The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel netball team have continued their relentless march to the ANZ Premiership Grand Final with a 64-51 victory over Te WÄnanga O Raukawa Pulse in their last round-robin match of the season.
Although there was not a lot riding on the encounter, with both teams having booked their berths in the Finals Series, there was still a matter of pride and performance at stake.
The Steel fulfilled their goal of keeping their unbeaten run in this league, notching up their 15th win.
While the Pulse were of course aiming to become the first team to trip up the Steel, they also wanted a strong hit-out before hosting next Sunday’s Elimination Final. Although the final margin was not flattering, the Pulse took some valuable lessons away from Invercargill, including treasuring ball and having the confidence to release it on attack.
While both sides used the opportunity to give all of their players court-time, the intensity of the match proved just how seriously they approached it.
The game saw the return of Steel goal shoot Jhaniele Fowler-Reid and midcourter Shannon Francois, recovered from their road accident in Christchurch a week ago, while captain Wendy Frew and Te Paea Selby-Rickit remained out of action. Fowler-Reid made a virtually seamless return, shooting 51 from 53, to earn MVP honours.
It was a messy first quarter, where many moves through court ended in turnovers. Steel defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit was the ringleader, spoiling many of the Pulse’s plans.
The Steel got out to a 5-1 lead, and although the Pulse attack eventually settled down, the home side kept a stranglehold on the advantage. Fowler-Reid’s self-confidence was buoyed by not missing a goal in the quarter, which the Steel led 17-13. It was a theme she continued through the next spell too.
It was goal-for-goal for a good part of the second quarter, as the Pulse shooters Cat Tuivaiti and Tiana Metuarau received better delivered ball. But then the Steel re-established their dominance through intense pressure on defence, led again by Selby-Rickit, Jane Watson and Abby Erwood, admirably filling in for Frew at wing defence.
Down 34-25 at halftime, the Pulse brought Te Amo Amaru-Tibble into the shooting circle, and later brought Sara Bayman back into centre; the change in attacking strategy appeared to pay dividends as they kept in scoring phase with the Steel. Although the two sides drew the quarter, the Steel refused to give their visitors any opportunity to reduce the deficit, and led 49-40 going into the final stanza.
In an interesting attempt to cut down the flow of ball to Fowler-Reid, Katrina Grant moved out to wing defence. But by then, little could be done to silence the Steel.