Steel extinguishes Stars in final dress rehearsal

Gina Crampton, of the Southern Steel, looks to pass the ball during last night's ANZ Premiership match between the Steel and the Northern Stars at the ILT Stadium in Invercargill. Photo: Dianne Manson/Michael Bradley Photography
Gina Crampton, of the Southern Steel, looks to pass the ball during last night's ANZ Premiership match between the Steel and the Northern Stars at the ILT Stadium in Invercargill. Photo: Dianne Manson/Michael Bradley Photography
Even if the result was meaningless, the statement was a big one.

The Southern Steel thrashed the Northern Stars 63-46 in Invercargill last night, a week out from next week's elimination final between the same teams at the same venue.

It was the Steel's seventh win on the bounce, as it streaked away early and late to take momentum into next week's playoffs.

Conversely, it was the Stars' seventh loss in eight games, the side continuing to fade after a promising start.

It also reaffirmed Stadium Southland as an near-impenetrable fortress for visiting sides.

The win leaves the Steel unbeaten at the venue since 2016.

None of that will matter next week, although there were plenty of positives for the Steel to take.

After a fast start, the side had to withstand an attempted comeback from the Stars.

However, while the margin got back to two in the third quarter, the Steel accelerated to pull away late.

While it had some poor patches, the Steel looked exceptional in parts.

Gina Crampton was dynamic and fed the ball 50 times, while after some early misses the shooting combination shot well.

At the other end Abby Erwood stood out, coming up with several intercepts to help stifle the Stars attack at key times.

That start could not have been more different from a week ago.

Against the Mainland Tactix the Steel was disjointed and trailed 22-9, but last night the side dominated from the beginning.

It quickly gained ascendancy, capitalising after Maia Wilson missed the first shot of the game.

Ellen Halpenny missed off the Stars' next centre pass, too, allowing the Steel to make it 4-0.

Wilson finally got one back, before seven straight goals put the Steel up 11-1.

The Steel defence was locked in, as the Stars struggled to get the ball to their shooters.

Charlee Hodges was introduced for the Stars eight minutes in and that seemed to click them into gear.

She scored one soon after coming on and while they took a while to fight back, the Steel attack became more sloppy.

The Stars closed the gap to 16-11 at the first break, then took the margin to four straight after.

While the Steel got back out to eight in front, the attack did not always fire as accurately as it could.

The Stars hit back late in the quarter with a run of three, to go to halftime at 29-24.

That was nearly cut to two early in the third quarter, but a miss from Hodges bailed out the Steel.

Minutes later the lead did become two at 36-34, when Wilson finished off a run of three for the visitors.

But that was as close as it got.

The Steel made changes, including bringing on Jennifer O'Connell at goal shoot.

She matched the Stars' tall defender Kate Burley, who had also been introduced.

O'Connell made 7/8 of her shots in the quarter, as the Steel streaked away to a 46-37 lead at the final break.

That continued through the fourth quarter, the Steel pulling away as both sides continued to make changes and try things late in the game.

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