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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Trident Homes Tactix – round one

April 15, 2024

“Watch, reflect, dump it and move on.”

That’s a pretty succinct summary from Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain Kate Heffernan following her team’s 52-35 loss to the Trident Homes Tactix in Christchurch last night.

The opening round of the 2024 ANZ Premiership certainly didn’t yield the result the southerners were seeking, but it did deliver plenty to work on.

The Steel’s losing streak stretched out to 18 games, as their injury woes continued – without their former captain Shannon Saunders (dodgy knee), and Heffernan only playing the first half (niggly ankle).

Recording their lowest first quarter score in history, the Steel faced a 4-11 deficit after an opening spell marred by turnovers and disjointed flow on attack.

The good news is, once the nerves settled the team produced some favourable passages of play during the following three phases which bodes well for future games.

In particular, shooter Grace Namana was rock-solid under the post despite the relentless pressure of the Tactix international defensive duo Jane Watson and Karin Burger, while Steel defender Abby Lawson (nee Erwood) delivered in the super sub stakes when injected into the game after halftime.

“We actually got a lot of ball on D, or a decent amount, we actually just weren’t able to get it through the court and score it which is super disappointing because we have really worked on that and wanted to nail it,” Heffernan told Sky Sport.

“It was tough to get it past their defenders but at times we made it even harder for our shooters than it already was. We’ve got to have each other’s backs and do our own job.

“It has been a tough preseason and a lot of our younger players and training partners have had to step up and play a lot of minutes … but it’s pretty cool to see them out there.”

Head coach Reinga Bloxham was left ruing the initial stages of the clash.

“We had a really poor start and I think there probably was a lot of nerves out there for some of our younger players but as the game progressed I thought we showed patches of good stuff – they just weren’t consistent and they weren’t for long enough,” she said.

“It was nice to see some of the fresh legs that came on gave it their all and were still battling right until the end. As each quarter improved, our percentages were increasing and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Lawson and Namana both earned praise.

“Grace did a really good job and protected some nice space,” Bloxham said.

“She was really looking forward to the opportunity to get out there (against Watson and Burger), She had a wee taster against them in the preseason so to be able to come and have another go at them, she was really ready, she’d done her homework and I think she did a good job.

“And Abby just brought a really vibrant energy out here and she just keeps fighting to the bitter end which was good to see.”

There were debuts and milestones across the court, with the most notable Tactix captain Kimiora Poi notching up her 100th national league game.

While the Tactix, who finished fourth last season, had patches of dominant play, particularly in the first 30 minutes, they showed they have work to do if they’re to win their first ANZ Premiership title. But to their credit, they also took advantage of the new tactical change rule and made more than 20 positional switches during the match.

Although it was a nervous start for both sides, the Steel had fewer answers to disrupt a stronger Tactix attack. With Poi directing play into shooters Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jess Allan (making her debut for the Mainland side), they quickly established a 7-1 lead.

A Steel shooting combination light on national league experience, Namana and Georgia Heffernan found it tough getting their hands to ball snapped up by the most-practised defensive pairing in the competition, Watson and Burger (the match MVP who ended the game with four intercepts).

The 11-4 scoreline at the first break was a double-blow to the Steel – their lowest opening quarter score in their national league history.

Tactix stalwart Ellie Bird – called into her old side as injury cover – took the court at the start of the second spell, and to the delight of her fans in the crowd, racked up her 100th ANZ Premiership game. She had no trouble getting back to her old shooting ways, ending up with 24 from 30 attempts.

The Steel were almost caught static on attack, making it easier for the Tactix to cut off any flow. When they brought on young wing attack Grace Southby they gained some fluidity.

But still Burger and Watson too often anticipated their movements, and the home side led 25-14 at halftime.

The Steel finally fell into a rhythm on attack in the third quarter, and their defence, anchored by the seasoned Lawson and debutant South African international Jeanté Strydom, made it more complex for the Tactix to work the ball into the circle. But the Tactix pulled away again just before the spell ended, and went into the final 15 minutes up 39-25.

Tactix coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek took the opportunity to bring on new blood, with young Australian shooter Charlie Bell – called over from the Sunshine Coast to cover for the injured Aliyah Dunn – taking the court; the 1.96m goal shoot pairing up Selby-Rickit for a brief appearance.

Neither side’s shooting statistics were truly impressive – the Steel on 85 percent, and the Tactix 74 percent – and Namana’s contribution of 22 from 25 (88 percent) was the most solid individual performance under the hoop.

Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Steel: 35
Trident Homes Tactix: 52

Shooting Stats - Steel:
Grace Namana 22/25 (88%)
Georgia Heffernan 11/14 (79%)
Martina Salmon 2/2 (100%)

Shooting Stats - Tactix:
Ellie Bird 24/30 (80%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 21/29 (72%)
Jess Allan 5/8 (63%)
Charlie Bell 2/3 (66%)

ANZ Player of the Match: Karin Burger (Tactix)


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