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Match Report - Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel vs Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse  - May 16, 2021

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel repelled a gutsy Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse 56-52 to secure a vital win on the road in Porirua tonight.

The Southerners were forced to endure the final stages of the ANZ Premiership clash a player down when formidable defender Taneisha Fifita earned herself a stint in the sin bin.

Facing the daunting task of manning the defensive circle solo, Sarahpheinna Woulf shone in the last phase of the game, snatching an impressive rebound against the odds.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders was happy to bank the win, the tight score line testament to the intensity of the 2021 season.

“It was really a massive grind. We were chipping away slowly and it was back and forth the whole way so I’m really glad that we could get the win in the end,” she said.

“It is really close this year and you just don’t know who’s going to win each game so I think that’s really exciting.”

She was impressed with the performance of centre prodigy Kate Heffernan, who earned the MVP honours.

“She was awesome on defence and really solid on attack so it’s great to see her developing her game in that centre position.”

Heffernan was relishing her new assignment.

“Centre is a challenge – the lungs are burning a bit but I’m loving it and I’m so lucky to be playing with an attacking end like that,” she said.

“Obviously moving into the new position it was like I was starting again kind of but it’s definitely a lot more comfortable now.”

Saunders said the team would quickly switch focus to their next challenge against The Good Oil Tactix, on home turf at ILT Stadium on Monday, 24 May.

“We need to captialise when we get gains and just keep pushing on because I think we got a few and then chucked a few away on attack. We need to keep pushing on once we’ve got a lead – that’s going to be a focus at training this week,” she said.

Steel has now established some breathing space on a tight ANZ Premiership ladder, tonight’s win consolidating their spot in third place, now three points clear of the defending champions.

But it took every ounce of southern fight to snatch the win in what was a thrilling and fitting match to celebrate and open the ANZ Premiership’s Heritage Round – the Steel and Pulse the only two teams to have lifted the spoils in league history.

Four goals separated the two teams when they last met in Round 3 and the opening blows suggested a similar close battle was set to unfold.

The early deadlock was broken by the Pulse with the long stretch of Kelly Jury troubling the Steel shooters into errors, but with both teams desperate to make a move on the league ladder it wasn’t long before it was again even on the scoreboard.

A run of five unanswered goals gave the visitors the first real break as they ended the quarter with an 18-14 lead.

The connection between captain Saunders and goal attack Tiana Metuarau gave the Steel the edge while Heffernan was a key link from defence onto attack.

In contrast, the Pulse again look disjointed up front as their connections into Aliyah Dunn went missing at crucial times.

Steel coach Reinga Bloxham made a surprise change with Woulf coming on at goal defence in place of Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit with just under three minutes left in the half, but the young defender’s court time proved crucial in the dying minutes of the match.

The Pulse capitalised on a Steel error to narrow the gap to three goals to trail 27-30 at the main break and came out the stronger of the two teams in the third quarter to level the scores at 30-30.

It was short lived however with the same inaccuracies up front marring their performance and another five-goal run from the Steel silenced the Porirua crowd.

With memories of last week’s horror third quarter still fresh in their mind the Pulse refocussed as the monumental arm-wrestle continued.

Again with two minutes left in the spell, Woulf was injected into the game in place of Selby-Rickit, but it was two late goals which lifted the Pulse who trailed 40-42 with one quarter to play.

An early footwork call on Fisher gave the Pulse the opportunity to close the gap even further and the crowd sparked to life with scores again locked, at 43-43, ensuring a tense final spell.

In a bizarre finish to the match, two players were forced from the court after a check for blood with just under four minutes to play - Selby-Rickit again making her way to the bench along with Te Amo Amaru-Tibble.

Woulf returned to the game while Ivana Rowland was given her first run in the match, joining Dunn in the shooting circle.

The drama continued as Steel goal keep Fifita was given two minutes on the bench after her second warning for dangerous play leaving the visitors to contest the last minutes of play with six players.

Time was against the home side however as they were unable to take full advantage of the player difference although the Pulse was able to grab a valuable bonus point in the last minute of the game.

Official Result and Stats:
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 56
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 52

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 44/49 (90%)
Tiana Metuarau 12/15 (86%)

Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Aliyah Dunn 39/40 (98%)
Te Amo Amaru-Tibble 13/14 (93%)

MVP: Kate Heffernan (Steel)


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