WAIKATO Bay of Plenty Magic broke a four game losing streak over the still winless Southern Steel with a seven-goal victory (52-45), denying the Steel a bonus point in the dying seconds of the game.
The Magic were coming off a one-goal loss to the reigning premiers in the previous 24 hours with their confidence taking a hit heading into the peak of the season. The Steel however have their confidence at a season high, finally able to convert ball won down in their attack end with the capability to score on their own centre passes as well.
The Steel have evolved dramatically throughout the season, turning their game around from suffering losses from as big as 34 goals in Round 2 against the Northern Stars to challenging top tier teams who found their form in pre season. To the Steel’s expense, they did lose English superstar George Fisher right at the end of pre-season and had to work with a shooter they were not familiar with, but they found their groove and are so close to getting their first win of the season.
Saviour Tui (34 goals) is really the saviour for the Steel, not being able to get the right combinations with other shooters, but Tui slots it perfectly returning from a knee injury. Tui is back to career best form, finally earring herself a starting spot in her best position in goal shooter, and looks like her knee injury never happened, regardless of the heavy strapping on the knee. She is able to deceive her opposition into grabbing any ball in the air and make a bad pass look good.
The vertical jump between Tui and Kate Burley down the other end of the court is phenomenal. Burley (three gains, two deflections and one intercept) has been the stalwart in defence for the Steel this season, trying to ignite the team with the artistry she does in the defensive third. She is able to roll the body, challenge the low ball out the front and the high ball into the backspace while keeping away from the whistle with eight penalties in 60 minutes.
The Steel opened their account with a bang, going on a quick four goal run after the first whistle. Not long after did the Magic respond with their own four goal run.
A very accurate game from all five shooters helped both sides, but was also annoying for the opposing team to not pick off any misses and capitalise down the other end.
It was a challenge between the transverse line and the circle edge for the Steel attackers in the first term with everyone becoming stagnant with no one driving forward for the ball. Whereas the Magic were using the width and depth of the court to their benefit while keeping the passes short and sharp knowing the Steel defenders would be hunting outside of the circle.
Powerhouse for the Steel in Kate Heffernan was always in the right spot at the right time, being able to back up her teammates with two pickups and put immense pressure on any and every ball that could be won. It was a costly outing for her with six turnovers, but she was fixing her mistakes with seven gains, four intercepts and four deflections, an absolute defensive display. Heffernan is able to do all of this by getting her hips and shoulders around her player and into the front space in order to get any touch on the ball.
There was no separating the Magic shooters in Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Bailey Mes both shooting 26 goals each from 28 attempts. Player of the match Ekenasio did so much work inside and outside of the circle while in both shooting positions. She was changing her angle by switching her feet or posture just before retrieving the ball to get a defender off her.
A one goal advantage went the way of the Steel heading into the last break, but a nine goal turnaround off the hand of a five goal run to the Magic mid way through the fourth term solidified the win for the Magic. A 16 – 8 fourth quarter spooked the Steel with all Magic players kicking it up a notch and not backing down.
The Magic look to continue their form into next week’s clash against the Mainland Tactix who do not want their losing streak to turn from three to four.
Northern Mystics (65) defeated Southern Steel (55)
Many expected this to be a blowout match with the top of the table against the bottom, but this was truly a fantastic outing with both sides wanting to end their seasons with some wins. Again, the Grace Nweke and Elisapeta Toeava connection was spectacular with both feeling confident in each other’s abilities with Toeava giving no look passes into the shooting circle.
Player of the match Saviour Tui (41) ended her outing as a real impact for the Steel attack line. Since she has returned from her knee injury, the Steel have just gotten better every week. Katie Te Ao rewarded her side getting her first start in centre and balanced out the attack end. Her accurate passes into the shooting circle were clinical with 74 percent of her feeds ending in a goal. The Steel pushed the Mystics to their limits, but a 19 – 9 first quarter demolition was just a deficit that the Steel could not return from.
Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic (49) defeated by Central Pulse (50)
The Magic were playing for pride and the Pulse are still vying to overtake the Mystics at the top of the ladder. Player of the match Kelly Jury (seven deflections, three gains, two intercepts) was a pest in defence for the Pulse, really needing to take a step up after having some quiet games to her standard in the last few weeks.
It was hard for her to defend in form Silver Ferns shooting circle in Bailey Mes (25) and Ameliaranne Ekenasio (24) with both known for having an equal shooting load, and this was no different. Jury proved that she was up to the challenge though, causing seven turnovers going the way of Mes, even with Ekenasio having zero for the game. A game of two halves proved costly as the Pulse slowly threaten the Mystics for top spot while the Magic were looking to end their season on a high.
Mainland Tactix (50) defeated by Northern Stars (57)
Third against fourth was certainly entertaining with both sides wanting that finals spot with only two rounds left remaining in the regular season. Karin Burger (four gains, four deflections, three intercepts and two pickups) was a stunner like always for the Tactix winning plenty of ball back for her side and it is hard to look past all the work she does out the front of the circle to let fellow defender Jane Watson get some touches to the ball as well.
Player of the match Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (41 feeds, 16 goal assists and four penalties) did so much work in attack getting depth into the goal third while getting 15 second phase receives, just showing how she was freeing herself after a centre pass in order to get that second ball. A hard fought win for the Stars pulls a finals campaign closer as the Tactix can feel it just slipping away from them.