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Year in Review: Steel go back-to-back in ANZ Premiership

Year in Review: Steel go back-to-back in ANZ Premiership

With the completion of its second year, the evolution of the ANZ Premiership headed in the direction intended during 2018 with a significant lift across all areas.

Still in its infancy, but with a year under their belts, all personnel involved in the second instalment of the ANZ premiership delivered a compelling competition in 2018, highlighted by closely-contested and absorbing matches, a rich array of skilled athletes and the continued emergence of exciting new talent.

In a demanding schedule, the six-team competition was played over 13 rounds with all teams meeting each other three times. This provided a healthy dose of Netball for the growing numbers of those attending games while SKY Television’s live broadcasts of all matches enjoyed a spectacular rise in viewers.

Elite level Netball featured three times a week on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays while three Super Sundays, when all six teams played at the same venue on the same day, were a strong component of the schedule. These were held in Rounds 1, 6 and 12 in Palmerston North, Christchurch and Auckland.

Into the second year, coaches and support staff were more in tune with what was required, both technically and physically, which resulted in increasingly astute preparation and planning for the differing nature of this particular competition.

The season culminated in a two-game Finals Series featuring the top three teams, the make-up of those three keeping everyone in suspense until the final match of the regular season.

With a greater understanding of the nuances of the competition, and relatively even spread across all teams, came an enhanced product. And with that came a flurry of new records for many of the teams.

Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse claimed the minor premiership for the first time in their 11-year history and with it, hosting rights for the Grand Final.

In securing third place at the end of the regular season, the Silvermoon Tactix posted the highest finish in their 11-year history while going on to compete in the Finals Series for the first time. Their seven wins during the season was also a club record.

The close nature and competitive edge on show throughout the competition was highlighted when 47 percent of the 45 matches played during the regular season were decided by five goals or less.

The number of young players introduced to the elite level was also encouraging, all teams fostering and exposing new faces during 2018 with none looking out of place.

After a shaky start, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel built perfectly into the season, timing their run to perfection when hitting top form at the right time. Taking the long route through the Elimination Final and a quick turnaround, the southerners produced a dramatic final quarter to pip the Pulse 54-53 in a thrilling Grand Final in Palmerston North.

It was a fitting finale for Steel captain Wendy Frew, the 176th game of her stellar 16-year career at the elite level providing a fairy tale farewell for the popular stalwart in making it back-to-back ANZ Premiership titles.

The experience of shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit and influential midcourter Gina Crampton were key contributors in the Steel’s late season push while 1.93m shooter Jen O’Connell showed her growing credentials with a standout season.

On the back of having the best defensive record and best shooting accuracy, the Pulse set the pace for much of the season but would look back on the one that got away when a maiden title slipped from their grasp in a nail-biting Grand Final.

However, there was much to admire about the Pulse’s season with long-serving captain Katrina Grant delivering on all fronts on a weekly basis to earn the ANZ Premiership Player of the Year award for 2018.

There were plenty of positives for the Pulse with teenaged shooter and new recruit Aliyah Dunn having a sensational first year at the elite level while defenders Sulu Fitzpatrick and Karin Burger also left impressive imprints.

Having the best season in their history, the Tactix have set the foundation with plenty more to come from this talented team. Through the season, coaches Marianne Delaney-Hoshek and Julie Seymour transformed the perennial battlers into a cohesive and competitive team.

The Tactix had to cope with the loss of popular and desperately unlucky captain Jess Maclennan and Zoe Walker early on to injury but rebounded in style. Fellow defenders Temalisi Fakahokotau and Jane Watson were a continued source of inspiration while midcourter Kimiora Poi, in her first season, and the competition’s tallest player in shooter Ellie Bird, provided plenty of optimism for the future.

The SKYCITY Mystics had their moments but were left to settle for fourth place after failing to make the most of their opportunities.

On their day, the Mystics were scintillating but just could not produce their best often enough. Captain and Mystics stalwart Anna Harrison, in her final season, and as always leading from the front, was a tireless contributor with her influential presence and ability to pull off some inspiring pieces of magic.

She had a more than capable ally in the midcourt, where there was none better than Elisapeta Toeava, the competition’s shortest player having a fine season on the back of an exceptional skill set. The exciting Toeava regularly showcased her speed, footwork, vision and precision of pass with heady effect.

Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic had a challenging season which was beset by injury and the loss of key players.

Influential shooter Lenize Potgieter was a late starter after biding her time with a foot injury, putting the Magic on the back foot from the outset. The later double loss of the effective in-circle pairing of Kelly Jury followed by the inspirational Casey Kopua was a telling blow.

Thrust into the captaincy duties, midcourter Samantha Sinclair was a tower of strength with her positive leadership and robust energy during matches. Potgieter showed her class to lead the shooting averages across the competition when delivering an average of 39.9 goals per match.

With a new coach in Kiri Wills and into just the second year since they were formed, the Northern Stars had an encouraging second season.

With five losses of five goals or less, the Stars competed gamely and were unlucky at times not to come away with more to show for their efforts.

Shooter Maia Wilson delivered an impressive and consistent season, her 566 goals being the most of any shooter during the regular season. The talented Holly Fowler made a successful return after a long comeback from injury while Beko Netball League defender Kate Burley made a sensational impact.

The loss of exciting young talent Fa’amu Ioane to a season-ending injury was a major blow but there is plenty to be positive about for the future of this emerging team.

Final placings:

1st - Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel
2nd - Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse
3rd - Silvermoon Tactix
4th - SKYCITY Mystics
5th - Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
6th - Northern Stars