New-look Steel in bounce back mode
Following a major overhaul of their playing roster, Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have set their sights on a return to the heady days of old.
With five newcomers, there is a fresh-faced look to the Steel 2021 edition, a heavy presence of exciting young talent not detracting from the overriding desire to bounce back from a couple of lean years.
Winning the first two ANZ Premiership titles in 2017 and 2018, the southerners missed the cut in 2019 and had a horror 2020 on the injury front, resulting in a new-look team to help re-set their course.
“We know that we can be competitive and we want to make that final,” Steel coach Reinga Bloxham said.
“Pre-season for us is all about testing ourselves against ourselves and building some really solid combinations. We’re very much here to be in that final at the end of 2021.”
Tall and accurate England international George Fisher and creative young talent Tiana Metuarau, after moving from the Pulse in search of more court time, will spearhead a dynamic new-look shooting end.
Promising young defender Sarahpheinna Woulf, who can play all three positions at the back end of the court, was signed by the Sunshine Coast Lightning in the Australian league as a 17-year-old before being side-lined with a serious knee injury, and midcourters Renee Savai’inaea and Ali Wilshier round out the new faces.
Experienced heads Shannon Saunders and Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit will guide the southern ship while Taneisha Fifita (defender), Kate Heffernan (midcourt) and Kiana Pelasio (shooter) also return from last year.
“We’ve got five new faces who provide a new mix and I can see plenty of potential,” Bloxham said.
“Those older heads will be great leaders for the younger ones. They have got a very gentle way and gentle approach about them but some of the young ones have got reasonable experience at ANZ level to be able to lead themselves through some situations as well.”
With such a different mix from previous years, Bloxham is not looking to completely reinvent the renowned Steel style which has relied heavily on a patient, possession, resilience-based game but is hoping for a happy balance.
“I love the flow and openness of play but sometimes it makes me a bit anxious because I like to keep possession of the ball as well,” she said.
“If we can build those really strong connections and those invisible threads then we’ll have that ability to play a nice open style of game.
“Defensively, we’re quite strong, very powerful and it is going to be really exciting to see what that looks like. I’m hoping that nice New Zealand defensive style of being able to hunt for ball and attack ball out of the circle is going to be a major part of our game this season.”
With plenty of movement across all the teams, Bloxham is expecting a tight and competitive season to emerge but singles out the stable Tactix line-up as the team to watch out for.
“It’s going to be about who turns up each week and you’ve still got to run the complete race,” she said.
“Having one game per week is just going to be fantastic. It means you get good recovery, good routines and come the weekend you should be able to hit each game 110 percent, so it will be highly competitive.”