THE Northern Stars remain atop the ANZ Premiership ladder after breezing past Southern Steel, collecting a 14-goal victory over one of the top challengers for the season so far. Despite inspired efforts across the court, the Steel could not match the class or intensity of the Stars, who claimed all four quarters on their way to the 59-45 victory.
It was a goal for goal start between the two sides, with neither able to arrest momentum or claim the early ascendancy. That being said, the defensive pressure was on with Maia Wilson and George Fisher both missing early attempts credit to the work rate of their opposition defence, with Anna Harrison starting on the England international in Fisher and physical defender Taneisha Fifita tasked with shutting down the Stars captain. Whilst the first quarter was a tough contest, it was the Stars who rode through it better as Harrison used her footwork to not only confuse the Steel goalers but also the feeders, as Kate Heffernan and Shannon Saunders were forced to work hard around circle edge. Tiana Metuarau was unable to do as much of her playmaking with Fisher buckled down on, while at the other end it was the excellent combination of Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Gina Crampton that allowed the Stars to skip out to the early three goal lead.
Whilst the first break was a chance for the Steel to reset and regroup, it was the Stars that came out with renewed confidence and intensity as the second quarter continued where the first left off. The Steel were able to retain control at the front-end but were at the whim of a hefty offensive effort from the Stars, which they were unable to rein in or stop when they found circle edge. A six-goal run from the Stars – which saw no Steel goals for almost four minutes as both Metuarau and Fisher missed opportunities at the post – saw the lead edge out to 10 goals as Elle Temu switched on the gears for two intercepts and both Reuelu-Buchanan and Lisa Mather stepped up to limit Heffernan and Saunders access to circle edge. Wilson was afforded far too much space in the goal circle courtesy of slick movement from 50-gamer Jamie Hume, as Fifita and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit struggled to contain their high intensity, seeing the Steel trail 23-32 at the main change.
Whilst the Steel’s defensive effort picked up in the third, so did the Stars’ in a much lower-scoring term of play with just 19 goals scored. Fifita lifted her intensity to pile on the defensive pressure with two intercepts for the quarter, whilst Temu equalled her four-gain effort to all but force Metuarau out of the contest with the goal attack unable to contend with her smothering pressure. While Fisher was certainly capable of holding up alone, the volume just was not there as she put on seven of the side’s eight goals for the quarter, as Wilson put up nine at the other end as Crampton continued to find her at the post with ease. With the lead well and truly secured, the Stars almost fully emptied their bench in the final term – and still managed to retain the lead to win the final term, showcasing just how intense their full court defence was. Another two intercepts to Mather saw her continue that excellent midcourt defensive effort the side had kept up all game, keeping Saunders quiet and uncomfortable out the front. Despite a 100 per cent shooting effort from Fisher in the final term, it was the Stars that ground out the 14-goal victory to go two wins clear of Steel in third.
For the Stars, Wilson was rendered much more inaccurate than usual with 33 goals from 43 attempts at 77 per cent, while Hume finished her milestone match with 22 goals at 71 per cent. Crampton (24 assists from 47 feeds) and Reuelu-Buchanan (19 from 39) starred out the front while Harrison and Temu finished with seven gains apiece, with Temu’s three intercepts matched by Mather. For the Steel, Fisher (34 from 37 at 92 per cent) and Metuarau (11 from 19 at 58 per cent) put up a solid effort but did not quite get the same volume as the Stars, while Saunders racked up 20 assists from 44 feeds and Fifita piled on nine gains (three intercepts, five rebounds, one deflection) and 21 penalties.