Steel survive gutsy Stars comeback to secure finals berth

THE Southern Steel have knocked the Northern Stars out of the ANZ Premiership finals race with a desperate one-goal win last night despite still having one round left (46-45). It was a heart in your mouth game that went right down to the wire with neither side willing to relent on the pressure nor give up due to the high stakes of the contest.

Tiana Metuarau wasted no time opening her account nailing a goal within the first 20 seconds of the game. The ball was moving up and down the court with great speed as Jamie Hume looked to land the first goal of the game for the Stars but missed gifting a chance for the Steel to capitalise and that they did. Holding a handy two goal lead the Northern Stars defence got to work as they won ball back and Maia Wilson rewarded them for their efforts. With the centre pass to follow the Stars started to build some momentum stringing back-to-back goals together and before you knew it the home side had the upper hand – up by a goal. This goal for goal motion continued but it was Metuarau that was doing damage at the post as George Fisher did not get a look in until four and a half minutes had gone by credit to the work of Anna Harrison under the post.

Each time one side would pull ahead marginally the other would find a way to sneak back in and nail consecutive goals to keep things interesting. Gina Crampton was up and about early for the Stars with the wing attack finding good space and using her crafty passes to sight both Wilson and Hume inside the circle. Shannon Saunders was inflicting the same level of pain up the other end of the court with the Steel wing attack confident to release the ball into her shooters. It was turning somewhat into a shootout between the two goal attacks as Hume and Metuarau led the charge for their respective sides with the two holding shooters nullified by their goal keepers. Harrison was proving to be a real nuisance, going out hunting nice and early and cleanly getting hands to ball to create doubt in the feeders mind. But it was not enough to give her side the upper hand, heading into quarter time with 13 goals apiece.

Wilson was struggling to find her momentum under the post missing her first three attempts of the quarter before Hume pounced to mop things up and create a one-goal advantage. Things were going along swimmingly for the Steel as Fisher used her split and smarts to negate the influence of Harrison. The goal for goal battle continued as both sides looked to treasure possession and cleverly work the ball down the court rather than force it. Taneisha Fifita upped the ante down in goal keeper for the Steel using her footwork and body work to contest and force Wilson out of her comfort zone. She was combining seamlessly with Te Huinga Sebly-Rickit to create a strong wall in defence and get in the head of Wilson who simply could not buy a goal.

The midcourt battle between Kate Heffernan and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan intensified as the quarter went on with the pair refusing to give an inch. Saunders and Metuarau were guilty of coughing up a couple of turnovers but their overall work rate was keeping the Steel in contention as the duo dictated the rhythm in attack. Elle Temu upped the ante to try and nullify Metuarau with the goal defence going out hunting to stop the ball from entering the circle and using her long arms over the shot to try and win ball back. A couple of consecutive goals to Hume gave the Stars the lead but Metuarau was not about to be outdone by her fellow goal attack crafting a clever play to gift Fisher with a chance to level the scores at half-time.

Looking for a spark at half time Lisa Mather was injected into the game for Greer Sinclair in hope to stop the dynamic movement of Saunders in attack. But the third term started with a bang as Metuarau and Fisher quickly added to the scoreboard to establish a handy four goal lead. In fact it was not until the three minute mark that the Stars were able to hit the scoreboard as Hume landed a much needed settler. The early flurry of goals proved to be hard for the Stars to comeback from as the Steel continued to plug away. Wilson was virtually rendered ineffective only slotting one goal for the entire term as Hume did the heavy lifting out the front credit to the work of Fifita. Renee Savai’inaea was playing her role around circle edge employing some strong hands over pressure to limit any easy transition into the ring for the Stars as they went into the break down by two goals.

With the game and a finals berth on the line the Steel picked up where they left off piling on the first three goals of the game to create a five goal lead. Monica Falkner was injected into the thick of things and her presence was immediately felt as her and Hume managed three goals to reduce the margin back to three. Crampton upped the ante to give the Stars some hope while the Steel just relied on their strong connections to grind out the game. Harrison and Temu threw themselves at everything that came their way as another string of three goals from Hume cut the margin to one goal. But inaccuracy came back to bite the Stars as Hume was gifted two chances but could not make them sink as they went down by a goal.

It was another strong performance to post for Fisher as the goal shooter managed 33 goals from 34 attempts at 97 per cent. Metuarau was equally as impressive with her 13 goals at 77 per cent accuracy, while also amassing 14 goal assists. Saunders was dynamic racking up a team high 17 goal assists as Fifita proved to be a commanding presence down back with her three intercepts, three deflections and four gains. Wilson’s shooting woes continued only managing a mere 11 from 21 at 52 per cent but that did not stop Hume from leading the charge nailing 30 from 38 at 79 per cent. Falkner also made a handy cameo appearance with four from five. Crampton was crafty recording 22 goal assists but it was Harrison that kept her side in it with her five intercepts, four deflections and two gains.

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