Pain of 2016 loss keeping Steel focused on prize

Reinga Bloxham.
Reinga Bloxham.
Two titles have not quite healed some old wounds for the Southern Steel.

While they may not hurt so much these days, a tinge of pain remains.

That pain, suffered in its 2016 ANZ Championship conference final loss, is keeping the team on track as it heads down the final stretch of its 2019 campaign.

Second spot is locked up and first spot is out of reach.

The results of the next two games are meaningless towards the competition.

It will play the first of those tonight, against the Mainland Tactix in Christchurch.

However, staying in the moment is key.

Coach Reinga Bloxham said while the Steel had guaranteed a home elimination final against the Northern Stars, the side would not be easing up.

Improving and building on its performances each game had been its focus all season.

That focus would not change and it would not hesitate in putting everything out on court.

Most of all that would be key in the elimination final.

While there was the need for the coaches and management to plan ahead, it was important the side remained for the most part in the present.

For the players, remaining in the present needed to be a constant.

It was a mindset stemming from 2016 when, after going unbeaten all season in the then transtasman league, it was upset by the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic.

''I think you've got to learn from experience,'' Bloxham said.

''A couple of years ago we had the opportunity to go through, but we lost to the Magic in Invercargill.

''That's really great learning for us and a good experience for us to have been in.

''Back then, maybe we did have our eye on the wrong thing and not on the game at hand.''

While the Steel has undergone several changes since that night, there are a handful of survivors.

Bloxham was an assistant coach to now Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua.

Gina Crampton, Shannon Saunders, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Abby Erwood also remain.

Those six returned to win an undefeated premiership in 2017 after the transtasman competition split.

Last year, they mounted a late comeback to snatch the title from the Central Pulse.

As sweet as both of them were, the loss which preceded them has not been forgotten.

''It's definitely in the back of the mind of the players that were involved in that game,'' Bloxham said.

''We talked about it last week at one of our team meetings.

''It's not too far from our thoughts.

''When you're going into the business end of the season, you have to have the right mindset.

''Having that memory in the back of your mind is not a bad thing to have.

''It's just to make sure you stick to the process, and the process for us is getting through one game at a time.''

The team is well rested before tonight's match and all its players have recovered from an illness that was lingering.

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