Steel open new era with comprehensive win
The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel celebrated a new era in New Zealand Netball by posting a 75-57 win over the Northern Stars in the opening match of the ANZ Premiership in Hamilton on Sunday.
Wearing the pre-season favourites tag, it took the Steel much of the first quarter to find their groove in the face of a competitive challenge from the Stars.
As the best New Zealand side last year and with four Silver Ferns in their mix, the Steel showed the benefits of a settled line-up. Producing a strong finish to the first quarter, where they scored six goals in quick time, the southerners roared back from a three-goal deficit to forge a 15-12 lead at the first break.
It was more of the same on the resumption, the Steel putting their foot down with a forceful second quarter effort to test the Stars’ fortitude.
In a blink, the Steel had fashioned a seven-goal lead with the imposing figure of shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid a dominant presence under the hoop. Defenders Jane Watson and newcomer Abby Erwood also gained valuable turnover ball to give the Steel extra opportunities.
The Stars had their moments, showcasing their potential with some exciting passages of play from their talented line-up but a lack of time together was evident. The Stars couldn’t match the accuracy of their opponents, a clutch of basic errors highlighting their newness as a team and still finding their feet as the Steel shot out to a 35-26 lead at the main break.
With Fowler-Reid, who returned 52 goals from 54 attempts for the match, and shooting partner Te Paea Selby-Rickit showing their effectiveness on attack, the Steel also proved equally astute defensively. A stoic zone defence kept the Stars quiet on attack as the southerners muscled their way to a commanding 12-goal lead during the third stanza.
A flurry of substitutions by both teams, including the first Fijian import, shooter Afa Rusivakula, lifted energy levels with the Stars the initial benefactors.
Midcourter Emma Iversen, making a return to netball from rugby, was a lively contributor while rising shooting talent Maia Wilson and evergreen captain Leana de Bruin all held their own in their respective areas of the court as the Stars chipped into the deficit.
But the Steel showed their mastery at rising to the occasion, another stirring late quarter finish pushing the southerners out to a dominant 51-42 lead at three-quarter time.