relentless in the circle denying easy ball into the circle and causing headaches with their long arms. The Wasps’ herding gamestyle worked a trick, crowding Manchester and forcing errors through the midcourt, propelling the ball down to attack with ease thanks to the pressure of stalwart Jade Clarke through the centre, driving the ball down to Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris at the post. Dunn and Harris’ ability to share the load was impressive as ever, with Thunder retiree Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey unable to hold off the duo when they got inside the circle.

But Manchester proved they cannot be underestimated, drawing ahead in the second quarter with a spectacular 18 goals to 11 to hold the lead at half time. The likes of Kathryn Turner and Joyce Mvula lifted to apply some much needed scoreboard pressure, while Liana Leota was instrumental through the centre of the court alongside veteran Caroline O’Hanlon, using their experience to hold ground through the midcourt. But a second quarter blitz was not enough, with the Thunder’s inconsistency all but coming back to bite them in the third when the Wasps unleashed once more.

A tight second half ensued and it was unsure which team would take out the title, with both sides spurred on by spectacular defensive efforts paired with impressive feeding in attack. Bongi Msomi used all her match experience to be a constant threat on circle edge for the Wasps, applying pressure with her speed and agility to find Dunn and Harris in the circle, unstoppable despite Laura Malcolm’s best efforts. But Malcolm’s bodywork came in useful once the final quarter came around, blocking Msomi’s leads and forming a crucial defensive buffer as Almond and Dovey kicked it up a notch once more despite trailing by six goals at the final change

The final quarter started with a bang, with Manchester chugging along to claw their way back ahead of the Wasps and doing so in an impressive manner, holding the Wasps to just the seven goals in the final term. While Wasps were consistent as ever, an injury time-out for Malawian goal shooter Mvula could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Thunder, but instead saw Manchester come back with a vengeance as Ellie Cardwell joined the fray. A consistent figure who does not always get the recognition she deserves, Cardwell shot the lights out and offered a different option in the circle, switching up the match play with her clever ball use and gave her defenders another thing to think about in the circle. 

It was there that the game was won and done, with the Thunder running home for their third VNSL premiership title, winning against the reigning premiers 57-52 in impressive manner.

WASPS NETBALL 16 | 11 | 18 | 7 (52)
MANCHESTER THUNDER  11 | 18 | 10 | 18 (57)

Wasps

GS: Rachel Dunn
GA: Katie Harris
WA: Bongi Msomi
C: Jade Clarke
WD: Amy Flanagan
GD: Fran Williams
GK: Hannah Knights

COACH: Mel Mansfield

Thunder

GS: Joyce Mvula
GA: Kathryn Turner
WA: Liana Leota
C: Caroline O’Hanlon
WD: Laura Malcolm
GD: Emma Dovey
GK: Kerry Almond

COACH: Karen Greig

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