THE Mainland Tactix have defied the odds to earn themselves a spot in the ANZ Premiership Grand Final for the first time with a week to spare, after defeating Central Pulse – their opponents in the fortnight’s decider. Pulse rested two key starting players in Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Maddy Gordon, due to illness and injury respectively, and this meant the Tactix were able to expose some holes in the usually clinical Pulse attack end. It was a low scoring game for both sides with plenty of intercepts as the defensive ends showed off their athleticism and skill. The Tactix will be pleased to come away with a 39-32 win and put themselves in a good position to take on the Pulse again in two weeks.
Tactix were looking strong from the outset coming off their confidence-boosting win against the Mystics. They have been consistently producing top-quality performances in recent rounds and seem to have peaked at the perfect time this season. The vision of Kimiora Poi and Erikana Pedersen into the Tactix shooters was exceptional and they were also providing defensive backup when the ball was turned over. Long feeds and looking in early to Ellie Bird was preventing the Pulse defenders from setting up their structures and caught Katrina Rore and Kelly Jury off guard. The Pulse defence warmed into the game after the opening few minutes, with their tight marking forcing the Tactix to recycle the ball to the transverse line on many occasions.
The Pulse were struggling to perform with their usual composure and uncharacteristically failed to convert most of their hard-earned turnovers. The Tactix raced out to an early 9-5 lead, however Pulse dug their heels in and started to build their connections. Tiana Metuarau was doing a good job at providing a link in the attack end, but slightly lacks the experience of Ekenasio, something which stands out against the likes of Silver Fern, Jane Watson. Temalisi Fakahokotau was putting Aliyah Dunn under immense defensive pressure and the Tactix managed to keep Pulse to a score of just seven by the first break.
In the second quarter, the Tactix continued their good form defensively and were able to disrupt the Pulse, resulting in some missed shots from Dunn and Metuarau. Claire Kersten was doing a solid job in wing attack, with the youngster Renee Savai’inaea relishing her first start and a full game in centre. Both teams were turning the ball over more often than usual, and through some excellent aerial anticipation from Jury, the Pulse started to claw their way back into the game. They went on a four-goal run and started to put the Tactix under pressure. The game was lacking some of the finesse we expect to see from these top teams, but the Tactix managed to maintain their grip on the match and went into half time leading by 23 goals to 16.
After half-time the Pulse came out of the blocks with renewed energy, spurred on by the handiwork of Karin Burger. Burger had racked up three deflections and one intercept and was proving to be a thorn in the side of Pedersen. The Tactix held their ground and the two sides battled for control in the quarter. The Southern side extended their lead to nine goals, but the Pulse fought back by finding their rhythm in attack, notching up three in a row to finish the quarter trailing by just five goals.
Tactix came onto court for the fourth quarter with a glimpse of the final in their sights. Pulse were putting up a good fight but Tactix had momentum in their favour. Despite both sides showing small signs of fatigue they kept persevering and putting their bodies on the line. Charlotte Elley, in particular, was a workhorse, setting up defensive opportunities until the final whistle. With five minutes to go, the Tactix were up by five and the Pulse ran out of time to catch up. This was a laboured game in the final term for the Tactix, and there was a sense of relief when the final whistle blew. Despite a good effort from the Pulse, their shooting percentage was just 78 per cent, not up to their usual standard, and this ultimately cost them the game. Though the Tactix came away with the win in this Grand Final preview, Pulse were without two of their typical starting lineup will no doubt be ready to fight for the trophy in two weeks time.
Mainland Tactix 13 | 10 | 7 | 9 (39)
Central Pulse 7 | 9 | 9 | 7 (32)
GS: Ellie Bird
GA: Te Paea Selby-Rickit
WA: Erikana Pedersen
C: Kimiora Poi
WD: Charlotte Elley
GD: Jane Watson
GK: Temalisi Fakahokotau
GS: Aliyah Dunn
GA: Tiana Metuarau
WA: Claire Kersten
C: Renee Savai’inaea
WD: Karin Burger
GD: Katrina Rore
GK: Kelly Jury