Comment & Analysis @paulprenders
Manchester Thunder win Vitality Netball Superleague 2019
Spectacular final quarter from Thunder seals thrilling victory in see-saw contest in London
Last Updated: 19/05/19 7:20am
The last 18 months have delivered drama like never before for English netball and on Saturday at the Copper Box Arena, the climax to the domestic season followed suit with Manchester Thunder claiming a brilliant 57-52 win over Wasps to win the Vitality Superleague Grand Final.
Inspired by the nerveless shooting of replacement Eleanor Cardwell, Karen Greig's side completed a third victory of the season over Mel Mansfield's team to claim a first title since 2014 and ensure there was no third crown in succession for previously all-conquering Wasps.
Sensational second and fourth-quarter comebacks from Thunder proved pivotal as they turned a five-goal deficit into a two-goal half-time lead. Then, a six-goal third quarter deficit saw them claim a third Superleague title at the expense of the back-to-back champions.
A fearless defence led by the retiring Kerry Almond and Emma Dovey kept Wasps to just seven goals in the final quarter and then Joyce Mvula, Kathryn Turner and Cardwell were nerveless under the posts to capitalise.
2019 Grand Final - score breakdown
Fittingly the top two teams in the league with star-studded line-ups met in the capital to duke it out for the season's main prize just two months before the Vitality Netball World Cup gets underway in Liverpool.
Thunder won both meetings this season, by nine and one goal respectively, and led the seven-game head to head (4-3) going into Saturday's action. But, it was a fast start from the champions, who took advantage of some early Thunder nerves to forge an early lead that was to prove crucial throughout the first half.
With Jade Clarke setting the tempo in the middle of the court, Rachel Dunn and Katie Harris ensured the advantage remained throughout the opening 15 minutes but Wasps' five-goal advantage after the first quarter did not last long.
With the teams going goal for goal, Thunder began to find their feet and dominate possession, forcing crucial turnovers to haul themselves back into the game,
A six-goal deficit soon became just two before Greig's side forced a crucial turnover to allow Mvula to draw level for the first time since the start of the match.
Thunder were not done there as imperious defensive play from Dovey allowed them to hit the front and open up a two-goal lead by half-time.
A key early contact call gave Wasps the chance to stem the Thunder tide, and thanks to the irrepressible Dunn they did exactly that.
Both feeds into the circle were beginning to get the ascendancy, Bongi Msomi for Wasps and Liana Leota for Thunder allowing their shooters to flourish in a see-saw contest that swung back the way of the reigning champions thanks to Harris' long-range effort.
With Wasps two goals in front and the third quarter heading into its final five minutes, a pair of crucial Fran Williams interventions in quick succession helped put Mansfield's team into a six-goal lead to take into the final quarter.
Watch Thunder's Grand Final win
Watch back the live stream of Manchester Thunder's victory in the Superleague Grand Final.
Fittingly in a season of drama, there was more to come in the final 15 minutes as Thunder flew out of the traps to close within three and then, when Dunn was called for a crucial contact, Greig's side capitalised to close the deficit to one.
There was more drama when the ice-cool Mvula was forced to leave the court with a knee injury, but underlining the strength of their bench, her replacement Cardwell stepped up with back-to-back goals to level the scores before Turner gave them the lead again.
As Wasps desperately tried to claw their way back into the game, Thunder's game-management proved crucial as they kept their nerve and crucially in Cardwell, had the decisive figure to close out the victory and prompt an invasion from the Thunder bench and crowd.
Wasps had topped the regular season standings, finishing six points ahead of second-placed Thunder, and had beaten Loughborough in the last two Grand Finals.
However, after a thrilling 2019 campaign that has seen more upsets, comebacks and close finishes than anyone can care to remember, it was perhaps fitting the underdogs claimed the glory with a five-goal victory to make it a Manchester double after City trounced Watford to win the FA Cup and claim a domestic treble.
The live netball does not stop here! Watch every match of the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup live on Sky Sports. Coverage starts on Friday, July 12 plus keep up to date with all of the latest competition news, results and enjoy in-depth features at SkySports.com/netball