WITH finals around the corner it was Southern Steel that stood strong to walk away with a narrow two-goal win over Central Pulse (59-57). In Gail Parata’s final game as head coach, the Central Pulse upped the ante and had their moments of magic but simply could not compete for a full 60 minutes.
It was goal for goal to start the term as George Fisher and Aliyah Dunn opened proceedings for their respective sides. It was a steady start for both sides as they carefully crafted the ball down the court unwilling to cough up possession. Fisher was presenting nicely inside the circle to keep the Steel chugging along. Kate Heffernan was proving to be a nuisance early on with the Steel centre competing for everything that came her way. It was turning somewhat into a battle of the long bombs with both Whitney Souness for the Pulse and Shannon Saunders for the Steel releasing long looping passes into their respective goalers. After a clean opening five minutes of the match both sides threw away a couple of costly passes with the Steel able to capitalise on their chances and go on a string of three goals to open up the largest lead of the afternoon.
Maddy Gordon kept the Pulse in striking distance with a huge intercept around circle edge, testament to her impressive athleticism with Dunn rewarding her for her efforts. Defensively the Steel were putting the clamps on as Te Huinga Selby-Rickit came to life with a nice deflection as they went on another three goal run. All of a sudden the buffer was out to five goals with the Pulse seeming to be on the back foot credit to the dominance of Fisher under the post. Heffernan came blistering through for another intercept with the Steel defence causing all sorts of trouble with their stifling three foot marking. Just as soon as it looked like the Steel had things all their own way the Pulse went on a couple of goal spree as they reduced the deficit to three goals at quarter time.
The Pulse made a couple of defensive changes with Paris Lokotui coming on in goal defence and Kelly Jury slotting back into her traditional goal keeper. The change paid dividends with Jury coming up with an intercept as the Pulse started to gain some momentum. Souness was a real livewire inside attack with her speed and cut and drive to the top of the circle. the Pulse really started to motor cutting the margin to just one goal with Lokotui doing a solid job on Tiana Metuarau. This goal for goal rhythm once again came to the fore with neither side able to break that one goal buffer given their respective conversions off the centre pass.
It was turning into a spectacle of the centres with Heffernan and Claire Kersten leading the charge. Kersten provided a calming head for the Pulse while Heffernan was sending fans into overdrive with her closing speed and sheer athleticism. A costly turnover allowed the Steel to rally as they extended the margin back out to four goals. Te Amo Amaru-Tibble stepped up to the plate for the Pulse with her workload and crafty court play allowing her to carve up the court and hit the scoreboard. Another three goal run in favour of the Pulse enabled them to cull the deficit back to one, as the Steel remained cool, calm and collected to keep their noses in front. Looking for fresh legs in defence Sarahpheinna Woulf came on in goal defence to provide some type of spark and point of difference.
It did not take long for the Steel to add to the scoreboard as they increased the lead back out to a four-goal margin. Gordon made the switch into centre as Kersten slotted back into wing defence to provide a bit of extra defensive coverage against Saunders who was having a field day out on court. Lokotui showcased her class and vision to go back with the flight to send the ball flying back down the court. Fisher hit back with a steadier to re-establish the handy lead they created. It was a tight tussle throughout the third term with Taneisha Fifita coming to life for the Steel, out hunting and picking up a nice intercept as Renee Savai’inaea continued to grind out the game. An offensive contact call against Fisher gave the Pulse a chance to capitalise but Heffernan had other plans as she pickpocketed the ball to keep the Steel in front. Things got a bit willing as the clock ticked down in the third term with cautions handed out as the Steel went into the final break up by two goals.
The Pulse ate into the margin almost instantly in the final term with a quick goal off the hands of Dunn but that was short lived as Fisher answered the call for the Steel. A huge intercept from Jury set the wheels in motion for the Pulse as they levelled the scores but Selby-Rickit showcased her class coming through for her own clean intercept. It was a see-sawing affair as the Pulse won ball back but just as quickly threw it away with the Steel digging deep to grind their way through the physicality and pressure. Abby Erwood was injected into the match momentarily but it did not impact the flow for the Steel as they put the foot down to run out two goal victors.
Fisher was in fine form for the Steel finishing with 42 goals to her name at 93 per cent accuracy. Metuarau was also imperative for the Steel notching up 17 goals along with 19 goal assists. Saunders was electric through the midcourt recording 25 goal assists, as Heffernan racked up three intercepts in the win. Fifita impressed down in defence with three intercepts deflections as Jury proved to be a game changer for the Pulse with her three intercepts. Dunn was a commanding presence under the ring with her 36 goals from 39 attempts, as Amaru-Tibble starred sitting at 100 per cent thanks to her 21 goals. Souness was crafty with ball in hand leading the way with 22 goal assists.