Fairytale finish for back-to-back champions Steel
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have sent their captain Wendy Frew out on a dramatic high after coming from behind for a fairytale ANZ Premiership crown.
They beat Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse 54-53 at Fly Palmy Arena in Palmerston North on Sunday to claim back-to-back titles.
It marked a magical win for the Steel and outgoing captain Frew who has now played her last game in the blue dress.
They did it in dramatic fashion netting the last seven goals of the game to spoil the hosts’ party after the Pulse looked in control for much of the game.
The Steel trailed by four goals heading into the deciding spell and with just over three minutes to play were still three goals behind.
But the determination and composure of the Steel, which has been a trademark of their play, proved the difference in a tense last quarter.
There were few surprises with either starting line-ups with Ameliaranne Ekenasio’s experience perhaps giving her the edge to take the starting goal attack bib for the Pulse in what was her 50th game at this level.
She repaid the faith of her coach with a confidence shooting display and sharing the load with teenage shooter Aliyah Dunn.
Both teams made solid starts but an intercept from Pulse centre Claire Kersten was converted to give the hosts the first edge.
They held an 8-5 lead at the mid-way stage of the first quarter but a couple of missed goals gave the Steel an opportunity to level the scores.
There was no easy route into the Steel’s shooting circle with Karin Burger, who showed no signs of the rolled ankle she suffered 10 days ago, and Kersten disrupting the attacking flow.
The duo was inspirational through the middle in the first quarter as they picked up one intercept and two deflections between them.
The Pulse led 16-10 at the break and threatened to run away with the game early in the second spell as they extended the difference to 10 goals after five minutes of play.
Ekenasio was given too much space on attack as she dictated the pace of play up front and offered strong support for Dunn.
But the Steel are a side with plenty of finals experience and their core of senior heads knew when to switch gear to keep the game within their grasp.
Goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit led the march up front as she lifted her workload around the circle and increased her attempts at goal.
The Pulse’s penalty count spiked in the second stanza as the Steel shooters started to find their feet and the deficit was slashed to six goals at the main break.
Leading 30-24, Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie opted to make one change heading into the second half with Ekenasio making way for young team-mate Tiana Metuarau.
The Steel charge continued as the confidence of Selby-Rickit and O’Connell grew and there was just three goals the difference midway through the third quarter.
It prompted the return of Ekenasio to the court with just under three minutes left in the spell in a bid to inject some pace up front.
With 15 minutes to play, and the Pulse leading just 42-38, the visitors’ big names stepped up with Selby-Rickit sisters, Te Paea and Te Huinga Reo, spearheading the challenge at either ends of the court.
Cruelly it was Ekenasio, who had played such a telling role in the final, who missed a last attempt at goal which would have sent the game into extra time.