Netball: Steel ready to face first Australian test

Te Paea Selby-Rickit trains with the Southern Steel at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin on Thursday...
Te Paea Selby-Rickit trains with the Southern Steel at the Edgar Centre in Dunedin on Thursday ahead of the side’s match against the West Coast Fever in Invercargill today. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.

No-one is under any illusions - the Southern Steel will face a true test of where it is at today.

The New Zealand conference leader is unbeaten after four rounds in this year's ANZ Championship but has yet to face an Australian side.

That will change this afternoon when it takes on the West Coast Fever at Stadium Southland in Invercargill.

The Fever has won three of its four matches this season and has comfortably put away its New Zealand opposition, beating the Mystics by 10 goals in Auckland and the Tactix by 14 goals in Perth.

In total, the Australian sides, known for being extremely fit and unflinchingly physical, have easily won all five encounters between the transtasman rivals so far this season.

The level the Steel has to reach to compete with the Fever today was not lost on goal attack Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who said the squad had been "smashing each other'' during training this week.

"It's prepared us quite well for what we're going to face.

"Us New Zealand teams play a more space marking kind of game and we're not used to taking as many hits.

"The Aussie teams are really fit and they've obviously got really tough man-on-man defence.''

The Steel had played all of the other New Zealand sides in the opening rounds and that had given it an opportunity to build some momentum before some tougher tests, Selby-Rickit said.

"It's probably a good start for us getting to play the New Zealand teams first and getting a gauge on where we're at.

"We get to sort of warm in to those tough Aussie games.''

Selby-Rickit is again shaping as a key player for the Steel today after a strong start to the season, in which she has significantly lifted the goal-scoring burden off the shoulders of towering Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.

The 24-year-old has slotted 61 goals from 77 attempts so far and, although that was still a long way behind Fowler-Reid's championship-leading 183, it has made a huge difference to the side.

"In a couple of games last season, I wasn't putting up that many shots.

"But I want to put more shots up because I'm a shooter and it's my job to do that as well.''

The Steel had been guilty in previous years of making the game too easy for opposition defenders by allowing them to drop two players back and leave the goal attack open, she said.

"The thing we've been wanting to do this year is take the pressure off her [Fowler-Reid] and make the defenders have to guess.

"If I'm an option, then they have to decide to pick me [to mark] and drop one off her.

"And Jhaniele's a great rebounder, so that gives me the confidence to know that, most of the time, she's going to be there for the rebounds.''

A key component to the Steel's victory against the Pulse last week was its defence, with Jane Watson snapping up a whopping seven clean intercepts and the side managing 11 in total.

However, the Steel has produced some laboured movement through the court at times, especially during a scrappy first half last week.

"In previous games, our through-court attack has been really good.

"But last week it wasn't as good, so we want to get that back up and also start well.''

The Fever also has a powerful shooting line-up with Natalie Medhurst and Caitlin Bassett (139 combined test caps) and, like all the Australian sides, plays the game at a fast pace.

But one factor in the home side's favour is the travel schedule the Fever has faced this week.

The West Coast side has traditionally struggled in the Deep South and has lost three of its four away matches against the Steel.

Its journey south for today's match involved a four and a-half hour flight from Perth to Melbourne on Wednesday before flights to Christchurch then Invercargill on Thursday.

The last time the sides met in New Zealand was in Dunedin in 2014, when the Steel won a nail-biter 66-65. Fowler-Reid is poised to bring up her 2000th ANZ Championship goal today.

She needs 13 goals to reach the milestone and become the 11th player to do so.

Add a Comment




Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter