THE 2021 Vitality Netball Superleague season is officially done and dusted, meaning it is now time for our postseason reviews. Despite a mid-season hiccup, Manchester Thunder was one of the leading teams in season 2021 with their consistency and exciting firepower never failing to deliver.
Season form: 17-3 (2nd)
It was another impressive season from the highly successful club, which ultimately came in as the hunted this season after the league had no winner crowned in 2020. While Kerry Almond had announced her retirement at the end of 2019, the stalwart defender returned to wreak havoc alongside Emma Dovey and the duo picked up where they left off, never out of the contest. A hugely experienced midcourt bolstered that back-line with Caroline O’Hanlon, Laura Malcolm and Amy Carter hard to stop, while there was no doubting the exciting frontend as the likes of Joyce Mvula and Ellie Cardwell combined effortlessly and were relentless in attack. Despite one big blemish on their season with two straight losses in Round 5/6, Thunder only dropped one home and away match from then on, losing by just three goals to Bath in Round 13 before falling to the side by the same margin in the second semi-final. Overall, it was another impressive season from the side which could never be ruled out no matter the deficit, finishing the season with the most goals scored by any side (1096) and earning the bronze with a win over Rhinos to finish.
Best win: Def. Loughborough Lightning 60-46, Round 19
The only side which came away with two straight wins over the Lightning, there was no doubting the winning ability and intent of this Thunder side. But whilst their Round 9 victory over the side spoke of the Thunder’s winning ability, it was their Round 19 clash that really cemented the Thunder as the side to watch out for with a huge 14-goal margin setting the tone for a huge finals series. Winning the first three quarters and not allowing the lightning to maintain any consistency throughout, it was the defensive work from the Thunder that kicked this clash up a notch as they rendered Lightning inaccurate and error-ridden. The shared workload between Mvula and Cardwell paid off once more putting up 29 and 23 goals respectively, while Almond (five turnovers, five deflections, three intercepts, two rebounds) was immense and Malcolm, Dovey, Cardwell and Elia McCormick registered one intercepts apiece throughout an impressive full court defensive effort. Berri Neil also earned valuable minutes, putting up seven goals straight, while O’Hanlon’s ability to propel ball into the circle once more proved critical.
Standout player: Joyce Mvula
Most Improved: Amy Carter
In a team of stars, it was hard to pick out just one standout player from the Thunder playing group, but at the end of the day it had to be the ever-reliable Malawian sharpshooter in Mvula. The goaler rarely skipped a beat throughout yet another influential season in the front-end, and her combination with Cardwell was second to none as the duo carved up the front-end. Mvula’s ability to find space and evade her defender was significant, continuously receiving the ball exactly where she wanted it and her sticky fingers never letting her down. Her standout characteristic was her accuracy to post, piling on a whopping 681 goals for the season at 92 per cent, and her cleanliness saw just 24 unforced errors come off her hands across 21 outings for the side. Like the standout player, it was tough to choose a most improved performer for the powerful Thunder, with Carter eventually earning the title for her impressive consistency and non-stop drives. The defensive-minded midcourter was hard to stop when she got going credit to her hunt for the ball and great speed to cross the court within a fraction of a second, plying her trade in both centre and wing defence with ease. By no means the tallest player on court, Carter never failed to have an impact collecting 23 intercepts and 19 deflections for the season, rarely out of the contest, and averaged just one unforced error per match such was her cleanliness with ball in hand.
Picture credit: Ben Lumley Photography