Netball: Steel still looking to improve

Each week, the question remains: when will the Steel lose its first game this season?

Logic suggests it has to happen at some point, but that will not be the mindset of the unbeaten southern side, which is on an unprecedented winning roll.

After nine rounds of the ANZ Championship, the Steel has won seven and drawn one of its eight matches and is now the only unbeaten side in the ANZ Championship.

It started unconvincingly, coming from behind to beat the Mystics with a late flurry in game one, before putting in what is regarded throughout the squad as a disappointing performance to draw with the Mystics a week later.

However, things have just got better and better since then for the runaway New Zealand conference leader.

It has won six games in a row, comfortably surpassing its previous record winning streak of four matches, and is becoming quite adept at keeping its cool to finish strongly in matches which appear to be heading for a nail-biting finish.

In other words, the Steel is becoming quite clinical this season.

There is a belief within the side it can win from anywhere and it does not panic when it enters the third or fourth quarter with the game in the balance.

In game three against the Magic, the Steel broke a halftime deadlock to run away with the game by 10 goals, its biggest win against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side.

A week later against the Pulse, it turned a 30-27 halftime lead into a 67-54 victory and, two weeks later against the Thunderbirds in Adelaide, it converted a healthy eight-goal halftime lead into a crushing 15-point win.

Its last two matches have continued the trend. It led 49-48 at the end of the third quarter against both the Pulse and Mystics, before pulling away to four-goal and six-goal wins respectively.

The only exception was its fifth-round match against the Fever, when the Steel lost the second half but won by a comfortable seven goals.

An observer may conclude those numbers would be pleasing for the Steel, but that is far from the feeling within the squad.

The side has spoken of striving for a consistent 60-minute performance this season, something which it says it has still not achieved.

That was reiterated by vice-captain Shannon Francois after last week's win against the Mystics in Dunedin, and has been echoed throughout the squad.

While it may seem the Steel is a hard side to please, it is easy to see why it is being hard on itself.

It faces a tough run home, with matches against the Firebirds, Vixens and Swifts, as well as a rejuvenated Magic, to come in the last four weeks.

But first, the Steel has to tackle the Tactix in Christchurch tomorrow.

Captain Wendy Frew, who will play her 100th game for the Steel, said earlier this week the side regarded the Tactix as a threat and was aware it had been involved in some close losses.

Its previous outing against the Mainland side still did not sit comfortably, she said.

"That performance we put out there in round two was a bit disappointing for us.

"We are wanting to fix that and put in a better performance. They're certainly a good side and we're not taking them lightly.''

The Tactix started well but now sits outside the playoff positions with two wins and a draw from eight games.

However, it has a game in hand on the third-placed Mystics and, with four of its last five matches against New Zealand sides, still has a strong chance of qualifying for the post-season.

The Steel is nine points clear at the top of the New Zealand conference and can guarantee top spot with a win tomorrow.

Goal keep Jane Watson will play her 50th ANZ Championship match tomorrow (she has played 18 matches for the Steel and 31 for the Tactix).

● South will be looking to get its campaign back on track when it takes on Mainland in the national netball league clash which follows the Steel game.

South sits fourth on the competition ladder but has played one game fewer than three of the other sides, and two fewer than tournament leader Northern.

It has won only two of its five matches but, two of its three losses have been by one point and the other by three points. 

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