Saunders determined to make every game count - March 11, 2022
While the threat of unexpected interruption lurks, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain Shannon Saunders is taking a determined approach to this season’s ANZ Premiership from the outset.
“You just have to live game by game and when you have your team at full strength you need to be able to perform and capitalise,” she said.
“With the Covid outbreak, one week you might have everyone raring to go, the following week you might only have six or seven players available so it’s really crucial that when you have everyone fit, or the opposition is hindered a bit, you need to take advantage of it.”
Steel’s first assignment is a rematch of last year’s elimination final against the Trident Homes Tactix in Christchurch on Sunday.
“I can’t believe it’s the first game. It’s come around so quick. There’s always that nervous anticipation about how it’s going to go but we’re excited,” she said.
“I feel like we always have a fierce battle against the Cantabrians and we’ve got some good friends in that team so it’s always fun to have a good smash up against them.
“They are coming off being in the final last year so they will obviously want to start the season well but I’m keen to reverse the scoreboard this time around.
“The girls have been tracking really well in preseason. There’s been some strong improvements from the beginning to the end which is always good to see. We’ve still got things to work on but it’s only early days and it will be good to really test ourselves against proper opposition.”
Pitting Steel’s tenacious defence against Tactix towering shooting duo has been a hallmark of recent South Island derbies.
“Obviously in the back with Ellie Bird and Te Paea (Selby-Rickit) they’ve got a lot of height and a really strong attacking line up which hasn’t really changed much in the last couple of years. We know what an influential role Te Paea plays bringing the ball down the court and putting it through the hoop so we’ll be trying to disrupt their connections as much as we can.
“It’s going to be hard to get ball and we need to treasure it when we’re on attack.”
Now in her 11th season with the southern team, Saunders was embracing her second year at the helm.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. I know this season will have its hurdles to overcome, especially given the Covid situation, so I see a key part of my role keeping everyone on track and leading by example.”
Notching up 85 caps for the Silver Ferns since her debut in 2012, securing a coveted place in the Commonwealth Games squad looms as an enticing reward for a stellar domestic season.
“It’s important but I feel like it’s something that will ultimately take care of itself. If you don’t perform during ANZ Premiership, then it’s just not going to happen at all, so my main focus is on performing for Steel and my team to earn it,” Saunders said.
“The ANZ Premiership is crucial leading into the international season because everyone needs to get some solid game time. Every game, every pass, every touch of the ball is an opportunity to build towards that.”