Relieved Southern Steel complete perfect season with national league win - June 28, 2017
by SCOTT DONALDSON
The Southern Steel have maintained their unbeaten season to claim the national netball league title with a comfortable 69-53 win over the Central Pulse in Invercargill on Wednesday night.
It was a fairytale finish for the home team in front of the 3000 strong crowd at ILT Stadium Southland, with the home team getting a sizeable lead in the first half and not giving it up.
The Southern Steel returned to a full strength lineup with captain Wendy Frew and Te Paea Selby-Rickit making a seamless transition back from injuries after a van accident.
According to captain Wendy Frew, the team were relieved to take the title after they finished their regular season with 15 straight victories.
"It was unreal, that is what we have worked for since January 10 so the girls have worked extremely hard," she said.
"To be 15-0 going into the final, obviously there was a bit of pressure, so I am glad the girls delivered tonight and put out an epic performance, so I am feeling pretty stoked right now."
It was only fitting that Southland-born-and-bred captain Frew secured the first turnover of the game moments after her two children delivered the match ball onto the court.
The Steel opened the scoring to the delight of the boisterous crowd, before the Pulse forced a held ball from Steel wing attack Gina Crampton and edged in front early on through some energetic play.
The Steel didn't hit the lead again until after six minutes when they got their noses in front 5-4 as both teams made some early nervous mistakes.
Some stoic defence from the experienced Steel unit of Frew, Jane Watson and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit allowed the Steel midcourt of Shannon Francois and Gina Crampton the freedom to find towering shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid with plenty of high feeds.
The home team hit their groove to stretch their lead to 18-10 at the end of the first quarter.
The Steel dominated the early stages of the second quarter with Fowler-Reid scoring four early goals to extend the lead to 22-10.
They stretched their lead to 26-13, before the Pulse battled back bravely to reduce the margin to 10 goals midway through the second quarter.
The Pulse introduced centre Sheridan Bignall for Sara Bayman temporarily towards the end of the second quarter as they sought to stem the flow of goals.
The Steel stretched the lead to 15 goals as they took a 35-20 lead into halftime.
Fowler-Reid recovered from an early miss to finish the first half with 26/28, while Te Paea Selby-Rickit had 9/10.
The Pulse shooters Cathrine Tuivaiti and Tiana Metuarau entered halftime with 9/11 and 11/13 respectively, as the home team took 14 more first half shot than their opponents.
The third quarter was even as the both teams exchanged goals as the lead stayed at around the 15 goal mark as the Pulse lifted their intensity after the break to match the home team.
The Pulse had their best quarter in the third, despite losing it 20-18, with midcourt of Bayman and Whitney Souness showing improved ball movement through the court and finding their shooters Tuivaiti and Metuarau with greater accuracy.
The Steel's lead of 55-38 was reduced in the early stages of the final quarter as the Pulse showed plenty of endeavour, while the Steel were doing enough to stay ahead by a comfortable margin.
Bignall left the game late in the final quarter with a leg injury.
The Pulse won the fourth quarter of the game, but couldn't deny the Frew inspired Southern Steel victory by 69-53, with Fowler-Reid finishing with 56 goals.
Southern Steel 69 (Jhaniele Fowler-Reid 56/60, Te Paea Selby-Rickit 13/19 )
Central Pulse 53 (Cathrine Tuivaiti 26/29, Tiana Metuarau 27/30)
1Q: 18-10, HT: 35-20, 3Q: 55-38