Wonder win as ‘dreams come true’

Captain Wendy Frew celebrates after the Southern Steel won netball’s national premiership...
Captain Wendy Frew celebrates after the Southern Steel won netball’s national premiership yesterday.
Even the most fervent Southern Steel fan,  and there are lots, must have just about given up when their team trailed by several goals with just a few minutes left in the netball premiership final yesterday. 

Surely, even the dogged Steel players, could not pull off a wonder win.

But, that is what they did.

They scored the last seven goals and hung on for the last 20 seconds to win back-to-back premierships.

The Steel players are made of stern stuff and are as tough as steel.

Last year, with Jamaican  Jhaniele Fowler-Reid a towering goal-shoot target,  they swept all before them going through 2017 unbeaten. 

At home in Invercargill, they trounced the Central Pulse in the final 69-53.

This year was very different. 

Minus some key players as well as Fowler-Reid, they battled through patchy form, being thrashed by 31 goals by the Central Pulse early in the season.

That is a mammoth margin in netball.

Steadily, they improved, finishing second before struggling through their preliminary final 53-49.

They were clear underdogs going into the final in Palmerston North yesterday. 

And they looked very much the easy beats as the Pulse jumped to a 23-12 lead.

But sport brings so much joy because it can be unpredictable, because the seemingly impossible can happen, because individual and team character plays such a role.

Character is what the Steel exemplified. 

Led by captain Wendy Frew, in her 16th and last season, the team fought on, throwing the Pulse players off their passes and leading only once in the match — when it counts, at the end.

The fervent Invercargill crowd probably tipped the balance in their favour last week. 

Yesterday  the fact they know how to win might have  been crucial.

They believed and that helped make anything possible. 

By contrast, a Pulse team, with its share of young players, lost its rhythm.

Captain Katrina Grant,  herself a Steel player in the Steel’s first season in 2008 — when the Otago Rebels and the Sting combined — was disconsolate. 

For every glorious winner in sport there is a distraught loser.

Netball needed this type of excitement and close contests. 

The absence of the powerful Australian teams for the past two years inevitably lowered standards, and the competition for the best women athletes is intensifying as other sports like women’s rugby, football and cricket gain profile and pay more players.

The dismal performance of the Silver Ferns at the Commonwealth Games, where the team failed to win a medal, also hurt netball.

The premiership took time to gather momentum with the wider public this year. 

But the tightness of many matches and the rousing climax has boosted interest.

Attention will now turn to see if the national team can improve. 

As the Steel showed,  success is not all about stars. 

Team spirit counts for so much.

After yesterday’s  match, Frew said "sporting dreams came true".  

How wonderful for her, her team, her team’s supporters and for sport in Invercargill, Southland and Otago.

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