April 18, 2021
Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse were left to rue a poor start after falling to a 57-53 loss against the Northern Stars in their opening match of the 2021 ANZ Premiership in Palmerston North on Sunday.
The result marked the Stars first ever win over the two-time champions with their new-look side leading from start to finish and showing patience to shake off a determined Pulse.
But the Pulse, without Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio and introducing a number of new combinations, showed they are not about to relinquish their title without a fight in pushing hard until the final whistle.
``Going down by eight in the first quarter obviously isn’t an ideal way to begin a game and it’s really hard to play catch-up netball from there,’’ Pulse captain Claire Kersten said.
``But we managed to keep chipping away and pull it back through the rest of the game, so we showed we had it in us but just couldn’t quite get there in the end. A few silly mistakes crept in as well which hopefully we’ll be able to tidy up fairly easily.
``There’s nothing quite like competition games and it was nice to finally get the season under way and hopefully we can keep building from here.’’
Bookended by strong performances from captain Maia Wilson in the shooting circle and former Silver Fern Anna Harrison on defence, the Stars held their nerve in a tense and physical final few minutes.
Wilson’s accuracy dipped under the intense pressure from the Pulse defence but her workload and movement in the circle was pivotal in a tight fourth spell, while Harrison never missed a beat despite playing her first ANZ Premiership game in two years.
Her long levers and timing put the Pulse shooting circle under all sorts of pressure as she finished with four deflections and two intercepts for a most valuable player performance.
With six new players in the Stars side and international experience across the court, much has been made about the chances of the Kiri Wills-coached side this year.
Wilson netted the first goal of the 2021 season and a 5-1 advantage in the early stages suggested a long night ahead for the hosts.
But, as for much of the match, the Pulse were hard to shake off and led admirably by captain Claire Kersten through the middle and the experience of Kelly Jury in defence.
The Stars showcased their speed of ball up front and opened up a challenging 20-12 lead in the opening quarter with new recruit Gina Crampton punching through to the circle edge and finding her shooters with ease.
Faced with closing a sizeable gap, the Pulse made the best possible start to the second stanza scoring off a turnover and quickly converting their own centre pass as they showed no signs of panic.
Hauling in a difficult intercept, new Pulse goalkeeper Kelera Nawai gave the hosts more reasons to cheer as her turnover was also converted and the lead cut to four.
The Pulse remained within striking distance and a flurry of goals near the end of the first half again closed the gap to 26-30 by halftime.
Harrison’s nuisance value lifted again in the third quarter as she disrupted Aliyah Dunn’s shooting radar and the Stars maintained a slender advantage, leading 45-39 with one spell to play.
New Pulse coach Gail Parata turned to her bench introducing the league’s youngest contracted player, Parris Mason, to replace Nawai late in the third quarter.
The 18-year-old did her best to get the better of Wilson as the Stars also made personnel changes with Monica Falkner coming on for Jamie Hume.
A run of three goals with just over five minutes in the game gave the Pulse faithful hope – Jury’s relentless pressure starting to take its toll on the Stars’ shooting accuracy.
But it was to be as close as the defending champions would get, claiming the bonus point at the final whistles in what was a tight season opener.
Aliyah Dunn 36/39 (92%)
Te Amo Amaru-Tibble 17/19 (90%)
Maia Wilson 44/50 (88%)
Jamie Hume 10/12 (83%)
Monica Falkner 3/4 (75%)
MVP: Anna Harrison (Stars)