By Ian Harkin
After round three, it’s greatly differing fortunes for two of the pre-season favourites. Stars are still unbeaten and Tactix still hasn’t registered a victory. Meanwhile, the first match of the weekend was in Invercargill as Steel took on Pulse. The two time defending champions were still without Silver Ferns captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio, and we now know that situation will continue for the rest of the season as she has just announced she is pregnant. Congratulations to Ameliaranne.
Pulse was on the back foot from the start as the home side skipped out to an 11-4 lead after nine minutes. At half time, the score was 29-22 in Steel’s favour, and although challenged and in fact briefly headed in the third quarter, the locals held their nerve to run out four-goal winners in front of their adoring fans. English import George Fisher had another terrific game for Steel, and she was fed superbly by Tiana Metuarau. At the other end of the court, young defender Taneisha Fifita continued her strong form. Aliyah Dunn and Claire Kersten were among the best for Pulse.
SOUTHERN STEEL 56 def CENTRAL PULSE 52
Fisher 48/52 (92%)
Metuarau 8/8 (100%)
TOTAL 56/60 (93%)
Assists 52 (Metuarau 29)
Gains 11 (Fifita 5)
Dunn 38/39 (97%)
Amaru-Tibble 14/18 (78%)
TOTAL 52/57 (91%)
Assists 47 (Souness 16)
Gains 13 (Jury, Newai 4)
Penalties: Pulse 63-62
Turnovers: Pulse 22-19
MVP: Tiana Metuarau (Steel)
Match report – Steel v Pulse
by Andrew Kennedy
In a close round three game, there were tough matchups between very different kinds of athletes down the whole court. In particular, the 2021 Southern Steel have lost their star wing attack in Crampton – they also have three totally new shooters, and the burgeoning combination of Metuarau, facing her old club, and Fisher, was sparkling in this clash. The Pulse goal defence Jury caused havoc with her long arms in the third quarter, but her net output wasn’t as good as stats show, as the Steel attack were often able to play around her. In the end it was partly an injury to Pulse wing defence Gordon, but certainly too many turnovers in attack by the Pulse that allowed the hosts’ nose to stay in front. A composed Steel team took out their second victory of the year 56-52, along with third place on the ladder.
Steel import George Fisher is fast becoming the darling of the Invercargill crowd. Entering the game at 97% for the season, she continued to show speed, agility, and an uncanny reach to balls in the backspace beyond that normally seen in a 188cm goaler. She was given plenty of opportunities as her keeper Fifita grabbed three conspicuous clean intercepts from midjudged balls in the first quarter alone.
Young Pulse star Gordon suffered a painful ankle roll after only four minutes, and even though she later returned to the game, she could not continue and ended up only with 15 minutes of play, subbed off for Paris Lokotui. With the safe through-court transition from Steel gains, combined with Souness’ troubling five turnovers, the 14-10 first quarter told the story of the match.
The second quarter was normal business for Steel, despite improved pressure from the visitors. Nawai was able to smartly contest Fisher from behind, but the creativity, evasiveness and quick release of Metuarau helped Fisher land another 13/14 in the period. Souness and Kersten had a struggle finding their usual structure and zing in attack, with the excellent Steel zone making all Wellington attackers confused as to when and where to put their drives. With Dunn well-covered, Pulse needed to rely on an equal balance of goals from both her and Amaru-Tibble, and some luck, in the first half.
With the scores 29-22 for the Steel, they removed Heffernen and put Saunders at her familiar centre, with Wilshier at wing attack. Pulse came out a new side, and this was the only quarter where they had the best of any of the turnover, intercept, gains, and conversion of gains stats. There were unforced errors by Steel, but also better solid front holds from Nawai and a faster more intense zone shift which enabled Jury to enjoy two intercepts. The host’s defence were drawn too much to leads from Amaru-Tibble, leaving Dunn exposed on the baseline, as her stats sudden shot up to 12/12 in the third quarter. At one stage going on a 10-4 run of scoring, Pulse quickly got back in the match down only 37-39.
Having lost five of their seven-goal lead, Steel took the necessary step of reinstating their starting line-up. Pulse briefly experimented with Abby Erwood at goal defence, but it ended up a shooting fest, with defenders looking tired at both ends and feeders happy to find the open spaces. Clumsy contacts from goal keepers grew, and Fifita was warned straight-up for reckless play.
Through the whole game it was easy to find the target shooters at close range, with only a single long goal being shot in sixty minutes. Metuarau kept dominating the centre receives and goal assists for her team, finishing with perfect shooting in a supportive role. In a gritty effort for the final quarter, Pulse captain Kersten took a heroic intercept, giving her side a bonus point at the death. With more consistency, controlled flair, and a bright new attack end, Steel triumphed 56-52.
Steel: GS Fisher, GA Metuarau, WA Saunders, C Heffernan, WD Savai’inaea, GD Selby-Rickit, GK Fifita
Pulse: GS Dunn, GA Amaru-Tibble, WA Souness, C Kersten, WD Gordon, GD Jury, GK Nawai
The second match of the weekend saw Magic host competition leaders, the Stars in Tauranga. And the visitors started strongly, dominating possession thanks to just eight turnovers in the first half compared to Magic’s 17. Stars had 45 attempts in the first half, compared to 27 for Magic. It was only some inaccurate shooting from the Stars duo of Jamie Hume and captain Maia Wilson, which was keeping Magic in the game at that point.
Both circle defences were strong in this game. Despite being heavily penalised, Magic’s Temalisi Fakahokotau and Erena Mikaere made their presence felt for the home team, resulting in eleven possession gains, while Stars’ ElleTemu and Anna Harrison had exactly the same number. But the Stars’ impressive midcourt double act of Gina Crampton and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan proved the difference. They kept piling on the attacking pressure, racking up 20 assists each during the game.
Having left Australia after spending most of last year’s Super Netball season on the bench, Caitlin Bassett ended up spending the last third of this game on the bench as well. Whether this is a sign of things to come is unsure, but Khiarna Williams and Chiara Semple were in the shooting circle as Magic mounted a strong comeback, from nine goals down in the third quarter to just two down in the last. Eventually, Stars were able to guts out a four goal win, to maintain their unbeaten record.
STARS 55 def WAIKATO BAY OF PLENTY MAGIC 51
Bassett 21/23 (91%)
Williams 20/21 (95%)
Semple 10/13 (77%)
TOTAL 51/57 (90%)
Assists 47 (Winders 17)
Gains 13 (Fakahokotau 7)
Wilson 42/53 (79%)
Hume 13/21 (62%)
TOTAL 55/74 (74%)
Assists 48 (Crampton, Reuelu-Buchanan 20)
Gains 15 (Temu 7)
Penalties: Stars 66-60
Turnovers: Magic 25-20
MVP: Gina Crampton (Stars)
Magic: GS Bassett, GA Williams, WA Kolose, C Winders, WD Edgecombe, GD Tong, GK Fakahokotau
Stars: GS Wilson, GA Hume, WA Crampton, C Reuelu-Buchanan, WD Mather, GD Harrison, GK Temu
The final game of the round between Mystics and Tactix turned into an absolute thriller with a memorable finish. But it didn’t look like that was going to eventuate after the first quarter when the score was 16-9 in Mystics’ favour. Prolific young shooter Grace Nweke already had 14 goals to her name by quarter time. With Tactix looking in trouble, Te Paea Selby-Rickit’s return from injury couldn’t wait any longer. She entered the game in the second quarter.
With Selby-Rickit at goal attack, the team looked slicker. But her shooting was a little rusty to say the least as she scored with only one of her first five attempts, and two from seven for the quarter. Mystics’ play became sloppy, allowing Tactix back into the game. Late in the second quarter, they drew level and from there it became a real battle. For the most part, Mystics were on top during the remainder of the game, but they just couldn’t put Tactix away.
Down 51-46, the visitors mounted one last charge with three minutes left in the game, and Mystics became nervous. Tactix scored three straight goals through Ellie Bird, before a steadier from Nweke. At 52-49 with 73 seconds left, Mystics still appeared safe. But not for long. Three more goals to Bird in quick time and it was all locked up at 52 all with 12 seconds to play. One of those goals was the result of a pass from English defender Ama Agbeze being intercepted. Agbeze was visibly upset with herself after the game for her mistake, but thankfully for her, it didn’t cost her side victory.
With time almost up, wing attack Elisapeta Toeava lobbed a high pass into Nweke who spectacularly put up the shot while off balance and scored the winning goal with just one second to spare. It’s appropriate that the Toeava-Nweke combination would decide things as they had terrorised the visitors’ defence all game. Captain Sulu Fitzpatrick also had a tremendous game with six possession gains.
For Tactix, it was a case of so near, but yet so far. They still find themselves without a victory after three rounds. There are seemingly no easy matches in the ANZ Premiership this year, but after a performance like this, surely a win is around the corner. Despite her shaky shooting (10/18), Selby-Rickit’s inclusion and her combination with Bird, makes them a much more formidable side.
NORTHERN MYSTICS 53 def MAINLAND TACTIX 52
Nweke 49/56 (88%)
Mes 4/8 (50%)
TOTAL 53/64 (83%)
Assists 46 (Toeava 21)
Gains 12 (Fitzpatrick 6)
Bird 39/45 (87%)
Selby-Rickit 10/18 (56%)
Prosser 3/6 (50%)
TOTAL 52/69 (75%)
Assists 44 (Poi 17)
Gains 9 (Watson 3)
Penalties: Mystics 56-52
Turnovers: Mystics 22-18
MVP: Elisapeta Toeava (Mystics)
Mystics: GS Nweke, GA Mes, WA Toeava, C Earle, WD Ioane, GD Burley, GK Fitzpatrick
Tactix: GS Bird, GA Prosser, WA Pedersen, C Poi, WD Elley, GD Burger, GK Jane Watson