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Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel wins 66-63 against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse - April 11, 2022

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel staged a heroic fightback to win 66-63 against the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Wellington tonight.

Left ruing a horrific start which set the impetus for the majority of the encounter, the southerners upped the ante when it mattered most to win the final quarter 19-8 and draw level, thrusting the game into extra time.

Propelled by an unstoppable confidence, the Steel held its nerve to dominate the extra-time showdown and cement an extraordinary ANZ Premiership victory.

On the receiving end of seven unanswered goals in the opening few minutes, it took a trademark Kate Heffernan intercept for the southerners to regain their composure and spark a gallant fightback.

With 16 intercepts and 7 deflections to their credit, the stats sheet was testament to the Steel’s tenacity.

Spearheaded by towering Silver Ferns defender Kelly Jury, the home side proved a tough adversary and Steel spent much of the clash striving to keep the scoreline respectable.

A heroic last-ditch charge in the final stanza gave the Steel a sniff a victory which ultimately proved the Pulse’s downfall.

There’s no doubt the match showcased the defensive prowess of both sides, with Steel’s defensive trio of Sarahpheinna Woulf, Kate Burley and Renee Savai’inaea, together with Heffernan, worthy of considerable kudos for the Steel.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders was justifiably proud.

“We made it so hard on ourselves. We just had too many personal errors in those first three quarters but it was really awesome to see ourselves step up individually. As a unit on defence, they got some amazing ball and they worked so well together and down the attack we finally got ourselves together and managed to hold onto some ball and do the ball speed that we needed to,” she told Sky Sport.

“I think the Pulse did a really good job of keeping us apart and I felt when we had the ball we were really isolated. We did a lot better in that last quarter and in overtime but that’s something we need to figure out a bit quicker.”

With their previous two games postponed, it had been a disruptive phase.

“It’s been a really tough weekend … I’m so proud of the girls and we’ve got a lot going on behind the scenes that not everyone knows about and we’re missing a lot of our team so I’m really happy that we could do it for them all back at home recovering.”

Centre Kate Heffernan felt the result could silence some critics.

“I think it says a lot about the potential our team has. We’re so stoked because I feel we’ve been a little bit written off this season so it’s kind of showing everyone that we can do it,” she said.

Woulf’s stellar performance earned her MVP honours.

“It was a battle. It was so hard that whole 60 minutes … we just had to keep the intensity and go hard,” she said.

“I couldn’t have done it without the work in front so it was all credit to them. We didn’t come here to play around so we just had to grind it out.”

Woulf was thriving in the Steel environment.

“Honestly, we’re just a family and our whole focus is just backing each other up and trusting each other and trusting our process.”
It was the first extra time decider of the 2022 season.
In the only game played in another round disrupted by the pandemic, the Pulse looked to have the measure of the Steel when up by 11 at the end of the third quarter. And with co-captain Jury in spectacular form, a simple march to the finish line looking eminent.

But the Steel are a franchise who never give up – even after the team travelled around the country only to have their first game of the weekend called off, and their coach and veteran defender having to stay back at home in the Deep South.

The Steel outscored the Pulse 19-8 in the fourth quarter, tying up the scores 59-all at the end of regular time.

They took the lead for the first time in the match, in the first period of overtime, with a superb intercept by stand-in goal keep Woulf and they never relinquished that lead.

It had been a hugely unsettling few days for the Southerners - flying to Rotorua only to find their game against the Magic postponed. Although they were without coach Reinga Bloxham (out with Covid), she was in regular contact through the game with assistant coach Jo Morrison, who’d stepped into the breach.

The Pulse got off to an electrifying start, capitalising on small basic errors from the Steel, and quickly racking up eight goals to the Steel’s one.

The understanding between Tiana Metuarau and Aliyah Dunn keeps returning with every game and they were in impressive form early; the Steel looked initially to be missing the leadership in defence of the absent Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit.

At the other end Jury was making life difficult for Steel shooters George Fisher and Saviour Tui, so Tui was replaced before the end of the quarter with Georgia Heffernan. The change made a telling difference, with Heffernan not afraid to turn and shoot with perfect accuracy. And with her twin sister Kate at centre reading the play superbly to seize some crucial intercepts, the Steel closed to within four.

But the Pulse made another burst just before the first quarter break to establish their biggest lead of the quarter, 18-11.

The Steel returned to court with a new energy, particularly with their young defence of Woulf and Kate Burley, and with five goals in a row, were again able to narrow the gap to four.

Keen to stem the flow, Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie made a change to her midcourt, with the combination of Ainsleyana Puleiata and Paris Lokotui which paid benefits for the home team, and they had a healthy eight-goal advantage at halftime, 34-26.

The Pulse’s formidable shooting duo were almost unstoppable in the first half – Dunn missing just one of 31 attempts, and Metuarau sinking all of her four.

The third quarter belonged to the defenders, though. Woulf and Burley in the circle for the Steel were on the hunt and pilfered some important ball during the spell – but their attack couldn’t convert that hard-earned possession into points, under huge pressure from Jury and her partners.

Parris Mason got the chance to stretch her arms at goal defence for the Pulse, replacing the hard-working Kristiana Manu’a, and for the first time this season, the Pulse won the third quarter, going into the final spell 51-40.

But the match was far from over. The Steel surged again, finally knitting as a unit right through court urged on by captain Shannon Saunders, and with four minutes left, were only three goals away from an upset.

That’s when you’d normally expect the Pulse to come back, but with Burley and Woulf fired up, the game was all tied up at the end of 60 minutes, Georgia Heffernan shooting the goal that put the game into extra time.

Official Result and Stats:
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 63
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 66
Match drawn 59-59 at fulltime

Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Aliyah Dunn 52/53 (98%)
Tiana Metuarau 11/12 (92%)

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 48/50 (96%)
Georgia Heffernan 15/16 (94%)
Saviour Tui 3/7 (43%)

MVP: Sarahpheinna Woulf (Steel)


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