Surrey Storm Netball succumbed to a 3 goal defeat on Monday evening as Manchester Thunder took the spoils in the 2015 Superleague opening fixture.
A packed house at the Thunderdome watched on as Tracey Neville’s side dominated the 3rd quarter to secure the win, despite the visitors almost completing a comeback in the final minutes of the match.
Coach Tamsin Greenway was upbeat following the match even though her side succumbed to their first ever opening day defeat: “I’m disappointed with the loss but certainly not the performance. We made too many errors across the board, which cost us, but there were positives too.
“Mikki Austin was great tonight on her debut and we made Thunder work the ball around for long periods.
“Our leaders also shone through. Captain Hannah Reid led the defence very well and it was great to see Pamela Cookey play a full league game after her lengthy injury.”
The England captain made her first Superleague start for Storm since her return to the squad over the summer, while Katt Ainsworth started at centre where she finished the 2014 season. Hannah Reid, Katy Holland and Amy Flanagan retained their spots in defence, while Tamsin Greenway and Rachel Dunn completed the attack.
Cookey opened the fixture with a goal in the first 20 seconds, before Reid prevented the rotation of Thunder shoot Helen Housby to create the first turnover opportunity of the game, which couldn’t be successfully fed to the Storm attack. By contrast, Thunder intercepted a ball of their own at 2-2 and scored, highlighting a slow start for Storm.
Dunn and Cookey began to link up more comfortably as the quarter progressed and the physicality of the battle increased as Chelsea Pitman tussled for the ball with fellow former ANZ star Greenway, much to the delight of the home support. The opening period closed at 15-11 to the hosts and signs of a tasty battle brewing.
Both sides took time to settle into the 2nd quarter with attackers at either end missing early chances. But with Pitman and Sara Bayman began to increase their understanding of each other’s game and Storm providing quick transitions, the game looked to be regaining pace. Despite this, Surrey struggled to get the final ball into the D, which allowed Thunder numerous chances to extend their lead.
At 22-18 both Flanagan and Reid took clean interceptions to create chances but Thunder put their feet on the gas for a lively finish to the half, taking a 29-21 lead into the break.
Coach Greenway elected to make two changes at half time- introducing Mikki Austin at C and Josie Huckle at GK for their Superleague debuts, moving Reid to GD in the process. Manchester quickly increased their lead to 10 goals within a handful of minutes gone and Pitman and Housby showed their class against a changed Storm defence. It didn’t take Storm long to regain some composure as Greenway lifted her side to reduce the deficit back down to 5 goals, with Austin’s impressive vision shining through. At 44-39 and one quarter remaining, it was game on for either side to take the victory.
Dunn and Cookey switched roles for the final period, with Ainsworth replacing Flanagan at WD. Storm were hungry for a comeback. Austin clattered against Pitman, showing her determination to win the ball, but the Australian was unphased and fed through to her attack with success. A rare miss for Thunder opened up a chance for Surrey to reduce the deficit once again, and it was a 3 point game with 3 minutes to go.
It then became a pure tactical game for Thunder, who only needed to be patient and clever in possession to hold off Surrey. The clock ticked down on any potential comeback for Storm and it was the 2014 champions who took the win on the opening night of the 2015 season and a well-earned 55-52 ensured that Surrey went home disappointed despite a valiant effort to close the gap in the final quarter.
Storm will have more than a week to work on their errors from last night’s match before hosting Yorkshire Jets in round 2 at Surrey Sports Park on Saturday 7th February (7pm centre-pass).
Manchester Thunder starting 7:
Subs: Codben, Enziano, Gibson, Travis, Webster
Surrey Storm starting 7:
Subs: Austin, Huckle, Borck, Harris, Lees
Changes: Austin to C, Huckle to GK, Reid to GD, Ainsworth to WD
Thunder: Housby 34/37, 92%; Turner 21/25, 84%. Team: 55/62, 88%
Storm: Dunn 30/32, 94%; Cookey 22/25, 88%. Team: 52/56, 92%