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  3. Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse – round three

Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse – round three

April 28, 2024

That elusive win is getting closer.

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel can take plenty of positives out of its clash against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse, the 54-46 loss not a true gauge of the work delivered.

From the outset, the team’s determination was evident as it fought to finally end a now 21-game losing streak in the ANZ Premiership. Success instead came in the form of winning the opening two quarters – a first for the team this season.

The performance in Wellington installed vital belief, according to captain Kate Heffernan.

“There’s lots of positives and you can feel it coming together … there’s definitely belief growing so that’s the main thing,” she told Sky Sport.

Ultimately, the Steel was left ruing costly lapses when the Pulse upped the ante in the second half.

“It’s super frustrating. We knew that the third quarter was going to be crucial and they would come out firing and they did,” Kate said.

“I do think we did it to ourselves which sucks.”

Her twin sister Georgia earned a deserved player of the match as her scintillating shooting combination with Grace Namana continues to gel strongly.

“They were both massive. It’s pretty tough in there with Kelly’s (Jackson) block and long arms and they did a really good job to combat that. For us, it’s just being able to do it consistently all through the court and look after our shooters.”

Georgia echoed her comments.

“The first half felt so good – we’ve been working so hard at training and it showed. We want it so bad that sometimes we just put pressure on ourselves but overall really proud of that first half,” she said.

“It’s coming. We’ll have our home crowd behind us next time which is huge for us because our fans are amazing. We just need to back ourselves and take the good things from this game into the next.”

Absorbing the early pressure, the Pulse secured their third straight win, only a late injury to midcourter Maddy Gordon marred their performance.

Gordon was assisted from the court in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury which upset some of their flow up front, but the hard work done late in the third quarter – at both ends of the court – set the Pulse up for victory.

It was again an improved performance from the Steel and another step up in play – the shooting combination of Namana and Georgia Heffernan causing plenty of early problems for the fancied Pulse duo of Jackson and Parris Mason.

They also got 45 minutes of court time from midcourter Shannon Saunders and a full game from Kate Heffernan, two of their most experienced players who are returning from injury.

“Shannon being back just makes us all lift and let’s us focus on doing our own job. She’s just a calm, level-headed player out there and we do all look to her so it’s nice to have her back. She’s awesome,” Kate said.

It was the Pulse who set the defensive tone from the outset, pushing the Steel wide and forcing their shooters to put the ball up at range.

But Steel’s patience, the backbone of the club’s netball history, came to the fore as they waited for space to open up, levelling the scores early on.

Navigating the long reach of Jackson was going to be one of the Steel’s biggest asks of the day, the Pulse defender an imposing figure in the circle.

The shooter-to-shooter play between Georgia Heffernan and Namana did enough to work the ball closer to the post as the Steel went on a four-goal run to lead by three goals.

Opening up space on attack, the experience of Saunders and Kate Heffernan helped thread the ball in passed the hands of Jackson and Mason.

In contrast, the Pulse looked for the quick feed into Amelia Walmsley with the height advantage over Taneisha Fifita.

But errors crept into their attack as the Steel maintained their defensive pressure and the 14-11 scoreline in their favour at the break marked the first quarter the southerners have won this season.

Play resumed with a shuffle in the Pulse shooting circle with Walmsley moving out to goal attack and Khiarna Williams picking up the shooter bib.

It made an immediate impact for the hosts, but the Pulse continued to struggle to shut down the play of Namana and Georgia Heffernan.

A footwork call on Namana gave the Pulse the opportunity to close the gap to just one goal mid-way through the spell.

Coach Anna Andrews-Tasola went to her bench with five minutes left in the half injecting goal defence Kelea Iongi into the game.

The patience and deception of Saunders’ feed into the attacking circle continued to confuse the Pulse’s defensive efforts however as the southerners clung to a 27-25 lead at halftime.

Having had the better of their opponents in the first half, the big question was whether the Steel, looking to break a 20-game losing streak, could run out the game, knowing two of their most experienced players were on managed minutes.

Steel defender Abby Lawson came off the bench to start the third quarter as their front line remained the same.

Levelling the scores, the Pulse lifted in intensity with their through court defence while Mason, who returned to play, went low for turnovers around the Steel shooters.

It sparked a change in momentum as the hosts turned the tables to go up by three with eight minutes to play.

With both teams desperate to get on top, the physicality also lifted and a warning to Fifita forced a change to the Steel defensive line as the Pulse went on a five-goal run to extend their lead to 42-35 heading into the last turn.

Official Result and Stats:

Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 54
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 46

Shooting Stats - Steel:
Grace Namana 27/35 (77%)
Georgia Heffernan 19/25 (76%)

Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Amelia Walmsley 44/51 (86%)
Khiarna Williams 9/12 (75%)
Kiana Pelasio 1/1 (100%)

ANZ Player of the Match: Georgia Heffernan


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