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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse - April 29, 2023

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel suffered a heartbreaking 44-43 loss to the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse at ILT Stadium Southland tonight.

With just four seconds on the clock, the Pulse launched itself into second overall on the ANZ Premiership ladder, relegating the Steel to yet another frustrating bonus point in the process.

The performance wasn’t faultless but the pure desire shown by the Steel was commendable as they finally delivered a 60-minute effort, igniting its fortress of fans.

Intense pressure was a hallmark of the Steel’s game plan and notably everyone understood the assignment with tight marking crushing the Pulse’s flow through the court.

The Steel reaped the rewards of their connections finally fusing and every player stepped up to the challenge in their respective positions.

Despite the physicality ramping up, the southerners were unfazed and continued to hunt for every opportunity with a strong defensive approach throughout the court.

A halftime advantage has previously eluded the Steel this season but a tenacious effort earned a five-goal buffer heading to the locker room and the team’s faithful knew a thriller was looming.

As the Pulse held its composure, the Steel faltered slightly and the resulting hesitation was enough to level the odds on the scoreboard heading into the final stanza.

A goal-for-goal stand-off unfolded with neither side giving an inch in a physical and willing contest.

The Steel twice fought back from two goal deficits to level the scores while also having the chance to take the win with 40 seconds on the clock.

Ultimately it all came down to a 50/50 possession call in the final seconds of an epic showdown to finally seal the Steel’s fortunes, leaving head coach Reinga Bloxham feeling “gutted” for her players.

“I felt like we really deserved that one. We worked really hard, we stuck to our game plan … I’m absolutely gutted. That’s the best we’ve played all season, everyone did their jobs and for it to come down to that, it just feels quite deflating,” she said.

“It was very close to the full 60 minutes we’ve been seeking – in fact, 59 minutes and 59 seconds I reckon. It was a lot more improved and I’m really happy with how everyone played out on court so hopefully we can take that into our next couple of games.”

Both teams wore black armbands to honour the memory of Taini Jamison, the first New Zealand coach to guide the Silver Ferns to a Netball World Cup title, in the sport’s second edition of the event in 1967, who passed away on Friday.

There were several notable match-ups in this contest with Silver Ferns aspirants, Kate Heffernan for the home side and Maddy Gordon squaring off at centre and Sam Winders (wing defence) taking on fleet-footed Pulse wing attack Whitney Souness.

The Steel belied their status as the bottom-placed team this season and winless, to control first half proceedings.

Defence ruled from the outset, the lead changing hands several times in the opening exchanges before the Steel’s resilience paid off as they built a mini-break.

Kate Burley and experienced captain Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit put Pulse shooter Walmsley under the pump while Kate Heffernan was prominent in hunting turnover ball. Both teams had their moments but it was the Steel’s constant hustle while slowing the Pulse’s flow that helped the home side hit the first break with a 12-9 lead.

There was a similar pattern on the resumption. Shooter Joyce Mvula got some extra minutes after taking over from Walmsley late in the first quarter but the Pulse continued to be hampered by costly turnovers.

The swarming and relentless defence of the Steel subsequently turned into more flow on attack as the home side grew in confidence. The Pulse struggled to find their groove, unable to play their free-flowing style while being forced into a real arm-wrestle.

Pushing out to a five-goal lead, their biggest of the season, the Steel enjoyed more ball, having 28 shots compared to their opponent’s 19 as they held on to complete the first half with the advantage when leading 22-17.

Amelia Walmsley made her return for the Pulse after receiving some knee repairs while Parris Mason was also introduced at goal defence as the visitors made their move in a productive third quarter.

Having the tall target of Walmsley, who made a strong impact, the visitors found more flow on attack, while the volume and accuracy also made a return. Three goals on the trot dragged the Pulse back on to level terms before they nudged into the lead with 90 seconds to go.

Tightening up their defence allowed goalkeeper Kelly Jury to get her hands on more ball, the Pulse having the better of the quarter but the Steel had the last say to leave the scores all tied up at 32-all heading into the last turn.

Shooting Stats - Steel:
Saviour Tui 31/38 (82%)
Georgia Heffernan 12/14 (86%)

Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Amelia Walmsley 25/26 (96%)
Tiana Metuarau 13/15 (87%)
Joyce Mvula 6/7 (86%)

MVP: Kate Burley (Steel)


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