Photo/Supplied (Michael Bradley Photography)
The Pulse were given a serious workout before grinding out a tight 40-37 win over the Southern Steel at the Auckland Netball Centre last night.
It was only last Saturday that the Pulse defeated the Steel 47-40 and the rematch yesterday did not resemble a top-of-the-table versus bottom-of-the-table clash.
Despite their lowly position on the table, the Steel got what they wanted last night which was an improvement, earning a bonus point in the process for finishing within five but ultimately had enough possession to win the match. A lack of accuracy under the hoop proved costly.
The Pulse kept their unbeaten record intact but were put under the pump on attack where the Steel defenders ensured they did not play with their usual efficiency and effectiveness.
With the Pulse leading by just two in the closing minutes, the Steel had three chances to create an upset, twice being foiled by Pulse custodian and MVP Kelly Jury and the third when Steel shooter Jennifer O'Connell fell awkwardly in the shooting circle and the ball dribbled out of court.
Unfortunately, the injured O'Connell had to be stretchered off and with 55 seconds left on the clock time had run out for the Steel.
Both teams stuck with their familiar starting line-ups of recent weeks, the Steel, however, without the services of Georgia Heffernan. The shooter has provided valuable impetus off the bench throughout the campaign but has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious knee injury.
Looking more like the Steel of old, the southerners poked their noses in front through the opening exchanges. The Pulse exerted plenty of pressure through the midcourt but the patience of the Steel paid off in getting good ball through to shooters O'Connell and Trinidad and Tobago import Kalifa McCollin.
Centre Shannon Saunders also helped the Steel win more turnover ball but they could not fully capitalise on the extra opportunities. The Pulse were never far off the pace, surviving off less ball as Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio delivered a perfect shooting return when the Steel took a 12-11 lead into the first break.
The game reverted to a more defensive arm wrestle on the resumption with Steel's in-circle defenders Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and Taneisha Fifita keeping the Pulse shooters honest. It was a similar story at the other end, the long reach of Jury rattling O'Connell in particular.
That counted on the scoreboard as the Pulse pounced on any missed shots from their opponents to regain the lead for the first time in the quarter.
Saunders and Gina Crampton continued to push plenty of ball into O'Connell's hands while centre Claire Kersten was her usual industrious self in linking the Pulse's attacking and defensive ends.
On the back of greater shooting accuracy, it was the Pulse who turned the tables when taking a 22-20 lead into the main break.
With no changes to either side for the third quarter, it was a goal-for-goal restart. Staunch Steel defence denied the Pulse their usual free-flowing style as the defending champions did their best to crank up the tempo.
It produced uncharacteristic errors from the Pulse but the Steel were not immune to being error-prone themselves. Jury continued to make an impact, creating indecision from her opposing shooters and extra opportunities for the Pulse who obliged by edging out to a 33-29 lead at the last turn.
The Pulse will next play the Northern Stars today in Auckland.
Official Result and Stats:
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse: 40
Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel: 37
Shooting Stats - Pulse:
Aliyah Dunn 23/25 (92%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 17/20 (85%)
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Jennifer O'Connell 25/34 (74%)
Kalifa McCollin 12/17 (71%)
MVP: Kelly Jury (Pulse)