Frew's career extended after Steel advance to Grand Final
On the back of an emotionally-charged outing, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have advanced to Sunday’s Grand Final against Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Palmerston North.
In honour of local legend Wendy Frew, who is set to hang up her bib at the end of the season, and with the stadium named after her to mark the occasion, the Steel rose to the challenge with a hard-fought 53-49 win in the Elimination Final against a gallant Silvermoon Tactix in Invercargill tonight.
The Steel’s greater experience and winning know-how proved the difference against a Tactix team who had a season to be proud of after the perennial battlers made the Finals Series for the first time.
After a strong start, the southerners were outplayed through the middle stages by the tenacious Tactix before storming home in the final stanza. The rise of both goal shoots, Jen O’Connell for the Steel and her opposite Ellie Bird, the competition’s two tallest players was a feature in a thrilling clash, both having a big influence. But it was big-game composure and experienced heads that won the day.
The Steel got their wish and the inspiring Frew gets to lead the Steel one last time in what will close an endearing and enduring netball chapter.
O’Connell was back for the Steel after missing their last match with an ear complaint while Bird and Brooke Leaver teamed up in the Tactix shooting circle. It was the home side who showed the early initiative, quickly out of the blocks and impressing with their speed through court, spearheaded by Shannon Francois and Gina Crampton to hold a slight edge.
With Bird double-marked, the Tactix had a few problems getting the ball into her hands while at the other end, O’Connell showed her value with a perfect return as the Steel took a 15-12 lead into the first break.
Australian import Kate Beveridge took over at goal attack in the Tactix line-up as the Christchurch-based team made a big move in the second stanza. With the dynamic defensive combination of Jane Watson and Temalisi Fakahokotau warming to the job at hand, the visitors found more turnovers coming their way.
Midcourters Kimiora Poi and Erikana Pedersen, alongside the crafty Beveridge, took every opportunity to feed the towering Bird, who, with impressive accuracy, helped the Tactix negate a six-goal deficit to complete a stunning turnaround before heading into the main break with a slim 29-28 lead.
Both teams delivered an accurate and intense third stanza, Fakahokotau adding to the drama with a speedy timeout to fix a split lip. Initially, it was the visitors, on the back of the growing presence of Bird who looked set to take charge when building a five-goal buffer.
Not to be outdone, the Steel retained the customary doggedness and patience to claw their way back and level up the scores. An unruffled O’Connell was all poise under the Steel hoop with her accuracy keeping her team right in the contest.
An exciting finish was guaranteed after a drawn third quarter left the Tactix with a 41-40 lead at the last break.