Steel galvanises late to storm past Pulse

IN the most remarkable game of the 2022 ANZ Premiership season, Southern Steel produced a stunning comeback to storm past Central Pulse in overtime by three goals. In what turned out to be the only played game in Round 5 of the competition, the Pulse looked to be in control after being up by a whopping 11 goals at the final break. Having sealed a nail-biting win against the Magic last round, the Pulse were expected to have an easier time in the late stages.

But nobody told the Southern Steel. Out of nowhere, the Steel piled on 19 goals to eight, including a run of seven consecutive goals to level the scores with three minutes remaining. The traded blows in the dying minutes with Georgia Heffernan scoring the match leveller with 14 seconds on the clock to force the game into extra time. She had scored four goals from five attempts in the quarter, with George Fisher having shot at 100 per cent from her 15 attempts. By comparison, the Pulse could not continue their rhythm of the first three terms, producing eight general play turnovers to three, and having just one gain and one intercept to the Steel’s six and four respectively.

Heading into extra time, the Pulse made the one change with Erikana Pedersen coming off and Paris Lokotui returning to the court in wing defence, whilst Ainsleyana Puleiata shuffled into centre. The Steel kept their lineup and it worked, as Fisher scored from all five attempts, Heffernan put up two from two, and wing attack Shannon Saunders had four goal assists to make it 14 from her final 21 minutes. The extra two periods of three minutes saw the Steel continue the momentum with Fisher scoring the first three goals of the fifth period, and then leading by two at the break (63-61). Though Aliyah Dunn – who had been impressive throughout the game – cut the deficit to one with back-to-back goals in the second period, Fisher finished off with two in the final minute to secure the 66-63 victory.

It is hard to believe it even got to that point given the Pulse lead by 11 goals at the final break, mostly created after an 18-11 first term. Dunn put up 17 goals from 18 attempts as her opponents struggled with Fisher (six from eight), Heffernan (three from three) and Saviour Tui – who was subbed off in the eleventh minute – (two from three) for the term. By comparison, Whitney Souness and Tiana Metuarau had six goal assists apiece, though Kate Heffernan was working hard on both ends with five goal assists and two intercepts.

Central Pulse remained on top across the next two quarters, winning them by a combined four goals, as Fisher started to build, and the combination with Heffernan proved effectively. Saunders was starting to get off the chain, which was helping the goalers against the defensive pairing of Kristiana Manu’a and Kelly Jury. Dunn still had 30 goals to half-time, whilst the inclusion of Puleiata into centre paid dividends with six goal assists.

The third term Fisher scored the most with 13 goals at 100 per cent, whilst her counterpart Dunn had 12 at the same success rate. Souness (10 goal assists) and Metuarau (five goal at 100 per cent, four goal assists) was impressive, whilst Jury had the two intercepts. Renee Savai’inaea (two intercepts) and Souness (10 goal assists) were having a huge battle across the midcourt. But despite the Pulse getting out an 11-goal lead – the largest of the match – at the final break – as history would have it, the Steel would emerge victorious.

Sarahpheinna Woulf won a hotly contested Most Valuable Player (MVP) award after picking up three intercepts in the final 21 minutes – five overall – to really lockdown on Dunn. Fisher scored 48 goals from 50 attempts, Georgia Heffernan put up 15 of 16 and had 13 goal assists, whilst all the other Steel players recorded at least one intercept, combining for 16 in total. Kate Heffernan had 17 goal assists and three intercepts, Saunders had 24 and three, whilst Kate Burley was also strong with three intercepts.

For the Pulse, Dunn still put up 52 goals from 53 attempts, with Metuarau (11 from 12, 18 goal assists and an intercept) sharing the load. Jury (four intercepts and three rebounds) and Manu’a (two intercepts) were fierce in defence, whilst Souness ended her evening with 24 goal assists.

Southern Steel hosts Northern Mystics at ILT Stadium on Sunday, with Central Pulse heading up to Rotorua to clash with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic on Monday.

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