WITH the ANZ Premiership finals quickly approaching and the battle for third spot in hot dispute expect each team to come out firing and with a real intensity in Round 7. There are a number of key games across the round that will have a huge influence on ladder positioning, while the Magic and Steel will be fighting to keep their seasons alive.
Central Pulse v. Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Friday, 24 July
In the first of two games for both teams the Pulse will be hoping to make it nine in a row and impose themselves on the Magic given their prowess across the court and strong connections. Coming off a disappointing loss last round and yet to register a win since the season restart, the Magic will be eager to finally secure a win and prove they have the skill and grit to match it with the best.
The goal circle is one of the most inconsistent areas for the Magic with Kelsey McPhee and Abigail Latu-Meafou still finding their feet and rhythm in attack. Carrying some form of a knee injury throughout last round, McPhee did not have her usual impact on the scoreboard and will be hoping to up the ante in their clash against the Pulse. Latu-Meafou will have to bring her a-game given the form Katrina Rore is in with the Pulse captain showcasing her dominance to nullify her opponent and render them inefficient in the circle with her immense pressure. Her combination with Kelly Jury has steadily developed over the course of the season with the two able to double down on the shooter or roam freely depending on the scenario. With McPhee known for her aerial strength, Jury will have to apply a wealth of pressure in the air to create tips and deflections to upset the flow in attack, something she is known to do.
Around circle edge and through the midcourt, Whitney Souness is the go-to girl for the Magic with the wing attack lightning quick and able to carve up the defence with her fancy footwork. Coming up against her old team, Souness will be eager to put her best foot forward and hit the circle edge with precision and purpose. Standing at 184cm Karin Burger is a challenging prospect for the smaller-sized Souness, with Burger renowned for her three-foot marking and hands over pressure to block the vision of her opponent. It will be up to Ariana Cable-Dixon to help out through the midcourt to alleviate the pressure on Souness and supply ball into the Magic frontline.
With the Central Pulse humming both in attack and defence it will be difficult for the Magic to rattle them and cause an upset, but given the closeness of the competition never say never.
Central Pulse v. Northern Stars
Saturday, 25 July
Looking to keep their winning record intact the Pulse will be keen to get the jump on the Stars with a strong showing. Dropping to fourth on the ladder after losing to the Mystics last round the Stars know how important it is to collect a win to stay in touch with the top of the table with finals closing in. The Stars have key players across the court but will have their work cut out for them against a cohesive and strong Pulse unit.
Down on their accuracy and output at times last week the shooting combination of Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio will be out to make amends. There is no denying that the two have an impressive connection able to tear up the goal circle with their movement and sheer volume to post. Well held against the Tactix last round, Dunn will be keen to showcase her movement and be a commanding figure with her accuracy to post and strength in the air while Ekenasio is a real playmaker in attack. The Stars have no shortage of options in defence with Storm Purvis a real menace with her ability to get hands to ball while goal defence Kate Burley is an excitement machine, able to generate an intercept or turnover out of nothing. The injection of Oceane Maihi is another positive for the Stars with the goal keeper able to come on and impress with her aerial presence and tenacity to go out and hunt the ball, meaning the Pulse will have to be aware of their oppositions whereabouts at all times.
It is a real mix of youth and experience through the midcourt for the Pulse with centre Claire Kersten a key cog with her drive and netball smarts on constant display. She is a real leader both in attack and defence given her ability to run both ways and have a profound impact. The excitement however lies with speedster Maddy Gordon with the young wing attack full of potential and rawness. She is not afraid to take the game on, is strong at the centre pass and has impressive vision to see into the circle time and time again while her athleticism is equally as impressive. The battle between Gordon and Fa’amu Ioane will bring plenty of excitement with Ioane a constant threat with her speed off the mark and read of the play. Centre Mila Reuelu-Buchanan will also need to have a big game if she is to nullify or match the output of Kersten through the middle.
Although in their second game in less than 24 hours the Pulse have a wealth of talent and a number of star bench players such as Tiana Metuarau that can come onto the court and have an influence something they will be counting on to get over the line against a strong Stars side.
Mainland Tactix v. Northern Stars
Sunday, 26 July
Fighting for a spot in the top three both sides know how much this game means and will be hoping to leave nothing to chance. Fatigue could be a factor for the Stars coming off a game the night before while the Tactix will be hoping to use their fresh legs and outrun the Stars to clench the victory and create some separation on the ladder.
Goal keeper Temalisi Fakahokotau is in ripping form with the defender a constant threat both in the air and at ground level using her speed to gobble up any loose ball. Fakahokotau while not the tallest defender in the league makes up for it with her aerial presence and impressive leap to consistently attack the high ball coming in. Her partnership with Jane Watson allows the Tactix to create a wall in defence and repel the ball each time it comes down the court. Watson boasts both class and netball smarts able to sense when to focus her attention on the goal shooter or tag the goal attack out of the game a method they will have to adapt against the Stars with Maia Wilson the focal point in the goal circle. The towering shooter is the main avenue to goal for the Stars with her prolific nature and accuracy. Wilson will have her work cut out for her against the defensive pairing of Fakahokotau and Watson meaning goal attack Jamie Hume will have to up the ante both in the goal circle and attacking third to hit the scoreboard and draw the attention of the defenders
Through the midcourt the Tactix have a plethora of options that can zip through the middle and cause chaos. Centre Kimiora Poi has taken her game to another level in 2020 with her ball movement, defensive pressure and vision into the circle a couple of key attributes. Since returning from injury, Erikana Pedersen has starred using her dynamic footwork and speed to light up the court and hit the circle edge with precision time and time again. Her ability to create space and thread the needle is second to none connecting with Ellie Bird and Te Paea Selby-Rickit under the post. Although Samon Nathan is more accustomed to the wing attack position she has found herself in wing defence in recent times making for an interesting potential match-up between the experienced Grace Kara. The Stars captain is a real general in attack with her nous to control the flow and deliver well-weighted passes into the circle.
With the Stars having a quick turnover from the game the night before and up against a strong defensive unit, the Mainland Tactix should have the upper hand. It will ultimately come down to whether or not the Tactix can quell Wilson and then capitalise up the other end.
Southern Steel v. Northern Mystics
Sunday, 26 July
Coming off a topsy turvy round the Steel will be searching for some type of continuity in their game and rhythm in attack. On the other hand the Mystics will be keen to get back on the winners list and rectify their issues from last week with a convincing victory over the Steel.
Still working on their connections in the goal circle with Ellen Halpenny coming in as a replacement for Jennifer O’Connell the Steel are adjusting to her game play and finding what works in attack. The former Silver Ferns shooter is cool, calm and collected under the post able to post a wealth of shots and go at a high accuracy adding plenty of value to the Steel line-up. Most importantly though, she allows Kalifa McCollin to play out in goal attack and ply her trade through the middle third to create that flair and unpredictability. However they will be in for a tough battle as the Northern Mystics boast a high calibre defence. Sulu Fitzpatrick is no mean feat with the goal keeper able to adapt to anything thrown her way thanks to her high netball IQ and impressive skillset to read the unfolding play and take a big intercept. Partner in crime, Phoenix Karaka is also an ominous threat for the Steel with her tenacity and deceptive speed to get to contests and create turnovers. Expect Karaka and Fitzpatrick to exploit the new Steel combinations connection with their intense pressure and skill to isolate goalers.
The Steel have one of the most experienced midcourts in the competition with Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton providing that link between attack and defence. Saunders has impressed with her defensive pressure in recent outings collecting intercepts and deflections aplenty while Crampton has kicked it up a gear in the attacking third with her ball placement and drive to the top of the circle. Conversely the Mystics have a young and inexperienced midcourt with centre Tayla Earle still developing but proving to be a star of the future while the wing defence position often rotates between Australian Emily Burgess and Courtney Elliott.
Given the strong connections across the court the Mystics will be hoping to capitalise and cement second spot on the ladder however the Steel have proven they are no easy beats and have plenty of fight left in them.
Northern Mystics v. Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Monday, 27 July
Both in the second game of the round expect both teams to come out firing and desperate to claim another win. Last time the Mystics and Magic went head to head it was the Mystics that came away with a seven goal win a feat they will be hoping to repeat once again and assert themselves as premiership contenders.
The two barometers for their respective sides go head to head with Magic captain Sam Winders likely to match-up against Mystics wing attack Peta Toeava. Winders is a tough competitor, never willing to give an inch and using her turn of speed to cover her opponents every move, something the Mystics will have to be wary of coming into the game. Toeava seems to have the ball on a string and can drag her side back into the contest with her quick release into the circle and nifty footwork both at the transverse line and circle edge. If Winders can shut down and limit Toeava’s influence in attack by blocking her vision and clogging up the space it will set the tone for the Magic and go a long way in rattling the Mystics front end.
Powerhouse Grace Nweke is a thorn in the side of many opposition teams with the 193cm shooter able to dictate the space with her strong holds, clever body positioning and sheer volume to post. Throw in her impressive accuracy and athleticism and the Magic have their hands full in stopping the young goaler at the post. Nweke is the main source to goal with Saviour Tui and Asher Grapes all making cameo appearances but not really troubling the scoreboard. Defensively the Magic have a multitude of options with Georgia Tong oozing athleticism to compete with Nweke in the air while Erena Mikaere has the height, long arms and experience to get in the head of Nweke and offset her game. Holly Fowler is another solid choice inside the defensive circle with her speed off the mark and skill to swat away ball but the Magic will have to work together as a unit if they are to shut down the Mystics.
The Mystics are a complete unit across the court that can explode out of the blocks and apply both attacking and defensive pressure making it hard for the Magic to generate any ball movement.