Steel forges pathway to playoff spot

A playoff spot was nothing unexpected if you listened to the Southern Steel before the season.

Lana Winders
Lana Winders
Both chief executive Lana Winders and head coach Reinga Bloxham stated their desire and expectation for this team to win the ANZ Premiership title.

At the time it seemed a great showing of faith.

Even a showing of great optimism.

There were very few others who gave the team a hope of finishing among the top three.

The idea that today’s final round-robin match, against the Central Pulse in Invercargill, would have a home elimination final attached to it would have been far-fetched.

Reinga Bloxham.
Reinga Bloxham.
Yet that is the situation.

The team is tied with the Mainland Tactix on 30 points, although it will have to finish on more points to claim a home game next week.

That means relying on the Tactix losing to the Northern Mystics and the Steel winning, or at the very least getting a bonus point if the Tactix loses by more than five.

This was a Steel team that lost all 28 quarters it played in preseason.

George Fisher’s introduction after that made a huge difference.

But even when she was sidelined with concussion, the team still claimed an impressive win against the Magic in Invercargill.

It has five new players this season and only two are older than 22.

It claimed a few upset wins to start the season, but always followed each with a loss.

Then it finally won two in a row.

Since then it has kept on winning.

The Steel enters its final round-robin game on a four-game win streak.

It has also won seven of its last eight matches.

Yet it has hardly been convincing through that.

The majority of the wins have been ugly and hard-fought.

At times the team has hung tough through the first half, got a small lead early in the second and then held on to it.

More than once, including in Monday’s top three-clinching win over the Northern Stars, it has withstood furious fourth-quarter comebacks.

But it has rarely given its lead away.

That is the skill of this team, above anything else.

It knows how to win.

In fact, it almost wills its way to victories.

When it needs to get the ball back, it finds a way to get it.

When it needs to hold on to it, the patience in the midcourt is so evident.

And when it gets into the shooting circle, Fisher and Tiana Metuarau have been clinical.

That does not always make for the most compelling viewing.

It certainly is not the mark of a dominant team.

But it is the mark of a successful one.

When it comes to playoff games, which are often tight and hard-fought, that is exactly the sort of team you want on court.

Tonight’s game begins at 5.15pm.

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