Tenacious Tactix earn Grand Final showdown - 1st August 2021
Successfully penetrating the mighty southern fortress, The Good Oil Tactix have kept their ANZ Premiership hopes alive with a 54-49 victory over the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel at ILT Stadium Southland.
A date with the Mystics now looms in next Sunday’s Grand Final to decide who will secure the coveted silverware.
A torrid defensive effort from the Tactix ultimately proved the catalyst as Steel struggled initially to find cohesion on attack in the crunch match and will be left ruing a dire second quarter where they failed to fire.
The Silver Ferns pairing of Jane Watson and Karin Burger made their physical presence felt from the outset and were relentless throughout, swatting at every ball. It was an approach the visitors adopted throughout the court, often reaping the rewards of the subsequent turnovers.
The second half was a gallant showing from the southerners but clawing back an 11-goal halftime deficit was a formidable task.
Upping the tempo considerably in the final stanza, the Steel ventured back within striking distance, narrowing the margin to just four goals with eight minutes on the clock and continued to threaten until the final whistle.
Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham lamented the opening stages of the match but was ultimately proud of her young roster.
“We let ourselves down in that first half, and particularly in that second quarter,” she said.
“But they gutsed it out right to the end. Our goal was to be in the top three and we’ve done some really great things over the season. I believed in this team right from the start.”
Steel captain Shannon Saunders echoed the sentiment.
“In that second quarter we just really froze on attack and played into what they wanted defensively,” she said.
“We never gave up. We could have gone well down into a wee pit there but we kept fighting right to the end and for a young team I’m really proud of that.”
Winning the possession battle paved the way for the Tactix to emerge victorious in the pulsating showdown.
Holding a handy 11-goal lead at halftime, the Tactix were well-positioned to further press their credentials but the youthful new-look Steel, who have impressed with their attitude and ability to deliver the unexpected, rose to the occasion in the second 30 minutes.
Undone by a poor second quarter, the Steel went on to win a battling second half, closing to within four on a couple of occasions to show their growth and character in the battle of the south, but were left unable to make the vital breakthrough.
Led by their defence end, where Burger and Watson were at their imperious best and an attack line which managed to get the ball circle-bound with more regularity put the visitors in the box seat, the Steel ultimately being undone by an unproductive second quarter.
With the vibrant atmosphere befitting the status of the match, the teams delivered an action-packed opening stanza.
The early statement was a heavy defensive presence employed by both teams, the play-making skills and high work rate of goal attack Tiana Metuarau helping the Steel find more flow on attack to hold the slightest of edges.
Finding their own sense of timing with a smoother transition into lofty shooter Ellie Bird, the Tactix cranked up the intensity to win the first quarter spoils when taking a 15-13 lead into the first break.
Led by the heady and intimidating presence of in-circle defenders Watson and Burger, the Tactix stamped their class in a powerful second quarter surge.
With Kimiora Poi and Charlotte Elley lifting their intensity, the Tactix almost left the Steel’s attacking raids at a standstill and with no safe passage through to goal. Turnovers came thick and fast for the visitors with the expert feeding of Samon Nathan delivering a bounty of ball into Bird’s hands.
A run of eight unanswered goals pushed the rampaging Tactix into a position of control while the Steel were restricted to just five goals during the second 15 minutes. Enjoying 35 shots at goal compared to the Steel’s 21 resulted in a defining 29-18 lead for the Tactix heading to the changing sheds at halftime.
In a deep hole and looking to repair some of the damage, the Steel put in a concerted effort during the third stanza. Despite the ever-present attention of Burger, who was a standout throughout, and Watson, the home side showed more impetus on attack.
With Saunders spearheading a quicker passing game on attack, the Steel had more opportunities under the hoop but at the other end, Bird’s consistency remained steady as a rock in helping the Tactix keep their noses in front.
Both teams produced some exhilarating phases of play and while the Steel won the quarter narrowly, there was still a mountain to climb when they trailed 41-32 at the last turn.
Official Result and Stats:
Tiana Metuarau 10/13 (77%)
Shooting Stats - Tactix:
Ellie Bird 39/41 (95%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 15/20 (75%)
MVP: Samon Nathan (Tactix)