New Manchester Thunder star ready for Vitality Netball Superleague

New Manchester Thunder star Shadine van der Merwe moved to the Midlands for one primary reason: trophies. 

The 29-year-old, who played for South Africa in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup, joins 2021 third-place finishers Thunder after spending the last three seasons with a similarly named squad: Suncorp Super Netball side Adelaide Thunderbirds.  

Saturday will mark a return to the Vitality Netball Superleague for the elite defender, who played for Surrey Storm in 2018. 

“The most exciting part for me is being part of a team with a winning culture,” she said, explaining her decision to sign with Thunder. 

“Knowing that they’ll go into semi-finals, but obviously it’s a lot of preparation getting there, so focusing on the process first before the end result. 

“But I’m just excited for that winning culture and being in an environment where there’s a lot of competition amongst each other.” 

Van der Merwe is one of several big names recruited in the off-season by Thunder boss Karen Greig, who is set to lead a formidable side boasting numerous returning Vitality Roses including Eleanor Cardwell, Laura Malcolm, and Natalie Metcalf, who is also returning to the UK after her own three-year stint Down Under.  

Thunder fans might better recognise Metcalf by her maiden name—the 29-year-old went by Natalie Haythornthwaite until her December wedding.  

Metcalf, who has 56 caps for England, most recently vice-captained the Vitality Roses in January’s Quad Series at London’s Copper Box Arena.  

Van der Merwe only landed in the UK three weeks ago, so she can be forgiven for not having done much exploring in her adopted home.  

“There’s still a lot to see in Manchester,” she confesses. 

“But I’m still excited to hang around and explore more. They say it’s a very grey area, but I think lately it’s been quite good weather, and the sun has come out, so that’s good! 

“Luckily, I’ve got a good housemate.” 

The Pretoria native, as it turns out, has moved in with Thunder team-mate Joyce Mvula, the Malawi international who finished behind Loughborough Lightning’s Mary Cholhok for overall goals leader last season. 

Van der Merwe added: “We’re staying in a nice house, it’s easy to get to training and the gym, so I’m really loving it. 

“I’ve been settling in, finding new spots for good coffee shops, I’m a bit of a coffee snob.” 

Thunder’s second-place finish in the regular season clinched them a Finals Day berth but the squad ultimately came up short, falling to Team Bath by three points in their semi-final before beating Leeds Rhinos to claim third.   

Like every VNSL squad, they’ll begin their season at Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena, set to host the action-packed double-header season opener.  

They’ll finally return home to Belle Vue for their first league home game since 2019, after last season was staged, due to Covid considerations, at just two venues: Yorkshire’s Arena 001 and London’s Copper Box. 

Thunder’s 12 February home opener against Surrey Storm will be the first VNSL match in which Van der Merwe will get to benefit from the infamous Thunder supporters’ drum, one of the league’s most recognisable—and intimidating—sounds.  

The boisterous reputation of the Thunder faithful has stuck with Van der Merwe ever since her first Superleague stint, so she urged local supporters and the netball-curious alike to pack the stands for her debut. 

She said: “They’re very loud. I’m really looking forward to playing without the fans again, because lately, without the crowd, it’s a dead environment.  

“When they create a good, positive vibe the players love that, because it just brings a different kind of energy and dynamic. 

“They must come to every game, every match.”  

Manchester Thunder get their 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague campaign underway on 5 February.

Buy your tickets to the Season Opener and to their home matches here:

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