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The Southern Steel have been outclassed by a strong Mainland Tactix this afternoon.
The Tactix handed the Steel a 58-45 loss in front of its home crowd in Christchurch.
And while the score blew out in the end, it never felt as though the Steel were that far off from the Tactix in the first half.
It was the third quarter, often dubbed netball’s championship quarter, that did the damage.
Ten minutes in to the quarter, the Steel had only scored four goals to 15 by the Tactix, and the attackers struggled to find an entry to the shooters.
It went on to lose that quarter 17-9 and never recovered from earlier mistakes to pull the scoreline back.
Eseta Autagavaia got the start at goal shoot in place to Saviour Tui, who was sidelined with an ankle injury she sustained last week.
Georgia Heffernan really stepped up in the circle, putting up the bulk of the shots and finishing on 24 from 28 attempts at 86%.
But it was her counterpart at the other end of the court, Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who was the maestro for the Tactix attack line.
Her shooter-to-shooter off loads to Aliyah Dunn were second to none, her work rate outside of the circle was massive and she made it hard for Silver Ferns selectors to ignore her for the Netball World Cup squad later this year.
The Tactix were fluid throughout the court from the start, jumping out to a 7-3 lead early doors.
The home side’s ability to have two options for every ball, a solid mid-court zone on defence, and accuracy at the post was sublime.
Once the Steel settled into its work, it slowly started to pull it back to trail 16-11 at the break.
It was a much better start than the last time the two met, where the Steel trailed 17-9 at the first break.
There were some nice moments in the second quarter from the Steel — good triangles on attack, treasured possession and Georgia Heffernan continued to lead from the front.
But the Steel needed more defensive pressure across the court and the ball flew in to the Tactix circle far too easily, helping them creep out to a 10 goal lead at halftime.
But it was that dreaded third spell that hurt the Steel.
Jane Watson — playing her 100th game for the Tactix — and her trusty partner Karin Burger were a nuisance together in defence, confusing the space, snaffling any loose ball and when one swept, the other always had the other's back.
Greer Sinclair, in her first year with the Tactix, has been a brilliant find for the red and black, wrapping up wing attacks and creating the space for her circle defenders to have a fly at the ball.
The Steel just could not find any flow on attack and fell away in the middle part of the quarter. It came home stronger, with Renee Savai’inaea injected at wing attack, and Jess Allan entering at goal shoot.
The Tactix have been guilty of taking the foot off the peddle in final quarters this season — and this game was no different.
Kate Burley, a work horse at the back, picked up ball, Savai’inaea — traditionally a defender — was patient on attack and had some great feeds and players worked more as a unit rather than in isolation.
That has been the story of the Steel’s season so far. It comes home with a wet sail but just cannot seem to pull together a consistent performance across all four quarters.