Early domination earns Steel victory - May 30, 2021
Dominating the opening stanza ultimately earned the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel a valuable 63-58 victory over the Northern Mystics in Auckland.
It showed the Steel’s ability to address and change their game with a performance which showcased their patience on attack and tight, but clean, pressure on defence led by keeper Taneisha Fifita.
The southerners propelled themselves into the action from the outset, snaffling crucial possession and setting the tempo on attack as the home side faltered under the early pressure.
The Mystics threatened to pounce late in the third spell before a textbook intercept from Fifita enabled them to slot three unanswered goals and hold a solid buffer heading into the final showdown.
Forcing Steel into some frustrating errors, the home side managed to salvage a bonus point from the encounter.
Steel captain Shannon Saunders felt the win would provide important motivation for the second half the ANZ Premiership season.
“I’m really happy. It got a little bit messy at the end and it’s disappointing to let them get the bonus point but I’m glad that we could lead from the start and hold it the whole game,” she told Sky Sport.
“It felt really composed but we had a few little silly errors at the end there so we need to sort that out for next time but I’m really proud of all the girls – everyone stepped up.
“We really needed that and it’s awesome that next week we are back at home. Getting two wins in a row will be the next goal.”
Steel’s attacking duo of George Fisher and Tiana Metuarau continue to grow into a force to be reckoned with.
“Every week they just get better and better and they really complement each other well. They have a good bond and I’m having lots of fun feeding them,” Saunders said.
Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham was pleased to add to the points tally.
“We had a fantastic start and that first quarter set us up for the rest of the game. They just played with confidence and let the ball go and that really helped us because we know the Mystics just keep coming back like a pest and have the ability to score really quickly so we just had to be able to hold our own,” she said.
With four intercepts and a rebound to her credit, the efforts of formidable young defender Taneisha Fifita were rewarded with a deserved Player of the Match – testament to her commitment to revamp the physicality of her game.
“The thing with Taneisha is that her intent is always to try and get the ball and there has been times where she’s got that wrong in the last couple of games so it was nice to see her try and step off the body,” Bloxham said.
“We’ve been practicing her footwork this week to get it right and I thought she was really smart tonight. She was really trying to improve and change and I think she did a fantastic job.”
Fifita enjoyed the challenge of marking towering 1.93m Mystics shooter Grace Nweke.
“She is a very strong shooter and what I was trying to focus on was just to come off the body more because I am getting called for all those contacts,” she said.
“It is in my head when I’m trying to play but it is the game.”
Steel upset a night of celebrations for the Mystics and also denied them the chance to climb to outright top spot on the ANZ Premiership ladder.
There was plenty to celebrate for the hosts as they marked 100 national league matches for goal attack Bailey Mes while defender Kate Burley marked her 50th league match.
In contrast it was a debut celebration for Mystics’ Claire O’Brien who was playing her first ANZ Premiership match, replacing regular pivot Tayla Earle ruled out of the Round 7 game due to a head clash at training during the week.
She matched up against Renee Savai’inaea who was pushed forward to allow the height of Kate Heffernan to be used against influential Mystics wing Peta Toeava.
But the Mystics were unable to mark those milestones with maximum Premiership points as they were left to rue a slow start yet again. Early errors allowed the Steel to settle on attack and pull ahead on the scoreboard, leading by four goals mid-way through the opening stanza.
A misfiring Mystics’ attack line struggled with the final delivery into the shooting circle with eight turnovers in the first quarter as the Steel took every advantage to race out to a 17-11 lead at the break.
Simple attacking structures worked well for the Steel and the visitors steadily built on their lead, returning to the patient game that the southerners are well known for and also working off the body on defence and slashing their penalty rate.
Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick did all she could to spur her team on with three deflections and an intercept in the second quarter and late in the spell it looked as if her team-mates were ready to respond with a couple of quick goals.
But every time the hosts looked like closing the gap, an error on attack gave the Steel the opportunity to settle back into the driver’s seat and with shooter George Fisher netting 93 per cent of her 27 first half attempts at goal, the visitors maintained a six-goal buffer to lead 32-26 at the main break.
Two quick goals straight after the whistles looked to have the Mystics back on track but an ankle injury to Fa’amu Ioane early in the third stanza added to the disruption in the midcourt – already with Earle – as the Steel kept them at arm’s length.
There was little that looked to fluster this Steel unit however as they showed patience on attack, converting their possession, and just as composed on defence as they were quick to any loose ball.
Guilty of too many flat passes into shooter Grace Nweke, which were easily picked off by Fifita, the Mystics struggled to cut the lead and they trailed 43-50 heading into the final stanza of play.
Coach Helene Wilson made a number of positional changes for the fourth quarter with Fitzpatrick and Burley swapping bibs and Filda Vui coming on to replace Mes.
But the Mystics were unable to penetrate the Steel’s unflappable armour in the closing stages of the game, left to celebrate just the bonus point having closed within five at the final whistles.
Official Result and Stats:
Northern Mystics: 58
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 63
Champion Data Match Centre
Shooting Stats - Mystics:
Grace Nweke 52/61 (85%)
Bailey Mes 6/9 (67%)
Filda Vui 0/2 (0%)
Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 47/52 (90%)
Tiana Metuarau 16/19 (84%)
MVP: Taneisha Fifita (Steel)