Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Robinhood Stars - April 15,2023
Argh – the one that got away!
In its standout performance of the 2023 ANZ Premiership so far, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel narrowly lost 49-47 to the Robinhood Stars in Auckland.
If you went hunting for negatives, the only one you could really take from the encounter was the final score – and even that was a positive when compared to the 34-goal hiding the Steel endured when the two teams last met in round one.
Tackling a wounded Stars on home turf was always going to require a comprehensive showing across all facets of play and a determined Steel delivered with a full team effort which belied its position at the bottom of the premiership points tally.
After an impressive opening spell, the second phase could have been the blip which unravelled the game but the southerners held their nerve to finish strong and stay within striking distance.
Carrying the momentum into the second half, the Steel proved a force to be reckoned with to keep the home side under pressure throughout.
With the scores locked with less than five minutes on the clock, a signature Kate Heffernan intercept enabled the Steel to finally snatch the upper-hand. Unfortunately, the edge was short-lived as the Stars racked up the next four and relegated the Steel to settle for a bonus point.
Captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit told Sky Sport she was proud of the performance.
“We’re still gutted though. We want to win and for us it’s not good enough just to be there. Obviously, it’s a much-improved performance from last week so I’m really happy with that,” she said.
“We had good moments and trying to string those moments together, I thought we were much better at that tonight. But there were moments where we just chucked and hoped and it’s those moments I want to see change a bit.
“Belief is definitely still there. We’ve just got to go into the next game and keep in the hunt and hopefully we can win it in the end.”
Stars captain Maia Wilson admitted it was a tough encounter.
“Holy moly, that was quite scrappy from our side and we were lucky to come away with that one. We’ll take it but we need to learn a lot from that one.”
Still searching for their first win in an injury-challenged season, the Steel had their best outing to date, the greater experience of the Stars shining through in a riveting final quarter when the lead changed hands several times.
Coming off back-to-back losses, the Stars got their campaign back on track with the hard-fought win while the Steel will take plenty of heart from their improved showing, winning the second half and staying in the fight right to the end to earn their second bonus point of the season.
With Elle Temu still side-lined due to injury, the Stars lined up with Holly Fowler and Kelera Nawai-Caucau as their in-circle defensive pairing.
For the Steel, Eseta Autagavaia got the start at goal shoot while Renee Savai’inaea was once again preferred in the unfamiliar position of wing attack.
There was nothing between the pair through an evenly-paced first stanza with the Steel matching the home side every step of the way.
Visiting midcourters Heffernan and Savai’inaea, making a good fist of wing attack, provided good flow through court while delivering some precision ball into the shooters.
At the other end, home shooters Maia Wilson and the play-making Amorangi Malesala showed plenty of flair with their instinctive interaction and accuracy under the hoop to help the Stars forge a narrow 12-10 lead at the first break.
Back from injury, talented young Steel shooter Saviour Tui was injected into the game on the resumption, making an immediate impact with her aerial skills and accuracy.
The Steel continued to show plenty of resolve but untimely lapses proved costly, an improving Stars ready and willing to jump on any opportunities presented. With Wilson leading the way in terms of volume and accuracy, a five-goal unanswered run helped push the Stars out to a seven-goal advantage.
To their credit, the Steel dug deep, denying the home side any chance of running away with proceedings in an even contest where both teams had 30 attempts at goal at the halfway point. The southerners finished the half strongly to remain firmly in the contest when the Stars took a 27-22 lead into the main break.
With Jamie Hume taking over at goal attack for the home side in the third quarter, and rising young talent Ivari Christie coming on at wing attack for the Steel, it was the visitors who settled the quickest to keep the contest on edge.
Making a 4-1 start to the stanza, the Steel closed to within two before a three-goal run had the scores all tied up.
With the Steel reducing their error count and the pressure going back on the Stars, the home side rallied strongly, scoring five on the trot to reclaim a five-goal advantage. Imposing defender Nawai-Caucau was in the thick of the action for the Stars, getting her hands on valuable turnover ball.
The Steel continued to show their fighting spirit in going on to win just their fourth quarter (14-12) in this year’s league, Tui showing her skillset with a fine outing under the hoop. The Stars kept their noses in front when leading 39-36 at the last turn but with the game still hanging in the balance.
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Georgia Heffernan 14/17 (82%)
Eseta Autagavaia 5/9 (55.6%)
Saviour Tui 28/31 (90.3%)
Shooting Stats - Stars:
Maia Wilson 32/37 (86%)
Amorangi Malesala 13/15 (87%)
Jamie Hume 4/8 (50%)
MVP: Kelera Nawai-Caucau (Stars)