Tag: Kate Heffernan

ANZ Premiership – Round 5: Pulse survive nailbiter against error-ridden Steel

SOUTHERN Steel pushed the Central Pulse in Round 4 of the ANZ Premiership, and while they backed it up a week on, the Pulse treasured ball and maintained accuracy for a close 40-37 victory. It was the Pulse’s continuous drive that propelled them to a sixth straight victory, with the close finish for the Steel soured by a late injury.

Pulse started strong as ever, pinning down the attacking third well in the beginning to limit Steel’s speed in attack. A couple handy loose ball-gets early on saw the Steel take an early three goal lead, before Pulse switched into once more to steal back some momentum. But the midpoint of the term saw the Pulse draw level, with the side slow to start but quicker to get into their regular rhythm. 

A couple of pickups from Shannon Saunders early proved that the Steel had come to play, putting pressure on through the midcourt but where Saunders did it the entire Pulse side went one better on the defence, forcing Steel into short, sharp passes in attack. While the Steel maintained patience and did not try to take risks, Trinidad and Tobago product Kalifa McCollin still injected her usual flair, finding clever avenues to Jennifer O’Connell at the post. 

But where the Steel were solid up forward, sloppiness down back from Taneisha Fifita allowed too many easy attempts at goal for the highly accurate Pulse goalers in Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Aliyah Dunn. Defensively, the Steel were on fire early putting a wealth of pressure on the Pulse attack unit but threw away just as much as they gained, only coming away with a one goal lead at the first change.

The match continued virtually goal for goal, with Maddy Gordon finding plenty of purchase on circle edge, but small errors back-to-back from Dunn handed the Steel a couple of crucial opportunities. However, inaccuracy plagued O’Connell and McCollin, sitting on 65 per cent accuracy in the second thanks to impressive defensive pressure and box-outs from Katrina Rore and Kelly Jury. While Steel appeared to have much of the momentum early, critical errors saw Pulse take the lead with under five minutes left in the term, seeing Steel in real danger of fazing out of the match heading into half-time. 

While the patient approach by the Steel early on seemed to work, pressure from the Pulse saw movement stagnate in the second which allowed the top side to gain some precious ball. Though Saunders continued to have her way finding plenty of turnover ball through the centre, matched well by Claire Kersten who gave Saunders a run for her money on the deflection tally. But the Steel managed to retain a two-goal buffer throughout a frantic last minute, seeing Pulse just ahead but the Steel within touching distance. With persistent contact calls plaguing Fifita, the young goal keeper was handed a caution late in the second, having tallied eight contact penalties by half-time. 

With just two goals in it coming into the second half, one side had to give. The Steel injected some better speed in the third, finding faster options to post but wasted opportunities from McCollin and O’Connell saw Pulse maintain the lead, with Jury getting into O’Connell’s head. It was a better third quarter from the Pulse, finding a bit more purchase in attack though the Steel continued to keep them on their toes and forcing some uncharacteristic errors from the usually composed attack. 

Kate Heffernan was solid, applying constant pressure on Gordon and seeing the pair almost cancel each other out with their consistent shadowing. McCollin’s speed saw the goal attack continue to evade Rore, though the Pulse defensive unit did a solid job limiting Steel’s ability to drive toward the ball in attack. The Pulse began to pull away toward the end of the third, maintaining momentum and holding ground against the tenacious and ball hungry Steel side.

Tiana Metuarau joined the fray out in wing attack to start the final quarter, with the speedster injecting a bit of flair into the Pulse attack. Continued errors and hesitance in front of goal from the Steel saw the Pulse begin to pull away, with accuracy on the shot proving crucial. Where the match may have seemed sealed up early in the final quarter, the Steel had a much more composed second half of the term and really began to push back, absorbing the pressure in attack and winning back critical ball in defence before the ball could reach the circle. 

With the match on the line, the Steel were on a roll and looked to be in with a real chance, until the worst case scenario played out with O’Connell going down with a suspected knee injury and less than a minute on the clock. Two goals down with 55 seconds on the clock Steel’s Kiana Pelasio entered the court in goal attack, but it was not enough with the Pulse happy to ferret away the time and finish with a sombre 40-37 victory.

The Pulse may have had another scare with a potential loss on their hands this week but were too good with quality names bookending the court. Player of the match Jury was silent but deadly in defence, racking up seven gains while Kersten was solid with three intercepts. Despite just playing the three quarters, Gordon led the Pulse assists tally with 13 from 17 feeds, joined by Ekenasio with nine assists and 17 goals from 20 attempts. Dunn finished well with 23 goals at 92 per cent to lead on accuracy. Rore had a quiet match when it came to her usual flair, but was consistent as ever with the four gains and only five penalties to her name.

While the Steel had more attempts on goal for the second match running, it was their inaccuracy at the post that was the real kicker. O’Connell was sturdy at the post but came away with 25 goals at 73 per cent, while McCollin was electric out the front with 12 goals from 17 attempts and eight assists. Saunders racked up three intercepts, while Gina Crampton did much of the heavy lifting in wing attack with 15 assists, 19 centre pass receives and a potentially game saving intercept in the final term to really put the pressure on. Defensively, Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Fifita were consistent but did not do enough to put off the Pulse, seeing the pair only combine for two intercepts. 

Steel are unlucky coming out of this loss and injury scare with a back-to-back match on Saturday night against Northern Stars – the only team they have beaten thus far – and will now need to work a different goaler into their game plan. Meanwhile the Pulse have a week off, not back on the court until Round 6.

>>> PULSE TEAM PAGE

>>> STEEL TEAM PAGE

>>> FULL MATCH STATS

CENTRAL PULSE 11 | 11 | 11 | 7 (40)
SOUTHERN STEEL 12 | 8 | 9 | 8 (37)

STARTING SEVEN:

PULSE:

GS: Aliyah Dunn
GA: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA: Maddy Gordon
C: Claire Kersten
WD: Karin Burger
GD: Katrina Rore
GK: Kelly Jury

STEEL:

GS: Jennifer O’Connell
GA: Kalifa McCollin
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Te Huinga Selby-Rickit
GK: Taneisha Fifita

2020 ANZ Premiership preview: Round 5

ROUND 5 of the ANZ Premiership sees five matches over the course of the weekend with the Magic, Stars and Tactix all taking the court twice. There are a couple of identical clashes from Round 4 with some teams hoping history does not repeat itself. The Pulse will be eager to maintain their unblemished start to 2020 while the Magic will be wanting to go one step better than last round and collect their second win to climb up the ladder.

Central Pulse v. Southern Steel
Friday, 10 July

A fourth quarter demolition gifted Central Pulse the win over the Steel last round, however the Steel will take plenty of confidence out of their last outing, going toe-to-toe with their opponents for three quarters. Shooting at 100 per cent for the match, the Pulse goalers were on song sinking them from everywhere – something the Steel will really have to double down on this round if they are any chance to knock the Pulse off their perch.

It is fair to say that the battle in the goal circle was won by Ameliaranne Ekenasio with the star goal attack taking ownership and dominating with 25 goals from 25 attempts. Last round, Steel defenders Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita gave all their attention to Aliyah Dunn under the post and while the towering goal shooter was down on her usual volume sitting at 21 goals at 100 per cent, it allowed for Ekenasio to dictate the terms out the front. Fifita and Selby-Rickit are both strong prospects in the defensive circle with their physicality, hands over pressure and quick footwork but Abby Erwood should not be forgotten about and could be another option to come on for the Steel and upset the Pulse attacking duo with her tagging style of play. Heading into their second clash in less than seven days the Steel will be keen to rectify those issues in defence and shut down Ekenasio more effectively if they are to come out on top. While the combination between Ekenasio and Dunn is commanding to say the least youngster Tiana Metuarau is also proving to be a handful for the opposition whether it be in goal attack or wing attach with her silky movement, precise ball placement and netball nous.

Defensively the Pulse are stacked with Kelly Jury having the time of her life down back. The goal keeper has starred in recent weeks with her hunt for the ball, long arms and skill to contest the aerial ball. She really shut down Jennifer O’Connell in Round 4 with the goal shooter only managing 27 goals from 32 attempts at 84 per cent and denied any easy access into the goal circle. The influence of Katrina Rore and Karin Burger is also a key aspect to the Pulse defence with Rore putting in a wealth of work out the front to shut down the goal attack entering the goal circle and Burger nullifying the wing attack with her with arms over pressure and commanding height. Goal attack Kalifa McCollin will have to get busy for the Steel if she is to occupy Rore while Gina Crampton had Burger’s number for the majority of their last encounter using her speed and strength to tussle for prime position around circle edge.

It could be a case of history repeating itself with the Pulse in ripping form with their impressive ball movement, strong connections and ability to withstand the waves of pressure.

Southern Steel v. Northern Stars
Saturday, 11 July

In their second game of the round the Steel will be hoping to keep the winning streak against the Stars alive, getting the wood over them earlier in the season, albeit by just two goals. Both teams are evenly poised and match-up similarly headlined by a tall holding goal shooter and experienced midcourt.

The contest between the Northern Stars captain, Grace Kara and youngster Kate Heffernan will draw plenty of attention. Kara is a real lynchpin for the Stars in attack, providing that link into the goal circle with her effortless and perfectly weighted passes. She also does a wealth of work at the centre pass to ease the pressure on her shooters, meaning it will up to Heffernan to get in her head and stop her. Although still developing her craft, Heffernan is quick on her feet and can apply strong hands over pressure to block Kara’s vision into the circle. Another option in wing defence for the Stars is Kendall Corkery with the midcourter renowned for her niggly, physical style which can get under the skin of opponents. Expect veteran, Shannon Saunders to lead the midcourt cohort for the Steel especially up against 22-year-old Mila Reuelu-Buchanan. Saunders can run all day in centre and use her smarts to outwit Reuelu-Buchanan who is still honing her craft.

If the Stars are to register another win for the season, Maia Wilson will have to be on her game from the opening whistle. The goal shooter is a commanding presence under the post and has increased her range throughout 2020, looking more comfortable from further out. Her high volume of shots however puts a target on her back with the likes of Fifita, Selby-Rickit and Erwood likely to work in overdrive to smother her, meaning it will be up to Jamie Hume to take the load off Wilson. Hume will be hoping to put out a consistent four quarter performance against the Steel to really assert herself on the competition and take the heat off Wilson under the post, with her cleverly timed drives, long range shooting and play making abilities.

If the Steel can shut down the likes of Kara and Reuelu-Buchanan around circle edge and limit their chance to feed into Wilson it will put them in good stead to collect another win.

Northern Stars v. Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Sunday, 12 July

After playing out the first draw in ANZ Premiership history the Stars will be eager to put that to bed and claim the “W”. The Magic came from seven goals behind last round to finish strongly and clench a draw and will be keen to go one better this round.

The Stars will be hoping to make amends for their fourth quarter slump and run out a consistent performance this round with the defensive duo renowned for their balling winning abilities. One of the more experienced defenders in the group, Storm Purvis can change the course of a game in an instance with her leap and deceptive speed to dart around the court and force turnovers. Teammate Kate Burley has blossomed into a commanding prospect in the goal circle with her tenacity, often throwing herself at every contest and creating doubt in the feeders minds while Oceane Maihi is able to inject plenty of height and aerial presence, something the Stars might need in order to contend with Kelsey McPhee at the post. The goal shooter can suffer from the yips at times under the post, but when she is on song she is hard to stop credit to her strong hands, quick footwork and clever body positioning. The influence of Abigail Latu-Meafou will be crucial if the Magic are to replicate their Round 4 performance or notch up a win with the goal attack showcasing her accuracy to post, smooth movement and skill to slot them from range. A cameo appearance from youngster Khiarna Williams could also work wonders for the Magic in order to offset the Stars defence.

Through the midcourt the Stars boast some exciting players with Fa’amu Ioane one of the most electric wing defences in the competition, with her speed off the mark and quick hands. Her presence around circle edge and in the defensive third allows her to gobble up turnover ball and spring into transition. The versatility of Lisa Mather is another key for the Stars able to swing from wing defence into centre when needed. For the Magic, Whitney Souness is a real powerhouse able to deliver the ball with great pace and precision to catch defenders off guard while Ariana Cable-Dixon is reliable through centre.

This game could once again go down to the wire but expect the Stars to have learnt from their mistakes last round and impose themselves for a full four quarters.

Mainland Tactix v. Northern Mystics
Sunday, 12 July

Playing only nine days earlier both sides would have taken plenty out of their match-up when it comes to one-on-ones and overall team strategy. A quick start from the Tactix gave them the early ascendancy before the Mystics rallied and wrestled back the momentum to win the next three quarters. With this in mind expect the Tactix to come out with a real fire in the belly and increased intensity.

Shooting prodigy Grace Nweke is relishing every single minute of court time with the 18-year-old dominating in all facets such as volume and accuracy. She is simply unstoppable under the post using her 193cm frame to ward off defenders and dictate the space. Her aerial presence is second to none while her balance is equally impressive. Goal attack Saviour Tui is growing with confidence, not afraid to look to the post while Asher Grapes is constantly able to find space and create attacking forays. Up against some stiff opposition in Temalisi Fakahokotau and Jane Watson the Mystics goalers will once again have to be on their A-game. Fakahokotau impressed last week with her hunt for the ball, vision and quick footwork while Watson is renowned for her cleanliness and lean over the shot. If both defenders can work in tandem to minimise the influence of Nweke and win ball back it will be a huge bonus for the Tactix.

Wing attack Peta Toeava is the real barometer for the Mystics with her turn of speed and sheer ball placement. Toeava only needs a second to look into the goal circle and deliver a pinpoint pass into Nweke under the post such is her vision, understanding and connection with the goaler. It will be up to Charlotte Elley to limit her influence around circle edge and apply strong hands over pressure given Toeava’s shorter stature. The battle in centre will also be interesting with Tayla Earle and Kimiora Poi donning very similar styles. Earle has been really dominating for the Mystics with her high level of endurance and energetic style of play, helping out both in offence and defence. Poi plays a more defensive role with her strong hands over pressure and three foot marking, allowing her wing attacks to do the heavy lifting in attack.

It will ultimately come down to whether or not the Tactix can generate enough turnover ball and restrict Nweke under the post or if Sulu Fitzpatrick and Phoenix Karaka can shut down the Tactix shooting end once more.

Mainland Tactix v. Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
Monday, 13 July

In the final game of the round, fatigue could be a key element for both sides as they enter their second game. The last time these two sides met it was the Tactix that got the win by nine goals but the Magic have come along in leaps and bounds since Round 3 with their on court connections strengthening.

Boasting an impressive shooting combination in Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Ellie Bird the Tactix will be hoping to take advantage of the tall goaler and apply some real scoreboard pressure. Down on their accuracy last round expect both shooters to come out with a real intensity. It is unlikely for Selby-Rickit to have two quiet games in a row given her class and ability to spark back into action. The goal attack is a key cog in attack with her play making abilities often bringing Bird into the game with her well executed passes. However the tussle in the goal circle will be extremely physical as Magic goal keeper Erena Mikaere is not afraid to contest every ball that comes her way. Mikaere’s aerial presence is impressive and so too is Georgia Tong, with the two able to swat away balls with ease. Holly Fowler is another one to keep an eye out for in the Magic defence unit with her ability to read the play and take a key intercept at any given moment.

With a game saving intercept under her belt, Magic captain and wing defence Sam Winders is a real barometer for her side. she is able to spark the Magic into action with her constant effort around the court to create a tip and then transition into attack. Her ability to seamlessly switch from wing defence to centre is second to none able to shake up the course of a game. Winders will have to be on her game from the opening whistle with Erikana Pedersen and Samon Nathan both clever in their movement and strong around circle edge for the Tactix in attack.

To stay in touch with the top of the pack, the Tactix have to win this clash so expect them to pull out all the stops and assert themselves from the get-go against an inconsistent Magic side.

ANZ Premiership: Round 4 – Pulse remain unbeaten after topsy-turvy victory over the Steel

COMING into the game with nothing to lose, the Steel put up a good fight over the Pulse but left empty-handed after the fiery Round 4 contest. While the Pulse did not have it all their own way, they were utterly dominant under the post and defensively it is hard to see any teams really coming close. At points, it was a lot closer than expected, with the Steel ahead at three quarter time, but the reigning champions were just too good and do not look likely to be giving up their crown any time soon, getting up with a 14-5 last term to run away with a 47-40 victory.

A held ball on the first centre pass meant the Steel were in chase mode from the very start. Ameliaranne Ekenasio put on an absolute clinic in the goal attack position, moving flawlessly and demonstrating her balanced and effortless shooting technique. She combined fantastically with Maddy Gordon at wing attack to provide plenty of options in the Pulse attack end. Despite a few early turnovers from both sides, Pulse started off in control, whilst the Steel seemed tense and took a while to find their feet. Through some smooth playmaking from Kalifa McCollin, the Steel pulled it back to within one, but the opening quarter was the Ekenasio show.

The Silver Ferns captain provides so much inspiration for her team, and they were contesting every ball and making transition play very difficult for the Steel. There were moments of fluency in the Steel attack but a couple of misplaced feeds were eaten alive by Kelly Jury and Katrina Rore. For the Steel, Kate Heffernan’s work rate was impressive, and they managed to claw their way back in through a timely intercept from Shannon Saunders. The Pulse demonstrated strong drives and plenty of punch while the Steel were struggling to get the ball over the transverse line and their feeding accuracy let them down. Towards the end of the first quarter, the Pulse took their foot off the pedal to finish the quarter with a slim three-goal lead.

In the second quarter, Jury’s height was causing all sorts of problems, and the Steel ended up giving away the ball several times by taking too many passes before going to post. The Pulse were lethal on their transitions, and though the Steel were clinging on there was a sense that the game may turn into a total washout. But Te Huinga Selby-Rickit had other ideas and was ready to take on the challenge of Ekenasio. She came to life in the second quarter and the Steel notched up five in a row with the chance to take the lead heading into the break.

Gina Crampton was finding great feeding position, letting the ball go easily and seemed to have the measure of Karin Burger. As the Pulse started to lose their connections and tense up, the Steel made it seven on the trot and forced Pulse to make a change in the defensive end. Elle Temu came on to offer another look but Jennifer O’Connell was confident and really firing, so Temu struggled to have the desired impact.

The experienced pair of Saunders and Claire Kersten were having a good tussle in the midcourt, but this quarter was all about the wing attacks. When Crampton started to lift, Gordon did the same and the vision and pinpoint feeds helped keep shooting percentages very high for both teams. Through pure willpower, and with help from a couple of Pulse errors, the Steel steamed on ahead with a defiant display and the score was 24-23 at half-time.

The Steel attack combination of Crampton, O’Connell and McCollin really started to sing in the second and third quarters. Steel came out of the blocks very strong defensively in the third, with Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita getting hands everywhere. The Pulse defence, in contrast, seemed flat. Changes for the Pulse saw Jury return to the court and Tiana Metuarau come into wing attack, replacing Gordon. Fifita was doing a lot of work at the back keeping Aliyah Dunn busy, she had actually shot fewer goals than Ekenasio in the first half. In a total switch from the first quarter, it was now the Pulse clinging on to the game, trailing by two when the whistle blew for three-quarter time.

In a game that was expected to be a blowout, it was now danger time for the Pulse and they knew they needed a big effort for the final quarter. Gordon replaced Kersten at centre and the talented youngster Metuarau stayed on in wing attack. Pulse equalised and started the quarter all guns blazing, playing with power and presence. In a complete turnaround from the third quarter, Pulse began to dominate defensively and really punish the Steel.

After scoring eight in a row, the Pulse finally let the Steel score their first goal of the final quarter with six minutes remaining – the score was now 42-36 to the Pulse. Steel had lost their fluency in attack and the Pulse were taking advantage of the slower ball speed and miscommunication. The champions were ruthless in the final quarter, pushing the score out to 47-40 and denying the Steel a much-needed bonus point. Too many errors for Steel and their final quarter let them down, it was a shame they could not come away with something after such a strong opening three quarters.

The Pulse finished the game on 100 per cent shooting accuracy, and it is hard to know what teams can really do to stop them. The Magic will take on this challenge next, while the Steel will need to maintain a full performance when they take on the Pulse for the second time next week.

>>>PULSE TEAM PAGE

>>>STEEL TEAM PAGE

>>>FULL MATCH STATS

CENTRAL PULSE 14 | 9 | 10 | 14 (47)
SOUTHERN STEEL 11 | 13 | 5 (40)

STARTING SEVEN:

PULSE:

GS: Aliyah Dunn
GA: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA: Maddy Gordon
C: Claire Kersten
WD: Karin Burger
GD: Katrina Rore
GK: Kelly Jury

STEEL:

GS: Jennifer O’Connell
GA: Kalifa McCollin
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Te Huinga Selby-Rickit
GK: Taneisha Fifita

ANZ Premiership: Round 3 – Steel notch up opening win of the season

IN a rematch of the 2019 elimination final there was plenty of feeling in the game with the Steel claiming redemption and their first win of the season (49-47). Although the two goal win was marred with injury the Steel proved the short turnaround did not phase them, coming out hot from the get go, flicking the ball around with precision in the attacking third. Despite a strong win in Round 2 the Northern Stars did not seem to find their mojo for the full four quarters, rattled by the Steel’s pressure and tenacity. 

The Steel raced out of the blocks in the opening quarter with their connections in attack on full display. Stars goal shooter Maia Wilson slotted the first goal of the game, but from there on in it was all the Steel with their clever ball movement and defensive pressure causing all sorts of headaches. The Steel defenders pushed Wilson to shoot from range with the goaler missing two consecutive shots and making them pay with their 100 per cent shooting accuracy up the other end. The patient approach in attack paid dividends for the Steel with Jennifer O’Connell holding strong and owning the backspace. The Steel shooting end of O’Connell and Kalifa McCollin got on a roll sinking five goals straight and opening up a commanding lead. Their dominance was so profound it caused the Stars to make changes down back with Storm Purvis pushing out to goal defence and Oceane Maihi coming on at goal keeper to provide that aerial presence. The Northern Stars struggled to generate any second phase play in the attacking third giving the Steel plenty of chances to cause turnovers. Steel continued to put the foot down establishing a five goal lead despite the Stars pushing hard and rallying late in the term to try and create some attacking momentum. 

Down by five goals at quarter time the Stars came out with a real pep in their step and heightened defensive pressure. Clearly on the hunt for turnover ball Purvis got her hands to ball in the opening minute of the game contesting the high ball and placing doubt in the feeders minds. Moments later partner in crime Kate Burley delivered, taking a huge intercept and propelled the ball back down the court. With increased intensity in defence, Wilson found her groove under the post with her strong rebounding positioning and impressive balance to dance along the baseline and keep the ball in. With nine minutes left in the quarter the Steel were yet to score while the Stars went on a four goal shooting spree using the angles in attack to open up space and apply scoreboard pressure. Jamie Hume continued to impress from her first quarter output, proving to be a real playmaker in the attacking third with her well weighted passes and drive while teammate Grace Kara was crucial throughout the quarter using her vision to deliver into the circle. With the Stars pushing, Kate Heffernan was pinged with a caution, while Taneisha Fifita struggled to combat Wilson under the post. A mere goal separated the sides before Gina Crampton kicked it up a gear for the Steel with her impressive vision into the circle prompting the Steel to go on a surge in the final five minutes of the quarter. 

After getting within touching distance before the half time break the Stars continued with the same line-up while the Steel opted for some changes across the court. Georgia Heffernan replaced McCollin while Abby Erwood pulled on the goal defence bib pushing Selby-Rickit to goal keeper and Fifita to the bench. It was goal for goal for the opening few minutes of the quarter with both sides feeling each other out and adapting to the changes. Heffernan had a shaky start with a held ball on her first attempt before steadily building into the game. The Stars were getting plenty of hands to ball in defence with Burley and Purvis creating a strong wall in defence while up the other end the connection between Wilson and Hume was blossoming. With momentum swinging back and forth the Steel were struck by injury with Georgia Heffernan going down with a suspected knee injury. Crampton upped the ante in attack, releasing the ball from distance but that did not seem to phase the Stars who managed three goals in a row for and drew even with 10 seconds left in the quarter, showcasing just how intense the battle was. 

The final quarter lived up to the hype with the game going right down to the wire. Steel sunk the opening goal of the term with the Stars replying instantly. It was goal for goal once again with both sides treasuring possession and capitalising on their centre pass. Kendall Corkery had a profound impact for the Steel, niggling at Kara and making her work hard to win any ball circle edge. Shannon Saunders showcased her brilliance with a timely tip to turn the ball over and was the clear spark for the Steel who opened up a three goal lead and did not look back. With two minutes left Purvis took a key rebound to reduce the margin to three goals and give her side a fighting chance but it was to no avail with O’Connell landing the final blow. 

O’Connell was a constant under the post for the Steel with 32 goals from 36 attempts at 89 per cent while McCollin was deadly going at 93 per cent sinking 14 goals from her 15 attempts. For the Stars WIlson dominated with 37 goals from 42 attempts at 88 per cent while Hume was down on her accuracy sitting at 67 per cent missing five of her 15 shots. Defensively Purvis starred with three gains, three deflections and two rebounds. Fifita and Selby-Rickit combined for five gains and seven deflections.

 

>>> FULL MATCH STATISTICS

>>> STARS TEAM PAGE

>>> STEEL TEAM PAGE

NORTHERN STARS 10 | 13 | 13 | 11 (47)
SOUTHERN STEEL 15 | 11 | 10 | 13 (49)

STARTING SEVEN:

Northern Stars:

GS: Maia Wilson
GA: Jamie Hume
WA: Grace Kara
C: Mila Reuelu-Buchanan
WD: Fa’amu Ioane
GD: Kate Burley
GK: Storm Purvis

Southern Steel:

GS: Jennifer O’Connell
GA: Kalifa McCollin
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Te Huinga Selby-Rickit
GK: Taneisha Fifita

ANZ Premiership: Round 3 – Mystics maintain their winning streak in third round clash

IN a fairly predictable result for both teams, the Mystics remained unbeaten in Season 2020 while the Steel are still on the hunt for their first win of the year. Steel came in carrying the weight of a string of difficult losses and never quite managed to shake off that burden. In contrast, the Mystics, with their young and fiery shooting line-up, produced a full-court performance led by experienced defensive duo captain Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick, setting themselves up nicely for some tough tests coming up.

The Mystics were brimming with confidence at the start of the game and despite being without Bailey Mes they have proven their worth in the competition so far and earned a decent reputation. The tall timber of Grace Nweke is such an asset for them, and she came into the game fresh after shooting 41 from 45 last week. Tayla Earle was up against the experienced World Cup Champion Shannon Saunders, who has over one hundred more national league appearances than the youngster.

The Steel got off to a shaky start and it seemed that Jennifer O’Connell lacked confidence in the shooting circle, which had a ripple effect on the team. A couple of early turnovers gave the Mystics the edge, and the defensive pressure from Karaka and Fitzpatrick set the tone for the game. Kalifa McCollin played excellently in the goal attack position but needed O’Connell to create a stronger target in order to build flow and connections in the attack end. In contrast, the Mystics were fearless in attack, with Peta Toeava’s rapid speed and vision into Nweke giving them the upper hand early.

A couple of turnovers later, the Steel were still struggling to find each other and the Mystics used this to their advantage with their rock-solid defence scooping up plenty of ball. Steel managed to gather momentum towards the second half of the quarter and capitalised on a couple of Mystics errors to go on a five goal run. This comeback showed they had really warmed into the game and they started finding space and options in the middle channel. Mystics let go of a healthy lead allowing the Steel to creep back in with the quarter ending at 13-12 to the Northern side.

In the second quarter, Georgia Heffernan replaced McCollin – a bizarre change considering McCollin had been running the show in the Steel attack end. Fitzpatrick took advantage of a couple of sloppy feeds, and the Mystics went on a run, taking the score out to 17-14. Then the momentum swung, and with O’Connell growing in confidence at the post the Steel somehow managed to get back level, partly due to fantastic hustle from wing defence Kate Heffernan.

For the Mystics, Asher Grapes was having trouble finding a good shooting position and was not able to draw the defenders away from Nweke. Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita realised Grapes was hesitant to go to post and started to double back on Nweke. This prompted coach Helene Wilson, assisted by Dame Noeline Taurua for this game, to swap in Saviour Tui to provide a different look for the attack end. This had an immediate impact and combined with two timely intercepts from Karaka, gave the Mystics a well-needed lift. There was a turning point in the game, taking the Mystics into half time with a four goal lead.

Steel went into the locker room with just one intercept to the Mystic’s six and were only shooting at 74 per cent. The Mystics were putting on a full-court defensive display, and Emily Burgess was doing an excellent job at keeping Gina Crampton away from good feeding position. Consistency was lacking in places for both teams, and the Steel, in particular, appeared to lose focus at points during the first half.

With McCollin back on at goal attack, the third quarter started well for the Steel, but their rebounding let them down and the Mystics extended to a six-goal lead. Bringing on the youngster Tui was doing wonders for the Mystics attack, and Selby-Rickit was being kept unusually quiet. Tui made a huge difference, as there were now two threatening options in the goal circle for the Steel defenders to choose between. Something was still not quite clicking in the Steel attack end and two held balls on O’Connell’s shot meant the Mystics pulled ahead. The Steel looked a little frustrated and were almost trying too hard. They lacked the composure and the leadership of the Mystics side and this began to show in the scoreline, with the Steel trailing 29–37 at the end of the third quarter.

The Steel came out all guns blazing for the final quarter, with an urgency and intensity that gave fans a sliver of hope they were making a comeback. Through sheer force of will, they pulled it back to within three with eight minutes remaining. This heaped pressure on the young Mystics shooters, but they managed to dig deep and ride the wave, making use of the well-trodden route over the top to Nweke. Unfortunately towards the second half of the quarter the play started to lose fluidity and became scrappy. Mystics were rushing it, possibly already thinking ahead to their next match. The final score of 46 – 42 was a testament to the Steel’s hard work in the final quarter, and they were fortunate to come away with a bonus point. Overall the Steel showed patches of promise but were inconsistent and struggled to make it click. The Mystics gave a standout defensive performance and have found confidence in the young shooting duo of Nweke and Tui.

The Mystics managed to secure 10 rebounds to the Steel’s five, a surprising stat considering they both had the same number of attempts at the post. Low shooting percentage (76 per cent), as well as a high penalty count (51), tells the tale of the game for the Steel. While the Mystics managed the win, they still gave away 19 turnovers, something they will certainly want to improve before their next game.

The Steel will have to pick themselves up again for their second game of the weekend against the Stars, while the Mystics will look forward to an exciting test against the Pulse on Monday.

>>> FULL MATCH STATISTICS

>>> MYSTICS TEAM PAGE

>>> STEEL TEAM PAGE

NORTHERN MYSTICS 13 | 11 | 13 | 9 (46)
SOUTHERN STEEL 12 | 8 | 9 | 13 (42)

STARTING SEVENS:

MYSTICS:

GS: Grace Nweke
GA: Asher Grapes
WA: Peta Toeava
C: Tayla Earle
WD: Emily Burgess
GD: Phoenix Karaka
GK: Sulu Fitzpatrick

STEEL:

GS: Jennifer O’Connell
GA: Kalifa McCollin
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Te Huinga Selby-Rickit
GK: Taneisha Fifita

2020 ANZ Premiership Team of the Week: Round 2

AFTER impressive performances across the returning round of ANZ Premiership action it was difficult to narrow down which players should get the nod for Round 2’s Team of the Week. A strong win to Central Pulse saw the reigning premiers secure four players in the team credit to their sheer dominance on court, while Northern Stars and Northern Mystics also managed two players apiece. 

GS: Aliyah Dunn
GA: Ameliaranne Ekenasio
WA: Grace Kara
C: Tayla Earle
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Phoenix Karaka
GK: Kelly Jury

BENCH: Maia Wilson, Maddy Gordon, Jane Watson

It is no surprise that the goal circle sees the combination of Pulse duo Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio. Dunn was simply too hot to handle for the defenders in Round 2 with the goal shooter building into the game and putting on a spectacle in the second quarter with 18 goals at 100 percent. She finished the game with 44 goals from 46 attempts proving just how much of a deadeye she is in the goal circle. Partner in crime Ekenasio was just as accurate to post only missing two goals for the game with 19 from 21. Her playmaking abilities were on show throughout with the goal attack seamlessly opening up space and delivering the ball on a silver platter to Dunn.

Through the midcourt Grace Kara took charge in the wing attack position for the Stars. Despite having a rather quiet game by her standards in the first game of the round, she took her play to the next level in her 150th match lighting up the court with her dynamic movement and pinpoint feeds. Tayla Earle took out the centre bib with the nippy midcourter showcasing her defensive pressure to win back a wealth of ball. She notched up four gains, four intercepts and two pickups while her efforts in attack also did not go unnoticed with 13 goal assists. The only Steel representative in this week’s team, Kate Heffernan showcased her potential and skill in wing defence. While it was not a stats filling performance from the youngster, her work rate, ability to get hands to ball and movement to clog up space earned her the spot racking up two gains, one intercept and two deflections.  

Defensively there were a plethora of options but in the end it was Phoenix Karaka that stood tall for the Mystics. The talented goal defence was in everything, picking off passes, using her nifty footwork and read of the play to wreak havoc in the defensive third. Her cleanliness and skill to pick up ball was on show throughout the full 48 minutes amassing seven gains, three intercepts, three deflections and three rebounds. Pulse defender Kelly Jury takes out the goal keeper position with the 23-year-old lighting up the court with her hunt for the ball and execution. On song from the opening minutes of the game, Jury leaped into action collecting a staggering six intercepts, nine gains, three deflections and two rebounds while her hands over pressure also provided an intimidating element to the Pulse defensive unit. 

Well held in her first outing, Maia Wilson came out with a real fire in the belly in her second game, owning the goal circle with her accuracy and high volume of shots. Although she was unlucky not to get the start slotting 67 goals from 76 attempts across the round Wilson proved to be no easy beat using her strong holds to command the ball. Speedy midcourter Maddy Gordon earned herself a spot on the bench after a dazzling performance for the Pulse with 19 goal assists and intercept to her name. Despite an un-Jane Watsonlike performance in her second game of the round the skilful Tactix defender did enough to warrant a spot on the bench after picking up an impressive nine gains, three intercepts, eight deflections and two rebounds in her opening game.

ANZ Premiership: Round 2 – Tactix topple Steel in the Southern Derby

AS the rest of the netball world looked on in envy, the ANZ Premiership once again displayed why their domestic league has produced some of the best talent on the planet. Much like the first game back after the break, the matchup between Mainland Tactix and Southern Steel lived up to the hype. It was a smothering defensive display from the Tactix and they certainly laid out their intentions for the season ahead thanks to a 43-36 triumph. 

Going into the game there were a few key matchups to note. Firstly, the tussle between World Cup Champion Shannon Saunders and zippy youngster Kimiora Poi. These two never gave each other an inch, both of them having a point to prove being at opposite ends of their netball career. Another hotly anticipated contest was the Selby-Rickit sisters, facing off against each other on opposing teams for the first time since 2015. Another Silver Fern with a reputation to uphold was the formidable Jane Watson, and she did just that against Trinidadian import, Kalifa McCollin. Watson has to be by far one of the most infuriating defenders in the game to play against, up there with Karla Pretorious, stealing balls for fun and disrupting play left, right and centre. She plays formidably at goal defence, that extra third giving her even more opportunities to cause chaos.

From the moment the toy car delivered the ball and Steel took the first centre pass, the pressure was on. Watson managed a steal after just one minute of play, and the battle between the Selby-Rickit sisters playing at goal attack and goal defense was very willing. The Tactix managed to exploit the height of their goaling duo in Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Ellie Bird, with Selby-Rickit shooting long bombs and oozing confidence from the outset. During the first quarter the Tactix had the opportunity to mount a sizeable lead but the Steel showed their grit and weren’t going down without a fight. Both teams opened the game by playing with real freedom and being totally fearless to let the ball go. After the first quarter the Tactix had their noses in front, leading the Steel by 12 goals to 11.

Southern Steel came out of the blocks with a fire in the belly for the second quarter, with McCollin’s cut and drives carving up the attack end and creating endless options – she actually ended up shooting more goals than Jennifer O’Connell in the first half. They started to really find flow in attack and ended up winning the quarter by one goal. Tactix showed great hustle, and were always first to a loose ball, backing this up with amazing vision into the circle, sometimes even from way back in the centre third. Watson’s “Mr Tickle” arms were causing a real mess for the Steel midcourt, and she combined with Temalisi Fakahokotau to form a ferocious defensive partnership. The sides ended the first half all tied up at 20 goals apiece, with both teams demonstrating real ease and flow in their play. 

Poi and Saunders kept each other busy in the midcourt, with Saunders’ ability to transition swiftly from attack to defense providing a good test for Poi’s speed and agility. Poi appeared determined to keep the ball alive at any cost and displayed some incredible acrobatics to do so. She looked like she was having an absolute day out and relishing the chance to match up against the experienced Saunders.

Te Paea Selby-Rickit silenced any potential critics about her shooting accuracy, remaining on 100 per cent at half-time and only missing two shots in the whole game, despite often shooting from range. With Noeline Taurua as assistant coach, the Tactix probably never really felt they were going to lose. Erikana Pedersen came on at wing attack after half-time and spurred on the Tactix to a deadly championship quarter. While both teams were heavily penalised, the Tactix managed to gain momentum in the third quarter, limiting the Steel to just seven goals. 

Wholesale changes in the fourth quarter for Steel gave them a chance to claw the score back, but the Tactix had their tails up after smashing the third quarter and the Steel ran out of time to make a comeback. Te Huinga Selby-Rickit moved back to goal keeper for the Steel with Abbey Erwood coming on in goal defence. At the other end, McCollin went into goal shooter and Georgia Heffernan slotted into goal attack, meaning there were two pairs of netball sisters on court during the final 12. For the Tactix, Bird’s shooting percentage started to dip, most likely due to the style of the physical Te Huinga Selby-Rickit. A held ball on the centre pass for the Steel added insult to injury and allowed the Tactix to pull away further. Unforced errors started to creep in for both teams, possibly due to fatigue setting in – something we may see a little more of with teams playing two games per weekend. There were also several attacking contacts from both goal shooters and Bird in particular got frustrated by the Steel defenders and ended up with two attacking contacts in a row. 

Tactix were ferocious, however both teams showed amazing vision, athleticism and slick play proving they are no worse for the break. As the Tactix started to relax in the final period, the Steel managed to notch up five in a row in what looked like the beginning of a comeback. However it was too little too late after their disappointing third quarter. After drawing the first half, the second half was 23-16 to the Tactix, meaning the final score was 43-36. The Tactix side were able to get early depth on the centre pass and have multiple options to ball, with Bird on a strong hold in the circle and Selby-Rickit setting up the attack end with ease. Both teams ended up fairly even across the board when it comes to penalties and turnovers, but the Tactix were able to pick up seven intercepts to the Steel’s two, and the large majority of rebounds to boot. 

The Tactix will have to maintain their enthusiasm and tenacity when they come up against the Stars on Monday, and the Steel can have another chance to notch up their first win of the season against the Mystics next weekend.

>>> FULL MATCH STATISTICS

>>> TACTIX TEAM PAGE

>>> STEEL TEAM PAGE

STARTING SEVENS:

MAINLAND TACTIX

GS: Ellie Bird
GA: Te Paea Selby-Rickit
WA: Samon Nathan
C: Kimiora Poi
WD: Charlotte Elley
GD: Jane Watson
GK: Temalisi Fakahokotau

SOUTHERN STEEL

GS: Jennifer O’Connell
GA: Kalifa McCollin
WA: Gina Crampton
C: Shannon Saunders
WD: Kate Heffernan
GD: Te Huinga Selby-Rickit
GK: Taneisha Fifita

Southern Steel: What has changed?

THE ANZ Premiership returns this week after an enforced hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The break has done wonders for some teams allowing them to iron out issues and give time for players to focus on recovery. However some teams return to the season a little different than how they entered the 2020 season. Draft Central takes a look back at the Round 1 action, 2019 season and what has changed over the last couple of months. 

Coach: Reinga Bloxham
Captain: Gina Crampton
2019 finish: 3rd

Overview:
After falling short of the grand final in 2019, the Steel will be hoping to make amends in 2020 and go one further however they hit a roadblock in Round 1, going down by six goals. With a new look team, it will be up to the strong midcourt group to lead the way for the Steel in 2020 due to the number of young and inexperienced players joining the ranks. In saying that the Steel ooze plenty of excitement and potential given majority of their players are unknown quantities looking to make a name for themselves.

Changes:
With a wealth of changes over the off-season the COVID-19 forced break may have gifted the Steel with extra time to perfect and hone in connections across the court. Newbie Trinidad and Tobago goaler Kalifa McCollin is still adapting to the ANZ Premiership environment while the likes of Georgia Heffernan and Kate Heffernan are still both relatively new to the high paced environment. While McCollin has World Cup experience coming into a new team, country and league can be daunting. 

Looking ahead:
With youth on their side, the Steel will be hoping to exploit their opposition with their speed and quick ball movement. Expect the likes of Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Abby Erwood to step up in defence and create plenty of turnover ball given their tenacity and hunt for the ball to allow for attacking forays. Meanwhile, the experience of Gina Crampton will pay dividends in the attacking third with her quick hands, vision into the circle and silky footwork around the circle edge. In the goal circle the responsibility could fall on 193cm shooter Jennifer O’Connell with the goal shooter already proving to be an easy target under the post who can stand up under pressure, deliver at a high accuracy and put up a high volume of goals. 

Key player:
Given the young and new shooting circle, the pressure lands on Shannon Saunders to stand up with the centre one of the most influential players on court. She can dictate space with her impressive leads, well-timed drives, strength around the top of the goal circle and dynamic footwork. Her ability to deliver into the circle will be crucial for the Steel’s success in 2020 as she will be the main provider and play maker in the attacking third. Her experience and vision will also play a pivotal role in defence, helping to shut down attacking options and using her quick transition play to link up attack and defence.

Pharmacist by day, Southern Steel star by weekend

NEW Zealand netball sensation Shannon Saunders has doubled as an essential worker throughout the COVID-19 outbreak with the Southern Steel midcourter focusing on her job as a pharmacist throughout the pandemic.

“I’m probably lucky because I’m classed as an essential worker in New Zealand because I’m a pharmacist, so I’ve still got to do a wee bit of work and get out of the house and kind of help the community a wee bit in that instance,” she said.

Saunders has got the balance between netball and being a pharmacist down to a fine art with the highly touted midcourter working both jobs throughout the standard netball season.

“It’s definitely challenging and yeah I don’t do as much pharmacy work now as I used to, but yeah I try and get a couple of days in throughout the week if I can. I do a bit of individual training, I’ll do it before and after work and then can just turn up to team training which is good so they allow me that flexibility to be able to do a bit of both which is nice,” she said.

While Saunders has been kept busy over the counter, she has not skipped a beat off the court, training hard in isolation and resorting to other measures to stay fit and active in isolation.

“Yeah so our trainer was pretty good and kind of gave us the structure of what they need us to do but also gave us flexibility to kind of mix it up day to day,” Saunders said. “But just trying to keep lots of running involved and as we’ve gotten closer to coming out of lockdown we have done more change of direction and more court specific stuff.

“Then just whatever weights you can do at home really. “I’ve got a little bit of equipment so just trying to maintain as much strength as possible but we are quite realistic that it is not going to be the same as if we were in the gym.”

Renowned for her silky ball movement the centre has been a permanent fixture for the Steel across the past nine years and played a key role in pushing her side to the finals last year. Although they bowed out in straight sets, Saunders was pleased with their efforts, but is aware that 2020 will look different and could be very taxing on the players given the amount of travel.

“Now that the draw has changed we now have to fly to Auckland every week for 10 weeks so that’s going to be challenging in itself because we are both placed in two places. We are about two and half hours apart so we travel a lot anyway to train together as a team and then having to fly to Auckland is going to be pretty tough. But it is just exciting that the competition is going ahead,” Saunders said.

“Some of the other teams can fly home after a game and all that whereas we can’t. We always have to stay and that kind of drags it out a bit more and limits our ability to train as a team. But we are used to always having to travel, so we just get on with it.”

The Steel have had a shake-up to their 2020 roster with Silver Ferns goaler, Te Paea Selby-Rickit departing the club and Trinidad and Tobago goal attack Kalifa McCollin coming into the mix. With plenty of speed to burn and an element of unpredictability about her, Saunders has quickly adapted to the new look line-up.

“We’ve got a wee bit of a different team this year so I think we are just building on the new connections and combinations that we have and just trying to put out a really solid performance this year,” she said.

“We are lucky we have got Kelly (Kalifa McCollin) from Trinidad and Tobago, so she’s stepped into those shoes and I think it’ll be interesting to see how she’s been going over lockdown because she’s such a long way from home and it’s been so good of her to stay over here and kind of commit to the team. But she adds that bit of flair to us and she’s super quick and just adds a different dynamic to what we are used to,” she said.

With a fresh season also comes new opportunities, with young wing defence Kate Heffernan vying for more court time and hoping to have a lasting impact on the competition.

“She’s that little bit more confident and sure of herself as a player and I think that is really kind of showing out on court when we’ve been training so I’m excited to see how she builds this year,” Saunders said.

Standing at 174cm, Saunders uses her speed, dynamic footwork and spatial awareness to have an impact in the attacking third. Her partnership with fellow midcourter and wing attack, Gina Crampton is arguably one of the most threatening duos in the ANZ Premiership having played together for the past 10 years and at an international level. The two can make something out of nothing and create space seamlessly such is their class.

“I think we just know each other inside and out and I know what she is going to do before she probably does it and then we also have a great relationship where we can have those conversations,” she said.

With the ANZ Premiership set to recommence in less than a month it’s full steam ahead for Saunders who is excited but is also harbouring a couple of nerves ahead of the restart.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” she said. “I feel like, I’m like do I know how to play? But I think once we get back out there and just that competitiveness and excitement when it’s a tough close game and that physicality as well I’ve really been missing.”

“I think everyone is looking forward to seeing the end of it and just looking forward to getting back out on court.”

ANZ Premiership: Round 2 – Tactix, Stars and Steel search for first win

ROUND 2 of the ANZ Premiership will see three teams looking for their first win while the others will be hoping to make it two straight.

Northern Mystics v. Mainland Tactix
Sunday, 22 March
Eventfinda Stadium, Auckland

The Northern Mystics are coming off a narrow win, while the Tactix on the other hand will be hoping to notch up their first win of the season. The Tactix had a strong quarter and will want to build on that if they are to get over the line against a strong Mystics team that have plenty of firepower. But it will be a very tight battle given just how similar both sides are when it comes to game style and strengths.

The home side have arguably one of the strongest defence units in the competition thanks to the edition of Sulu Fitzpatrick and will be hoping to capitalise against a developing Tactix shooting combination. The battle between Fitzpatrick and goal shooter Ellie Bird will bring plenty of interest with Bird renowned for her holding style of game, something that Fitzpatrick is more than capable of disrupting given her aerial ability and hunt for the ball. Phoenix Karaka has also been in hot form, even if it is only after one round. The goal defence is strong in the air and at ground level able to track the ball and force timely turnovers with her long arms and speed. Her connection with Fitzpatrick will go a long way in stopping Bird and Te Paea Selby-Rickit who is still finding her feet in her new colours. Through the midcourt the combination of Kimiora Poi and Samon Nathan must stand up if the Tactix are any chance to win, as opposing wing attack Peta Toeava is deadly on the feed, able to quickly turn and deliver pin-point precision passes.

Defensively the Tactix are also strong with captain, Jane Watson the real barometer for the side. Watson is in a league of her own able to make something out of nothing with her quick feet and vision. Her partnership with Temalisi Fakahokotau will only develop as time goes on with the two able to cause havoc down back with their ball winning abilities and high netball IQ. However, they will have their work cut out for them up against teenage prodigy Grace Nweke who currently sits first for goals credit to her ability to score from anywhere and do accurately. If they can shut down Nweke the likes of Bailey Mes if available, Saviour Tui and Asher Grapes will have to stand up to help shoulder the load under the post.

In the end, it will be a battle of the defence ends with both sides boasting a plethora of game changers.

Central Pulse v. Southern Steel
Sunday, 22 March
TSB Bank Arena, Wellington

Coming off a win and their first home game despite it not being in front of a crowd the Central Pulse will be hoping to make it two on the trot and repeat the lengthy undefeated streak of last year. Meanwhile, the Southern Steel will be wanting to right the wrongs of last week and notch up their first win of the year.

With very limited change over the off-season the Pulse have one of the most formidable outfits in the competition headlined by their defensive unit. The trio of Katrina Rore, Karin Burger and Kelly Jury is one simply cannot resist. Both Rore and Burger can swap out to wing defence giving the Pulse that added bit of pressure and defensive prowess across the court making life hard for the likes of Gina Crampton and Shannon Saunders who like to zip around the circle edge. While Crampton and Saunders have speed to boot if the Pulse defenders can shut down their avenue to goal and block their vision they will be able to gain the upper hand. Inside the circle, expect Jury to have an impact with her long lean over the shot and ability to contest the high ball especially up against the likes of Jennifer O’Connell. The Steel goal shooter will need further assistance from the likes of recruit Kalifa McCollin and youngster Georgia Heffernan to put up a damaging score and keep their respective defender busy.

The Pulse also boast a tried and tested duo in the goal circle with Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio one of the competitions strongest connections. They know each others game inside out able to dish off perfectly weighted passes and able to back themselves when inside the circle. While Dunn is the more prominent shooter, Ekenasio’s work out the front is what makes them such a dynamic team meaning the likes of Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita will have to be on their a-game. If Fifita can win ball back like she did last round and receive support from the likes of Kate Heffernan and Abby Erwood it will go a long way in shutting the Pulse down.

However, given the strength and class across the court the Pulse should get the job done against a rebuilding Steel team.

Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic v. Northern Stars
Monday, 23 March
Trustpower Arena, Tauranga

In a clash of second verse fourth expect plenty of action, with the Stars hoping to topple the Magic and claim their first win of 2020. The Stars underwent a massive change over the off-season and are still searching for that winning combination while the Magic seemed to have found their groove. Both sides have a couple of young, up and coming players that will be hoping to make an impact.

The Magic’s strength lies within their midcourt with newcomer Whitney Souness already lighting the court up with her dynamic movement and impressive vision. Souness has quickly become a key cog in the attacking third, not afraid to release the ball from distance and back herself while her connection with centre Ariana Cable-Dixon is steadily developing. The versatility of Sam Winders able to move between centre and wing defence given her defensive attributes is pivotal to the Magic’s success. But Winders will have to pull out all the stops against experienced campaigner Grace Kara to stop the wing attack from having an influence. Kara is cool, calm and collected able to think her way through scenarios and deliver well executed passes into the circle. Fellow midcourters Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Lisa Mather will also have to be on high alert. Stars, wing defence Fa’amu Ioane will be hoping to continue her ball winning ways after starring last round with a couple of timely intercepts.

With a relatively new defensive line-up with Daystar Swift and Kate Burley at the helm the Magic shooting combination of Kelsey McPhee and Abigail Latu-Meafou will be hoping to capitalise. McPhee has shown that she can be explosive under the post able to post high numbers and relatively accurate. On the other hand, Maia Wilson is one of the highest scoring goalers in the competition able to find the net with ease and use her clever body positioning and strong holds to edge herself closer to the post. If she can have a big influence and Jamie Hume can chip in on the scoreboard then it will be hard work for Erena Mikaere and Holly Fowler. In only her second game for the club, Mikaere will be wanting to cause mayhem with her reach and speed making the goal circle match-up an exciting one.

The game could really go either way seeing just how evenly poised both teams are but it could be argued that the Magic have a little bit more depth and that could be the edge they need.