Netball: Lure of top spot huge motivation for Steel

Te Paea Selby-Rickit trains at the High Performance Sport New Zealand gym in Dunedin. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Te Paea Selby-Rickit trains at the High Performance Sport New Zealand gym in Dunedin. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

There is no hiding the ambition within the Southern Steel camp as it eyes the very real prospect of going all the way to a home ANZ Championship final at the end of next month.

Far from the "one week at a time'' mantra usually stuck to by sides on a winning run, Steel coach Noeline Taurua is well aware of the opportunity that has presented itself after her side toppled the defending champion Firebirds last weekend.

The win means the southern side is two wins away from securing top spot in the overall transtasman competition and ensuring home court advantage all the way to a possible final.

There is plenty of netball to be played before the tournament's climax in the last weekend of July, but Taurua said being there, and playing the match in Invercargill, had now become a clear goal for the runaway New Zealand conference leader.

"It's absolutely huge,'' she said of the side's motivation to finish as top qualifier.

"It takes us to a new realm as to the possibility of where we could be.

"Considering where we were and where we are now, it gives us the confidence that what we're doing at training and on court is going in the right direction.

"It's really exciting for the franchise and the region and, of course, the team.''

The Firebirds are top of the Australian conference but are one point behind the Steel with one fewer game to play.

The only other side which could finish top is the Swifts.

Taurua said while the Firebirds were understrength for the match in Dunedin, the Steel was given a chance and took it with both hands.

"There's still six weeks to get there [to the final] but at least we got that win and didn't miss that opportunity.

"I think the decision that was made to get Romelda [Aiken] into the defence position to combat their injuries, in the end, may have backfired for them.

"We got a good run at the beginning and it was hard for them to close it off.

"With our patience and keeping the ball, it was going to be hard for them to make a difference in the second half.''

The first team standing in the way of the Steel's march to the final is a team it could very well face in the New Zealand conference final in four weeks.

Taurua's former side, the Magic, has recovered from a five-game losing streak at the start of the season to win five in a row and jump to second place in the New Zealand conference.

It has been in far from vintage form, however, recording one-point wins over the lowly Tactix twice and narrowly getting past the struggling Mystics twice.

However, Taurua said with key players Grace Rasmussen and Leana de Bruin back on deck, renewed confidence and a proven record at winning big matches, the Magic could not be underestimated.

"It would have taken them a long time to develop their combinations because of those injuries. You can't discard them because they've always been a semifinalist and with that comes the ‘old campaigners', so to speak, and they know how to win.

"They have experience in the back pocket and you can't discard that.

"We know what they're capable of.''

The Magic had a unique style which was a mix of one-on-one defence in midcourt and zone defence closer to the circle, Taurua said.

"They're a wee bit different to the traditional New Zealand style and it will be quite exciting to test ourselves against that.

"We'll have to combat that and absorb the pressure and execute.

"We made 30 turnovers last week, which was too many, and that's something we've been trying to address this week.''

The Steel won 63-53 in Rotorua the last time the sides met, when the Magic was without Rasmussen and de Bruin.

The Magic has history on its side but the Steel clearly has form and will be gunning for its ninth consecutive win tomorrow.

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