Classy Steel celebrate perfect season with Grand Final win
Proving their pedigree, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel secured the inaugural ANZ Premiership title with a dominant 69-53 win over Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Invercargill on Wednesday.
Unstoppable during 2017, the Steel were a class above all-comers this season, overcoming adversity to clinch an impressive 16th successive win in the season’s showcase Grand Final.
The Pulse have made great inroads this year, but playing in their first-ever final proved a bridge too far. On the back foot throughout the first half in the face of a clinical Steel, the visitors put in a brave second half to lose by just one goal but by then the damage had been done.
Inspiring captain Wendy Frew and shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit made a welcome return to the home side in front of their ever-faithful supporters, the pair recovering in time for the Grand Final after being injured in a car accident just over two weeks ago.
Slotting straight back in as if they had never been away, the duo returned the home team to their regular line-up, the Steel quickly settling into their customary accuracy and quick-scoring abilities.
The Pulse struggled from the outset to get clean ball into their circle, Frew, and the in-circle defensive pairing of Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson causing massive problems for the opposing shooters.
There were no such issues for the Steel, punishing any Pulse error with their flawless through-court transition and the ever-visible target of lofty shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.
Pulse wing defence Clair Kersten was an honest toiler but the visitors struggled to stem the Steel’s superior volume as they skipped out to an 18-10 lead at the first break.
It was more of the same on the resumption, the Steel scoring the first four goals to retain a dominant tone. Making it look easy, the Steel strangled the Pulse’s attack line, who lacked movement, variation and flow.
Gina Crampton and Shannon Francois dominated the midcourt while crowd favourite Frew was in the thick of action. The Pulse defenders had no answers to the Steel’s slick attacking momentum, Fowler-Reid potting goals at will in tandem with her valuable side-kick Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
Well-drilled and disciplined, the machine-like Steel had built a formidable 35-20 lead at the main break.
The Pulse made a much better fist of an evenly-contested and free-flowing third quarter. Kersten was again a strong contributor with her strong-driving attacking play as shooters Tiana Metuarau and Cathrine Tuivaiti enjoyed more opportunities under the hoop.
But try as they might, they could do nothing to rattle the Steel, the southerners playing the long game with great success. Not afraid to deploy the long bomb to Fowler-Reid, the shooter continued to dominant proceedings as the Steel hit the last break in total control when leading 55-38.