Grand Final: PULSE v STEEL
The Grand Finalists are the same as last year’s inaugural ANZ Premiership season but the roles have been reversed with the Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse earning the direct path to season decider while the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel took the extended route.
The quick turnaround from Elimination Final to Grand Final is something Pulse captain Katrina Grant wanted to avoid this year – she knows how tough it can to be to back up for two tough encounters.
Just how the Steel recover from a torrid outing against the Silvermoon Tactix on Wednesday night will be key to their chances of victory.
They will be without their passionate home crowd but the team from the Deep South will still want to send captain Wendy Frew, who is retiring at the end of the season, out on a high.
Back-to-back titles barely registered for those making predications at the start of the ANZ Premiership after the Steel lost two crucial kingpins at either end of the court.
Jamaican scoring super star Jhaniele Fowler-Reid headed to Australia for 2018 while defender Jane Watson returned home to Christchurch.
Few believed the Steel could compete without the pair.
A 31 goal loss to the Pulse in Round 4 was the kick start they needed to prove pundits wrong, and as confidence grew so did the prospect of claiming a second straight crown.
The Steel has an experienced core of Frew, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Shannon Francois, Gina Crampton and Te Paea Selby-Rickit.
All five have tasted finals netball before and have slowly cemented connections with new shooter Jen O’Connell and defender Courtney Elliott.
At 193cm O’Connell has been a stand-out for the Steel in every aspect. Her game has steadily improved – her accuracy with ball in hand is obvious, but it is the calm head from the 21-year-old in tight situations that continues to impress.
Another southern shooter who has grabbed the spotlight in her first ANZ Premiership season is the Pulse’s Aliyah Dunn who made the move from Invercargill to Wellington this year.
Her partnership with schoolgirl Tiana Metuarau dominated talk in the first half of the season while at the other end of the court, veteran Sulu Fitzpatrick reignited her spark for the game and formed a formidable defensive wall alongside Grant.
The Pulse has had 10 days to focus on the Grand Final after what was a tough workout against the SKYCITY Mystics to end their regular season.
Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio has given coach Yvette McCausland-Durie plenty to ponder during that time given her strong performances recently and her experienced head may get the nod for the starting seven.
There are big match-up across the court but none more-so than the fresh legs of the Pulse versus the match-weary pins of the Steel.
WHO TO WATCH:
Courtney Elliott (Steel) – the goal keeper has made the most of her opportunities this year after a call of help from the Deep South. Elliott is not afraid to hunt for ball, is agile and has a vertical leap which means she can compete with the tall shooting timber that has emerged.
Te Paea Selby-Rickit (Steel) versus Katrina Grant (Pulse) – a key Silver Ferns match-up with Selby-Rickit able to take some of the pressure off rookie Jen O’Connell. But she will need a big game as she is up against Grant who has produced some of her best netball this season.
Ameliaranne Ekenasio (Pulse) – on the bench for much of the season as her teenage team-mates grabbed the spotlight along with playing minutes. Has shown her hand in some tense games recently and that experience may be preferred in the heat of a Grand Final.
2017 – Round 6: Steel 63 Pulse 50. Round 9: Steel 80 Pulse 44. Round 13: Steel 64 Pulse 51. Grand Final: Steel 69 Pulse 53.
2018 – Round 1: Pulse 62 Steel 51. Round 4: Pulse 71 Steel 40. Round 9: Steel 51 Pulse 47.
WHERE TO WATCH:
Sold out venue, with a capacity crowd of 2,300, at Fly Palmy Arena in Palmerston North.
Follow live from 4:00pm on SKY Sport 1, Radio Sport NZ or ANZPremiership.co.nz (outside NZ only).