Steel snaffle vital win off Pulse
Learning from their previous mistakes, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel have scored a spectacular revenge victory over Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse, 51-47, in Invercargill.
While the Steel were ahead at every break, victory was never a given – league leaders the Pulse repeatedly stealing back the lead mid-quarter.
But where the Steel had the upper-hand was on defence - changing their strategy to man-on-man marking to confuse the Pulse, who had dominated last year’s ANZ Premiership champions in their two previous meetings this season (the last by a whopping 31 goals).
The Steel’s circle defence duo of Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Courtney Elliott made the biggest impact, suppressing the Pulse’s outstanding shooters for the first time this season, and dealing out only their second loss of 2018.
A strong defensive game from both sides was reflected in the incredibly low-scoring opening quarter, which was also punctuated by frequent contact calls. Wing defence Karin Berger nabbed two intercepts for the Pulse, while goal defence Selby-Rickit was causing all kinds of problems for the Pulse’s young shooters Aliyah Dunn and Tiana Metuarau.
The Steel took the lead for the first time with two minutes remaining, and were able to hold it at 12-11 when Te Paea Selby Rickit scored a penalty shot right on the quarter-time buzzer.
The Pulse scored the first three goals of the new spell, but the Selby-Rickit sisters combined to bring it back to level again.
Eventually the Pulse began to grind their way through the Steel’s smothering defence and deliver to their shooters, to open the gap to four. Still not quite where they wanted to be, the Pulse brought Ameliaranne Ekanasio on at goal attack just before halftime.
But the Steel proved they could do just the same and with a run of three goals, snatched back the lead 26-25 at the break.
The Pulse were asked to produce composure and control in the second half, but it wasn’t until the end of the quarter that they found it. The Steel had stretched out to a four-goal advantage - goal keep Elliott doing a sterling job of restricting Dunn’s options – but again the Pulse bounced back to be level-pegging, following a series of telling intercepts.
No one, though, would have been daring enough to discount the Steel, revved up by a record home crowd, and sure enough they were ahead, 43-39, going into the final quarter.
With five minutes left, there was only one goal in it, thanks to a vital intercept by Pulse captain Katrina Grant.
But the teamwork of Elliott and Selby-Rickit, backed up by their midcourt defence, ensured the Steel remained in control at the final whistle.