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Midcourt duo face new territory as rivals - May 5, 2021

Two of New Zealand netball’s craftiest midcourters will be on opposing teams for the first time in over a decade during this weekend’s ANZ Premiership.

In fact, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain Shannon Saunders can’t even remember the last time she took the court with Gina Crampton wearing different uniforms.

Up until this season, the dynamic duo had been team-mates their entire career in the elite ranks – Saunders made her debut for the southern franchise in 2012 and Crampton was recruited the following year.

Now Crampton has bolstered the Robinhood Stars for 2021 and will face the Steel in Sunday’s round four showdown.

“I think Gina will be more nervous because she’s coming up against her old side so I’ll definitely try and chuck a cheeky wee nudge in there,” Saunders quipped.

“It will be interesting to be on rival teams. I’m really looking forward to it.

“Gina is someone we are going to have to really shut down because she can be so influential. The more we can limit her impact the better.”

Crampton recently racked up her 100th premier game – a milestone her former team-mates celebrated from afar.

“We were so devastated she didn’t get the chance to do that with the Steel because she earned 98 caps with us and would have brought up the hundred if our season hadn’t been disrupted last year. But we are just so proud of her and she deserves all the accolades she receives.”

Saunders, who succeeded Crampton at the helm of the Steel, is expecting a spirited encounter against the unbeaten Stars outfit.

“It’s going to be a really tough game. They’re a well-drilled side and they’ve got a lot of experience throughout the court. We need to focus on ourselves and make sure we’re really clearing arms with Anna Harrison in there because she can be a real menace.”

Chalking up two wins from three outings so far, Steel has proved the proverbial dark horse.

“We had no expectations on ourselves and after preseason I think no-one else had any expectations on us as well so we probably flew under the radar a bit,” Saunders said.

“We know we’ve been building really well at training so to see it being put out there on court consistently so far is great.”

Sunday’s 56-52 victory over the defending champion Te Wananga O Raukawa Pulse was particularly satisfying.

“I’m very happy with the performance but a bit annoyed that we let them get a bonus point.

“Overall it was a really good grind. When they came back at us and snatched the lead we were able to absorb it and push on to get the win. That’s something in preseason we really struggled with so it’s fantastic to see that growth in the team.”

Photo: Michael Bradley Photography


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