Steel keep home Elimination Final hopes alive
The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have an anxious wait to see if they will host the Elimination Final after securing a nail-biting 59-57 win over Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse in Invercargill on Saturday.
With their place already confirmed to play the Good Oil Tactix in next week’s Elimination Final, the Steel were hoping to improve their goal differential but had to pull out all the stops to keep the Pulse at arm’s length in a pulsating contest.
Playing their last match of the season, the Pulse put in a terrific challenge and kept the Steel honest throughout.
A Kelly Jury intercept in the first two minutes of the final quarter, opened the door for the visitors to take the lead for the first time. But that was quickly overshadowed at the other end by Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit who played a forceful hand in helping the Steel avert danger.
The experienced defender gave the Steel the impetus to regain control and forge a six-goal lead before another late charge by the gallant Pulse came too late as the defending champions were once again left with a feeling of what might have been after posting a record eighth ANZ Premiership bonus point loss.
Both sides were a model of accuracy in a goal-for-goal start to proceedings, the pair’s attacking lines providing a seamless transition to respective shooters George Fisher and Aliyah Dunn.
There was little on offer for the defenders, the first turnover taking until halfway through the opening stanza as the Steel’s more threatening attack and defensive gains helped the home side gain a slight edge.
Steel captain Shannon Saunders was successful in firing in long-range feeds to Fisher while wing defence Renee Savai’inaea was a constant thorn in the Pulse’s attacking raids.
Showing more flow and with slightly more possession, it was the home side who headed to the first break with a 17-14 lead after a high-scoring opening.
The Pulse acted decisively with defender Jury moving back to goalkeeper and Paris Lokotui coming off the bench into goal defence on the resumption. The changes had immediate effect with the visitor’s providing a staunch line of defensive resistance while picking off crucial turnovers.
With the Steel forced to work harder on attack, the contest tightened considerably, the Pulse closing to within one on numerous occasions but failing to take full advantage of their opportunities.
There was plenty of nip and tuck, Sarahpheinna Woulf taking over from defender Selby-Rickit with the ploy of adding extra squeeze on the visiting shooters.
At the other end, the prolific Fisher continued her outstanding season with a perfect first half return of 23 from 23 to steer the home side to a 32-29 lead at the main break.
Selby-Rickit returned for the second half for the home side while the Pulse’s Maddy Gordon (centre) and captain Claire Kersten (wing defence) swapped positions in what became an increasingly willing contest.
Both sets of in-circle defenders made the shooters work hard for their keep, improved feeding from the Pulse helping the visitors draw within one early in the piece. In a classic tug of war, the Steel refused to relinquish their lead while the Pulse refused to go away.
Rising to the occasion, centre Kate Heffernan proved the player of the moment in three instances, snaffling key turnover ball to keep the Pulse at bay when helping her team take a 46-44 lead at the last turn with the game still wide open.