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Steel seals final berth - July 19, 2021

The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel cemented its place in the ANZ Premiership elimination final with a thrilling 46-45 win over the Robinhood Stars in Auckland.

Heralded as a season-defining game for both sides, it was the Steel who ultimately held its nerve under the intense pressure.

Deadlocked after the opening two spells, the southerners edged ahead by a slim two-goal margin heading into the final stanza.

As the Stars attack continued to falter, the Steel pounced to stretch out a five-goal buffer but it was a short-lived luxury as the home team struck back to draw level with just over four minutes on the clock.

In a ferocious finish of desperate defence, the Steel sealed its fourth finals appearance in five seasons.

Steel captain Shannon Saunders was elated.

“I think we had a full seven people on defence and seven people on attack. It wasn’t pretty but we got there in the end and I think we were really disciplined when we needed to be. Awesome that we could get the win,” she told Sky Sport.

“That’s part of the Steel culture – if it takes 100 passes, then it takes 100 passes. It’s not always going to be pretty at times but we don’t care as long as we can get it through the hoop.

“We ground it out in the end. There was a lot of pressure on us and we turned it over a few times on attack but our defence managed to get it back so that was awesome to see.”

She commended her young team-mates.

“When the pressure comes on and everyone stands up, that’s really awesome for such a young team because normally that comes from experience. They are playing well beyond their years and it’s such a privilege to watch.”

The focus would now switch to the hunt for a home elimination final, which will require a win over the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse at ILT Stadium on Saturday and for the Mystics to beat the Good Oil Tactix next Monday night.

“It would be amazing if we could have a home elimination final. Obviously our crowd is the best in the country and it would be such a privilege to have that and I’m sure we could pack it out.”

Steel goal attack Tiana Metuarau earned MVP after a dynamic performance.

“We’re good at the nitty gritty stuff even if it goes down to the wire. It was just a good team effort,” she said.

“We have a really cool team culture. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be thriving down there because we’re all different characters but the fact we’re all so strange yet we gel so well together, it’s really nice and it’s coming to fruition on court.”

Stars captain Maia Wilson described the loss as a “massive blow”.

“We knew that was a must-win game and we did that to ourselves a bit. It is a hard pill to swallow today,” she said.

“For us, last week was a really uncharacteristic performance for us and we went back and looked at what are our strengths and what do we do really well. I thought in the first half there were glimpses of that and it just slipped away from us in the second half.”

The Steel’s trajectory at the business end of the season continued to rise as they played a disciplined and patient game, while the Stars relied on their most experienced head, Anna Harrison, bringing her best defensive game to keep them in the running.

But it was the shooting statistics that told the final story – the Steel sinking 92 percent of their shots, while the Stars struggled with just 69 percent accuracy.

The Steel made a positive start with the first three goals, but then the long arms of Harrison came into play, successfully disrupting the Steel attack.

With Stars key shooter Wilson again looking shaky under the hoop, Jamie Hume put up some stunning long shots, on the end of some pinpoint long passes from Gina Crampton, to keep in touch with the Steel.

Saunders marshalled the Steel midcourt, and her shooters, Metuarau and George Fisher, responded with perfect shooting.

But just as the Steel looked to get a foothold, the Stars struck back with a run of three to tie it up 13-all at the first break.

The Stars shooting jitters continued in the second quarter, under intense scrutiny from Steel defenders Taneisha Fifita and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit. They were successful with just 63 percent of her shots in the first half.

But their defence kept them in the game, Harrison and Elle Temu snapping up crucial ball when they needed to.

The lead changed rapidly throughout the second quarter, and again it was level 24-all at halftime.

The Steel started strongly scoring the first four goals after the break, patiently threading the ball through court to Metuarau and Fisher, who couldn’t miss a shot. But just when it looked as though they were on a roll, Harrison would again intervene.

The visitors led 37-35 going into the final quarter, and with dogged defence right through the court, stretched out to a five-goal advantage for the first time in the game.

With 10 minutes remaining, Wilson (11 from 21 attempts) was replaced at goal shoot by Monica Falkner, and her injection into the game, with her poise and confidence shooting at all ranges in the circle, lifted the Stars hopes again.

A long penalty shot from Falkner tied the scores again with five minutes left, and they looked as though they could salvage a win. But back-to-back missed goals from the Stars sealed their fate.

Official Result and Stats:
Robinhood Stars: 45
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 46

Shooting Stats - Stars:
Jamie Hume 30/38 (79%)
Maia Wilson 11/21 (52%)
Monica Falkner 4/5 (80%)

Shooting Stats - Steel:
George Fisher 33/34 (97%)
Tiana Metuarau 13/17 (76%)

MVP: Tiana Metuarau (Steel)


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