This year is a big one for netball, with the 2015 World Cup occurring in August in the Sport Lived Gap year destination of Australia. And while the eyes of the netball world will inevitably be getting drawn closer and closer to the 14th edition of the sport’s biggest tournament, we should first keep our sight fixed upon the domestic game that provided yet another immensely exciting Netball Superleague.
After losing in the final last year by one point to Manchester Thunder, Surrey Storm blew away Hertfordshire Mavericks to secure the Superleague title in what was their fourth final in five years. They led from the first quarter before putting together an insurmountable 17 point lead in a 56-39 win, lead brilliantly in attack by the ever-inspiring Pamela Cookey, who has just won her 100th England cap in the Test series against Trinidad and Tobago. They may not have topped the regular league standings but the Storm’s 12 victories out of 14 during the season were arguably worthy of the title itself. Their emphatic victory in this domestic showpiece, in front of a packed 6,000 Copper Box arena crowd at the London Olympic Park, confirmed them as commendable champions in what was their first ever Superleague trophy.
The Storm had been pushed all the way in their 76-60 semi-final win over Yorkshire Jets but the final hurdle was cleared with far greater ease. It was appropriate that the players who have been brilliant for the Storm throughout the season were at the centre of the final victory over the Mavericks, a side who had dramatically upset the odds by beating the table-topping and previously unbeaten Manchester Thunder in their play-off semi-final 48-41. Player-coach Tamsin Greenway, who had suffered all of the previous three final defeats, dictated the play from wing-attack. Pamela Cookey and Rachel Dunn, playing as goal attack and goal shooter respectively, found the net at will. This clinical play in attack was mirrored by the resoluteness in defence, with Hannah Reid and Katy Holland dominant as the Storm slowly extended their advantage in the third and fourth quarters. From the off the Storm were the more consistent from front to back; they made fewer errors and applied greater pressure through superior defending and finishing.
Storm lost within the last 28 seconds of last year’s final, so many neutrals will naturally have backed Greenway’s team this time around, although the lure of the underdog meant that the Mavericks had more than their fair share of backers. What is not in question was the evident quality that was the appropriate finale for another scintillating Superleague season. Two teams playing high intensity netball, jabbing and probing from the off, with Surrey’s more dependable and telling blows ultimately seeing them grind out their opponents for a deserved victory. The match was another timely reminder of the standard of netball that is being played in England and Wales; and, whilst Manchester Thunder comfortably topped the final league table, the closely fought play-offs provided an excitement indicative of the season as a whole. In a World Cup year, it can only be a good thing for the increasing masses following both the domestic league and the England side who will be heading to Sydney this summer.
This was a stand-out season for a number of reasons. There was Manchester Thunder remarkably remaining undefeated for the whole initial league campaign, the fine effort from Yorkshire Jets who reached the knock-out stage for the first time and of course the shock of five-times Champions Team Bath failing to make the play-offs altogether. Not to mention the heroic efforts of Hertfordshire and of course Champions Surrey who amassed 1,117 points over the course of their 16 game season. The season has also again acted as an effective conveyor-belt for new talent to emerge and make the step up to international level, with Yorkshire’s Natalie Haythornthwaite winning the player of the year award and earning a call-up to the England squad for the current series.
English netball is thriving, drawing in more and more audiences due not just to the exploits of a national side ranked third in the world but the exhilaration, tension and quality of the netball being put on in this domestic Superleague. The real litmus test of this excellence will occur at the World Cup, particularly when England match up against the two best teams in the world Australia and New Zealand. If you’re an aspiring young netball player, the finest opportunity to test and further your own ability is by doing a full or mini season in these countries through a gap year with Sport Lived.
The name of Surrey Storm will, rightly, go down in the history books after this latest Superleague season. They delivered in the play-offs when it counted most after a sublime season, not allowing their reputation as Superleague final chokers to get in the way of victory this time. They epitomised the high-standard of netball now flooding through England and Wales’s elite netball competition. The grandest stage is still to come but let’s first appreciate the likes of Surrey Storm and those other teams finally giving netball the back-page headlines it deserves.