Wendy Frew couldn’t have scripted a better fairytale ending.
The Southern Steel pulled off a huge fourth quarter fightback to stun the Central Pulse 54-53 in the national netball premiership grand final in Palmerston North on Sunday.
It was a stunning comeback from the Steel, who scored the final seven goals of the game to outscore the Pulse 16-11 in the last term.
The Steel were desperate to defend their silverware from last season and give skipper Frew a memorable farewell in the 176th and final game of her 16-year elite career.
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*Steel must bring defensive intensity to upset Pulse in grand final
*Southern Steel rookie Courtney Elliott’s rapid rise to grand final
*Katrina Grant leading the Pulse ‘brilliantly’ as shot at historic title looms
The Steel looked dead and buried, down 23-12 early in the second quarter, but gradually clawed their way back into the contest.
Midcourter Gina Crampton continued her fine season for the Steel with a stellar performance in the final.
She was responsible for a crucial play late in the fourth quarter, keeping the ball in as it looked set to sail over the baseline. Crampton saved possession and flicked it into Jen O’Connell, who converted.
This final loss will sting for the Pulse, who were the standout team throughout the season, winning 12 of 15 games and topping the table.
On May 30, they thrashed the Steel by 31 goals (71-40) in Porirua. The Steel bounced back to win the final round contest between the sides in Invercargill on July 2, giving them confidence for the decider.
Pulse goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio had a chance to level the score at the death and send the match into extra time, but her attempt rattled out.
There was no love lost in the final quarter with Ekenasio and Claire Kersten both hitting the floor hard after strong physical contests for the ball.
There’s no quit in the Steel side and they gradually dug their way back into the contest, reducing the Pulse lead to three (41-38) in the final seconds of the third term.
The final quarter was a see-saw affair with the Steel replying every time the Pulse built a mini buffer and looked to be pushing away.
Frew’s commitment was evident until the end toppling over the advertising hoardings during the third quarter after a contest with Pulse midcourter Whitney Souness for the ball.
There were danger signs early in the second quarter with the Pulse’s lead growing to double digits at 20-10 after five straight goals to begin the term.
The Steel are a resilient side and were never going to go away. They finished the first half with a flourish, cutting the Pulse advantage to 28-24 with two minutes left.
After a quiet start, they were able to gobble up greater defensive turnovers through court. With Silver Fern Te Paea Selby-Rickit picking up the slack in the attacking end, the goals were flying through the net for the southerners.
They headed to halftime much happier, cutting the Pulse deficit to six goals at the main break (30-24), courtesy of a much improved second quarter.
The Pulse took a deserved 16-10 advantage into the first quarter break with shooters Aliyah Dunn and Ekenasio sharing the workload.
The duo functioned effectively, capitalising on their height advantage against Steel circle defenders Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Courtney Elliott, both sinking eight goals in the first term.
Kersten was industrious early for the Pulse, picking up several turnovers with her swarming defence. She also did a strong job bringing the ball through the court safely and finding her attackers with sharp feeds.
The Steel weren’t helped by nine first quarter turnovers with wing defence Karin Burger causing problems in the back third of the court.
AT A GLANCE:
Steel 54 (Jen O’Connell: 40/44, Te Paea Selby-Rickit: 14/18) Pulse 53 (Aliyah Dunn: 32/35, Ameliaranne Ekenasio: 17/25, Tiana Metuarau: 4/4) Quarter scores: 1Q: 10-16, HT: 24-30, 3Q: 38-42.