What a start!
By Ian Harkin
Well, what an opening round we have just witnessed in the 2021 ANZ Premiership. The start of this year’s competition was highly anticipated thanks to a great deal of player movement and some high profile team changes in the off-season. Going in, there was a feeling this could be an even and unpredictable season. And the first round certainly did not disappoint in that regard. Last year’s two grand finalists both lost, while the two teams at the other end of the ladder in 2020, both won.
The opening match saw Central Pulse, the two time defending champions, come up against Northern Stars. Much was expected of the Stars who had recruited well. Meanwhile, the Pulse lineup was missing some top names from the champion team of last year. Among the big outs was Silver Ferns shooter Ameliaranne Ekenasio who it was announced would be taking time away from the game to recover from fatigue. She is now back training with the team, but it’s unknown when she will return to playing.
After the first quarter, the predictions of some experts that Pulse would struggle this season appeared to be on the money. Stars were dominating, scoring with ease, and they went to the first break, up 20-12. But Pulse isn’t a champion team for no reason, and despite missing those big names, they dug deep to peg back the lead. Cheered on by their home fans, they narrowed the gap to just one goal during the third quarter, before Stars steadied the ship and eventually came away with a hard-fought four goal win.
Both teams can take something away from this game. This was the first ever win for Stars over Pulse in the ANZ Premiership, and their revamped lineup has shown it is a definite contender in 2021. Meanwhile, Pulse demonstrated that they’re not going to give up their crown easily and shouldn’t be discounted. Both clubs could well be around come finals time.
For the winners, Gina Crampton impressed in her first game for her new team and her combination with shooter Maia Wilson in particular is sure to be a strong one this season. Wilson shot 44/50 and as we’ve come to expect, she was a strong focal point in the circle. Meanwhile, at the other end of the court, Anna Harrison may have celebrated her 38th birthday just three days prior to the game, but in netball terms, she is seemingly ageless. She was spectacular on her return to top level netball. It was as if she’d never left. The relentless defensive pressure she put on the Pulse attacking line led not only to turnovers but doubts and hesitation.
For Pulse, it was Te Amo Amaru-Tibble who was given the task of taking over from Ekenasio at goal attack, and she did a very creditable job. But clearly those are big shoes to fill. Whitney Souness was dynamic at wing attack, with 18 assists and a mammoth 37 centre-pass receives, while Kelly Jury used her height to good effect in defence.
In the third quarter, 18-year-old Pulse defender Parris Mason entered the game for her debut. She impressed in her 23 minutes on court and certainly got under the skin of Wilson. Clearly frustrated by the extra close attention that her young opponent was paying her, Wilson lost her cool in one incident which was shown on television, as she pushed Mason away quite forcefully with a hand to the face.
This was far from a good look for a Silver Fern and the Stars’ captain, and her behaviour prompted a backlash on social media. Again, this incident raised the issue of possible consequences for players’ actions when umpires do not pick them up live. A match review panel has been talked about in netball circles. Perhaps it’s time that something of that type was introduced to the ANZ Premiership.
NORTHERN STARS 57 def CENTRAL PULSE 53
Dunn 36/39 (92%)
Amaru-Tibble 17/19 (89%)
TOTAL 53/58 (91%)
Assists 51 (Souness 18)
Gains 14 (Jury 5)
Wilson 44/50 (88%)
Hume 10/12 (83%)
Falkner 3/4 (75%)
TOTAL 57/66 (86%)
Assists 55 (Crampton 26)
Gains 12 (Harrison 4)
Penalties: Stars 54-52
Turnovers: Pulse 23-16
MVP: Anna Harrison (Stars)
Pulse: GS Dunn, GA Amaru-Tibble, WA Souness, C Kersten, WD Gordon, GD Jury, GK Nawai
Stars: GS Wilson, GA Hume, WA Crampton, C Reuelu-Buchanan, WD Mather, GD Harrison, GK Temu
The second match of the round saw Tactix, last season’s beaten grand finalists, travel south to take on the Steel. Much was expected of Tactix, who had been widely tipped to go one better this year. Conversely, very little was expected of their opponents. Clearly, Steel didn’t read the script. From the word go, they had the visiting team under all sorts of pressure.
The first quarter was very competitive and ended 11 all, but after that, it was surprisingly all one-way traffic as the southerners totally dominated their more fancied opposition, winning the last three quarters by a combined 43-25. The Steel was like a well-oiled machine. Everything clicked and all players carried out their role almost to perfection. By comparison, the Tactix performance was a train wreck. Especially in attack, very little that they did after quarter time had any flow or fluency about it.
For Steel, one of the stars of the show was English import George Fisher. Looking incredibly fit and slotting into her new team seamlessly at goal shooter, she had a tremendous first game (46/49) for her new team, and looks set for a big season. The combination between herself and Tiana Metuarau worked to perfection. Metuarau’s accuracy (8/14) is a bit worrying, but in general play, she was outstanding, setting up her shooting partner with precision and not giving the highly credentialled Tactix defence much of a look in.
Like Metuarau, defender Taneisha Fifita is just 20 years of age and already starring on the elite netball stage. She came up with eight possession gains in this game as the Steel defence got right on top of their opponents and capitalised on their numerous errors. Meanwhile, captain Shannon Saunders led from the front with a near flawless game. Along with 16 goal assists, one gain and three pickups, she incredibly gave away no contact or obstruction penalties and no turnovers! That is almost unheard of.
Tactix undoubtedly missed shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit who sat out the match with an ankle injury. New recruit Karin Burger produced some highlights in defence with seven gains, but in general, the team was comprehensively outplayed. Steel was magnificent in this match and did everything right, but for Tactix, it was the exact opposite. They were every bit as bad as Steel was good. It would seem unlikely that they will have another day like this again for a while, but it’s certainly worrying in the opening game of the season. They will need to rectify the problems quickly.
SOUTHERN STEEL 54 def MAINLAND TACTIX 36
Fisher 46/49 (94%)
Metuarau 8/14 (57%)
TOTAL 54/63 (86%)
Assists 50 (Metuarau 20)
Gains 16 (Fifita 8)
Bird 22/27 (81%)
Prosser 7/9 (78%)
Glen 7/12 (58%)
TOTAL 36/48 (75%)
Assists 29 (Poi 8)
Gains 11 (Burger 7)
Penalties: Tactix 49-40
Turnovers: Tactix 28-20
MVP: Shannon Saunders (Steel)
Steel: GS Fisher, GA Metuarau, WA Saunders, C Heffernan, WD Savai’inaea, GD Selby-Rickit, GK Fifita
Tactix: GS Bird, GA Prosser, WA Nathan, C Poi, WD Elley, GD Burger, GK Watson
For the last game of the round, Mystics hosted Magic, and it was the competition’s first look at Magic’s star off-season signing, Australian shooter Caitlin Bassett. Having also recruited well in other areas, most notably Grace Kara in the midcourt and Temalisi Fakahokotau in defence, big things were expected from the team that finished at the bottom of the ladder last season.
It took until nearly the six-minute mark before Bassett had her first attempt (and her first goal), with another new signing Chiara Semple actually landing the team’s first five goals. Despite this, Magic took a handy lead early on as Mystics struggled to find any cohesion. Magic was in control for most of the match, and when they led by seven just before three-quarter time, the contest looked almost over. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the home team scored 11 of the next 15 goals to draw level half way through the last quarter.
From there, it developed into a tense goal-for-goal affair. Mystics drew level on several occasions, but never once had the lead in the game. Under pressure from a surging Mystics team, Magic was able to stay calm and finish strongly for a gutsy four-goal win. This was something they wouldn’t have been able to achieve last season. Mystics will be disappointed that they couldn’t capitalise on the chance they had given themselves of an unlikely win.
The Magic midcourt combination of Kara and captain Sam Winders proved to be a match-winning one. Between them, they had 45 goal assists and showed they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2021. After her inauspicious start, Bassett grew into the game and was a decisive factor. She scored 36 goals, but importantly, she also showed an aspect of her game that should prove invaluable this year; the support and guidance she had for her less experienced shooting partners to bring them into the game.
Mystics’ midcourt maestro Elisapeta Toeava put up 32 assists and some of them were extraordinary. On one occasion she managed to find shooter Grace Nweke under the post with a brilliant lob pass despite falling out over the sideline. Captain Sulu Fitzpatrick had a good game in defence, while Nweke put up an impressive 49 goals at the other end. A worrying aspect for Nweke in this game was the total of ten turnovers against her name, most notably several fumbles which proved costly.
So there we have it. Round one is done and dusted, and we have a surprise competition leader in the Steel. I doubt if even their most ardent fan would have tipped that. Will the shocks continue? There’s a truism that generally applies to sporting competitions – you have to wait for at least two rounds to form any sort of opinion, because nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems in round one. The Tactix for one will certainly be hoping that’s the case!
WAIKATO-BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC 64 def NORTHERN MYSTICS 60
Nweke 49/59 (83%)
Mes 6/9 (67%)
Vui 5/6 (83%)
TOTAL 60/74 (81%)
Assists 53 (Toeava 32)
Gains 12 (Fitzpatrick 5)
Bassett 36/41 (88%)
Semple 16/22 (73%)
Williams 12/14 (86%)
TOTAL 64/77 (83%)
Assists 55 (Winders 25)
Gains 7 (Edgecomb, Fakahokotau 2)
Pealties: Mystics 49-41
Turnovers: Mystics 22-19
MVP: Sam Winders (Magic)
Mystics: GS Nweke, GA Mes, WA Toeava, C Earle, WD Ioane, GD Burley, GK Fitzpatrick
Magic: GS Bassett, GA Semple, WA Kara, C Winders, WD Edgecombe, GD Mikaere, GK Fakahokotau
STATS LEADERS OF THE WEEK:
Most Goals: 49 Grace Nweke (Mystics)
Most Assists: 32 Elisapeta Toeava (Mystics)
Most Gains: 8 Taneisha Fifita (Steel)
Most Offensive Rebounds: 8 Caitlin Bassett (Magic)
Most Defensive Rebounds: 2 Taneisha Fifita (Steel), Sulu Fitzpatrick (Mystics), Karin Burger (Tactix), Kalera Nawai & Kelly Jury (Pulse)
Most Intercepts: 3 Karin Burger (Tactix)
(after Round 1)
Team / Played / Pts / %
STEEL . 1 . 3pts . 150.0%
STARS . 1 . 3pts . 107.5%
MAGIC . 1 . 3pts . 106.7%
MYSTICS . 1 . 1pt . 93.8%
PULSE . 1 . 1pt . 93.0%
TACTIX . 1 . 0pts . 66.7%
Saturday, Apr 24
5:15pm – Mystics v Steel
Sunday, Apr 25
4:15pm – Stars v Tactix
6:15pm – Magic v Pulse