Positive performance from Steel despite defeat

Steel centre Kate Heffernan was dogged in her defence at ILT Stadium in Invercargill tonight....
Steel centre Kate Heffernan was dogged in her defence at ILT Stadium in Invercargill tonight. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE
There is good news and there is bad news.

The good news is Shannon Saunders played her first minutes for the Southern Steel and they showed what the team are capable of doing with an experienced attack line.

The bad news is they lost 61-52 to defending champions the Northern Mystics, slumping to their 20th consecutive ANZ Premiership loss tonight.

But they will take a lot of confidence from that performance, as they rode the Mystics for the entire game at ILT Stadium in Invercargill. 

The Steel drew the third quarter 14-14 and it was a much improved effort.

One they have all players available for an entire game - Saunders and Kate Heffernan were sidelined for part of the second half as they return from injuries - there is hope for the rest of the season.

They just need to cherish more ball, pick up more ball on defence and not put each other under unnecessary pressure.

The Mystics showed how important having those connections are, and even when they did not play their best, that experience among the group allowed them to chip away for their lead.

Despite having a heavily strapped knee, Saunders barely missed a beat and was a leader in their attack end.

She gave the Steel more depth on second phase and that opened up the court to give the ball to shooter Grace Namana, who was sublime, making all of her 33 goals.

Namana used her body to open up space and her connection with Georgia Heffernan continued to blossom.

But the Steel struggled to pick up a lot of ball and trailed 16-13 at the first quarter.

Peta Toeava’s speed crushed the Steel on defence and the wing attack's ability to swing the ball opened up their shooters.

Heffernan was dogged in her defence through the second quarter.

The Steel pressured the Mystics high, forcing Grace Nweke out of the circle to relieve the pressure.

But when she went to pass to the top, Heffernan was there to snaffle it up and keep the Steel in touch.

While the Mystics were not flashy in their approach, they found the entry into the circle too easy and the Steel needed to pressure more on circle edge.

Saunders was replaced by Ivari Christie for the second half. It took a couple of minute for the Steel to adjust, and the scoreline extended to 10 in favour of the Mystics.

But once they did, they came back strong through an Abby Lawson intercept to be within five. 

The Mystics were guilty of being static in their attack line and just sending a long bomb down to Nweke without doing the work to get the ball to circle edge.

The Steel, spurred on by their passionate home crowd, pressured more and let the ball go on attack to be within three.

But the Mystics remained calm to ride the momentum shift and capitalised on the Steel’s errors to lead 46-39.

Michaela Sokolich-Beatson and Phoenix Karaka showed their experience to pull in the ball when the Mystics needed it most.

They were classy in their finish and showed they can grind out a win from anywhere.