Winning the small things key to success: Savai’inaea

Southern Steel wing defence Renee Savai’inaea goes for a ball during an ANZ Premiership game....
Southern Steel wing defence Renee Savai’inaea goes for a ball during an ANZ Premiership game. Team-mates Kate Heffernan (left) and Whitney Souness (right) watch. PHOTO: MICHAEL BRADLEY PHOTOGRAPHY
Renee Savai’inaea is one of the Southern Steel’s unsung heroes.

There is nothing flashy about the way the wing defence approaches the game, just good old-fashioned defence to grind her opposition down.

She is the first to be there for back-up, bringing the ball down the court and you only notice how much work she actually does when she takes a break.

Savai’inaea’s form has never dipped, but she was instrumental in the Steel’s 63-61 extra time win against the Northern Stars last week, when they snapped their 21-game game losing streak.

"I feel like it’s been a long time coming," Savai’inaea said.

"Each game we’ve been building and we just finally got the result we wanted, which is nice."

Now in her fourth season with the Steel, since moving from the Central Pulse in 2021, Savai’inaea is forming solid connections with her new defenders Taneisha Fifita, Jeante Strydom and Abby Lawson.

Reconnecting with Fifita, who Savai’inaea played alongside back in 2021, had been positive, as had blending with Strydom and Lawson.

"I think we’re working quite well together, which is nice, and that last game I think it really came together, especially in the overtime.

"I felt like we just knuckled down and worked to our strengths."

Having started her career as a wing defence and goal defence, Savai’inaea has reinvented herself as a back-up centre — alongside being the starting wing defence — in recent years and was even thrown into the deep end at wing attack last year.

While she enjoyed the chance to add wing attack to her ever growing list, returning to her roots at wing defence had been more comfortable.

The Steel have struggled the most in the third quarter — known for making or breaking games — this season.

They led the Pulse at halftime, but lost the third 17-8 and the same happened against the Stars, where they lost that quarter 21-13.

"We definitely had a massive dip in that game and made it hard for ourselves."

Unlike the Pulse game though, the Steel were able to rectify things against the Stars to turn the game around.

"We’d probably never been in the position we were in the Pulse game in a long time," Savai’inaea said.

"For us, that game we kind of just didn’t know how to win at that stage.

"But I think [the Stars] game, [we] had a big mentality on winning the small things and I think we really just put that together."

They have already addressed they need a full 60-minute performance when they face the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in Rotorua this afternoon.

The Magic, led by Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio, pushed front runners the Mainland Tactix last week only just losing 54-53.

They sit just above the Steel in fourth having recorded their sole victory against the winless Stars as well.

Savai’inaea will most likely come up against former Steel midcourter Ali Wilshier, who returned from England to join the Magic.

Another familiar face in former Steel shooter Saviour Tui, who moved to the Magic this season, has anchored their circle.

ANZ Premiership

Rotorua, 4pm

Southern Steel: Grace Namana, Georgia Heffernan, Jen O’Connell, Shannon Saunders, Kate Heffernan, Ivari Christie, Renee Savai’inaea, Jeante Strydom, Abby Lawson, Taneisha Fifita.

Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic: Saviour Tui, Ameliaranne Ekenasio, Ivana Rowland, Ali Wilshier, Claire O’Brien, Georgie Edgecombe, Reeghan de Bono, Oceana Mahi, Georgia Takarangi, Erena Mikaere.