This weekend is the first of the ANZ Premiership Finals where Southern Steel and Mainland Tactix will battle for a Grand Final spot against Northern Mystics.
These three teams have shown week in and week out what grit, determination, accuracy and passion have to do with our game and how it brings in the sell-out crowds and international fans.
Straight to the Top the Northern Mystics
Starting from the bottom now we’re here doesn’t even begin to describe the Northern Mystics run at finals.
The Mystics are the only team to have not featured in a grand final since the conception of the ANZ Premiership or if you are Championship fan since 2011.
Despite this, they have had the strongest performance of the 2021 series and the team is full of dynamos and killer partnerships right through to the bench.
Grace Nweke’s confidence and accuracy is by far the best thing to come out of this season.
After a wobbly first game, Nweke has come into every game better and stronger with many defenders needing to double up on her just to stop the shot.
On average, she scores 53 goals a game making her one of the highest-scoring shooters in NZ history. To top it off she is only 19 and this is her second season playing netball professionally.
Nweke has an advantage over every other shooter though, she gets to train against up-and-coming goal defender Kate Burley, English captain Ama Agbeze and the mastermind that is Sulu Fitzpatrick.
This is a defensive dream team and throughout the season there have been moments where fans, commentators and players were like “how did they pull that off?”
From rejects, deflections and intercepts Burley and Fitzpatrick have done it all in fabulous fashion.
If we were to pick a favourite moment it is Burley’s defensive pressure on George Fisher in Round 2.
The stars of the show however are the Mystics amazing midcourt, Peta Toeava, Tayla Earle and Fa’amu Ioane.
Toeava is one of the most hardworking WA’s you ever did find, with the vision to look down the court and fire pinpoint passes to Nweke and the game sense to follow her WD right up to the transverse line and receive those cheeky intercepts.
Back her up with Earle who is one of the fittest C’s in the league and Ioane who puts the star power in that Wing Defence bib, oppositions have a very tough time getting through that centre third.
Young, Fun and Could Be Number 1: Southern Steel
Despite their regular appearance in grand finals, some people had counted the Southern Steel out this year after WA Gina Crampton moved to the Northern Stars.
But they proved contenders of this premiership from Day 1 where they gave the Mainland Tactix a good old fashion thrashing.
With many of their players not passing the age of 22, the Steel embodies the future of netball and it’s exciting to watch this team every time they step out on court.
One of those exciting partnerships is George Fisher and Tiana Metuarau, who if they are not in their national squads come the 2022 Comm Games there should be riots.
This duo had two weeks prior to the season to get to know each other due to limited visas and quarantine restrictions in NZ and they look like they are long-lost sisters.
Not only is the connection unreal but Fisher’s baseline drive, high cuts and splits are every shooter’s dream as she worked the circle effortlessly time and time against some of the best defenders in the world.
Fisher finished as the most accurate high scoring shooter with more than one game where she shot at 97% or above.
Metuarau’s move to the Steel was to get more court time after sitting behind Ekanasio for the last two seasons.
To prove herself to Silver Fern selectors that she is the real deal and prove herself she did.
Her finesse and Cat Latu style of playing meant that she was one of the top feeders in the league and that she also featured in the top 10 shooters backing herself in for those long swish shots.
Down the other end of the court, under the mentorship of Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, Taneisha Fifita shone brightly.
The 20-year-old defender showing her passion and drive for the sport in every game showing some likeness to an early Geva Mentor and Casey Kopua style of play.
Despite being sent off early on in the season, the GK has cleaned up her act and reads the game like a book.
Some of her best defensive pressure has been on Grace Nweke where she averages 6 deflections/intercepts over the three occasions.
In the midcourt, the Steel also has a cross-sport champion in Kate Heffernan who has a wicked shoulder pass and has successfully put herself in Silver Ferns contention after playing a defensive centre position all season.
Finally, the Steel are championed by Shannon Saunders who has taken her captaincy role very seriously this year and absolutely thrived at bringing a team together and giving them the strength and advice to play their game.
The Dark Horses: Mainland Tactix
After a shaky start to the season, the runners up to the 2020 season almost looked like they were running for the wooden spoon.
But throughout the second half of the season, the Mainland Tactix have overcome their challenges and shaken up the ladder finishing in third place.
The team is one of the only teams to stay pretty much the same with the only recruit being Goal Defence Karin Burger.
Together with Jane Watson, they have been having the defenders season of the year.
The duo has 133 deflections combined and Burger topped the leader board in intercepts with a total of 41.
As their connection has developed so has their game sense and as the two favourites to start in Silver Ferns defence this duo will be tough to beat.
Watson covers the circle ground so nicely and Burger can pick off passes throughout the court with what looks like little effort.
While it’s no easy feat to hunt the ball and put the pressure on the shooters, the duo wouldn’t look so successful without a strong and stunning midcourt.
The work of Kimiora Poi, Charlotte Elley, Samon Nathan and Erikana Pederson is outstanding.
Between Poi’s bolter type game and Elley’s tight defence, it is very hard for people to hit the circle edge and move the ball through the defensive third.
Not to mention the transition and impact both Nathan and Pederson have in playing that WA role.
In the shooting end, Ellie Bird has really started to craft her shot and finished the season as the second-highest goal scorer in the league.
She did have a shaky start similar to CBass where she lacked connection with her midcourt but since the return of Te Paea Selby-Rickit, she has found form and shouldered most of the shots.
What it comes down to?
The preliminary final will be between the Mainland Tactix and the Southern Steel, both teams are experienced finals contenders.
Both teams also have strong defensive and shooting duos with the midcourt to back them up, so this game should go down to the wire.
Statistically, the Steel have a better chance of winning after winning 11 of the last 15 games against the Tactix and have only recorded 3 losses against any team when they play at home in Invercargill.
Yet the Tactix will be out to prove they are finals material by winning their first elimination final ever.
After reviewing the match ups of these two teams, it will come down to the first quarter and who settles first as both teams have gone on to win the game if they won the first quarter.
So who will come up against the Mystics? Tune in this Sunday at 4.20pm NZT
Categories: ANZ Premiership