Surrey Storm Netball edged out regular season champions Manchester Thunder in a classic Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final on Saturday evening, securing their first ever back-to-back title.
A cruising first half was almost overturned late on by Storm’s northern rivals, but the composure and consistency of the reigning champions was enough to see them take a 55-53 win and lift the trophy once again.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Head Coach Kathryn Ratnapala said: “What a dream come true. The squad really couldn’t ask for any more – what an amazing season.
“We had to stick to our own game plan today. Thunder have had a solid season and we were the underdogs going into the game, but it didn’t matter. The players really stepped up out there and I am so proud of them all.”
Fans at London’s Copper Box Arena – a second home for Surrey Storm – were in fine voice from the first centre pass and they were rewarded with an early steal from Georgia Lees to allow an immediate turnover and a 2-0 lead for the duck egg blue side. A shaky start from both sides was soon overcome by Storm who looked far more confident in possession than an unusually nervous Thunder outfit. Sara Bayman was struggling to feed her shooters effectively, allowing balls to regularly turnover into Surrey hands. Storm quickly built a 6 goal lead at 8-2, before taking a 15-9 advantage into the first break.
The momentum stuck with Storm at the start of Q2, with both Pamela Cookey and Rachel Dunn continuing their sharp shooting immediately after the break to increase the lead to 9 goals. Still Thunder were unable to challenge their opponents across the court, as ball after ball drove forward to meet the Storm shooters under the goal. A characteristic Dunn long bomb right on buzzer was met with rapturous applause from the Copper Box crowd, and Surrey held a 32-19 lead at half time.
Not wanting to change something that wasn’t broken, Coach Kathryn Ratnapala opted to make no changes ahead of Q3. Thunder, meanwhile, knew that something needed to be done if they were to get back into the game. Helen Housby moved forward to GS to allow Kathryn Turner on at GA, and the change had an immediate impact. The goals started to flow much more confidently for Manchester, but the whole court Storm defence remained strong to keep the chances down to a minimum and maintain the lead for the vital final period (43-36).
It was at this point that Coach Ratnapala rang in the changes. Josie Huckle and Katt Ainsworth came on at GK and WD respectively, pushing Hannah Reid to GD, Amy Flanagan to C and Sophia Candappa to WA – all changes which have proved to work so often this season.
The opening exchanges of the final quarter were on the centre pass. Neither team wanted to give their opponent the chance to break through or break away. A call against Storm gave Thunder their first shot at a turnover, which they completed, and the lead was down to 4 goals. Flanagan and Huckle were still pushing for interceptions to stop any real momentum swinging in the wrong direction, but changes in possession elsewhere on court allowed Thunder to pull the deficit back to 3 goals midway through the period.
Storm were holding on. Reid flew in with a superb interception showing that her side were still up for the challenge, only for the umpires to call it against her side. Cookey left the court with an injury, allowing Kat Hayes to come on at GA, but returned to court 2 minutes later much to the delight of the London netball fans. It looked like luck might just have been on their side, until a contact call against Cookey with just 1 minute to go allowed Thunder to reduce the lead to a single goal.
But nothing was going to stop Storm from taking the win. There would have been no more fitting end to the game than Dunn scoring on the buzzer to give her side the 55-53 win, and secure Surrey Storm’s 2nd Superleague title in as many seasons.
Dunn was also awarded the Gilbert Netball Goalden Goal Shot award, finishing Superleague top scorer with 474 goals out of 560 attempts, while Cookey received the Sky Sports Player of the Match accolade.
Earlier in the day Team Bath played out a tight one goal winner over Hertfordshire Mavericks to take a deserved 3rd place.
Storm starting 7:
GS – Dunn
GA – Cookey
WA – Flanagan
C – Candappa
WD – Flanagan
GD – Holland
GK – Reid
Changes for Storm: Huckle to GK, Reid to GD, Flanagan to C, Candappa to WA (Q3), Hayes to GA, Cookey to GA (Q4)
Thunder starting 7:
GS – Cardwell
GA – Housby
WA – Haythornthwaite
C – Bayman
WD – Malcolm
GD – Gibson
GK – Kelly
Storm shooting stats:
Dunn 27/32 84%
Cookey 28/31 90%
Team 55/63 87%
Thunder shooting stats:
Cardwell 7/10 70%
Housby 38/39 70%
Turner 8/10 80%
Team 53/59 90%
— Surrey Storm (@SurreyStorm) May 7, 2016
— Surrey Storm (@SurreyStorm) May 7, 2016
— Surrey Storm (@SurreyStorm) May 9, 2016