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Pulse ready to dig deep

Two hard-fought matches and two narrow losses in last weekend's tough double-header have left Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse on the back foot after the fifth round of the ANZ Premiership.

But coach Yvette McCausland-Durie is confident last year's defending champions are nevertheless on the right track as they prepare for Saturday's game against the second-placed Northern Stars at Pulman Arena in Auckland.

The Pulse were edged 48-47 by Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua on Saturday, then faded in the last quarter of Sunday's match against the competition-leading Northern Mystics to a 56-51 loss at the same venue.

But while McCausland-Durie acknowledges the results are disappointing, she's upbeat about the progress her team is showing.

"We had our opportunities in both matches to close them out, but I was pleased with the small learnings that happened between game one and game two," she says.

"I think defensively we were a lot more effective as a unit, and the ball speed on attack worked really well. Unfortunately, we were out-shot in both matches, and the challenge is there to improve that."

Both matches, not surprisingly, featured outstanding shooting. Against the Magic, the Pulse were up against Silver Ferns captain - and former teammate - Ameliaranne Ekenasio and the vastly experienced Bailey Mes, the duo missing just four of their 52 shots on goal.

And posting up for the Mystics on Sunday was impressive Silver Ferns shooter Grace Nweke, who sunk 46 from 49, with a re-energised Monica Falkner (10/11) supporting her at goal attack.

The Pulse have a hugely promising talent in 19-year-old shooter Amelia Walmsley, whose combination with goal attack Tiana Metuarau, 22, is progressing in leaps and bounds, while Malawi international Joyce Mvula provides impact off the bench.

McCausland-Durie says the team's goal this weekend against the Stars will centre on supporting their shooters to deliver their best.

"Our focus this week is about getting that clarity around the feeds, so we're looking in earlier," she says. 

"The intent is to get more ball, to take the pressure off that shooting end, and ultimately get into a shooting position so we're unstressed and able to convert consistently."

Walmsley faces a big challenge in stepping up to ANZ Premiership netball, but she's tackling the steep learning curve with determination, McCausland-Durie says.

"She's learning on the job, and learning rapidly - every experience is one you grow from, and she's learning fast. 

"It's that intensity that is high performance: every game, every ball, every movement matters."

It will take a full-team effort to support the young shooter as she finds her feet, and that will have to be across the board.

"It's that whole concept - everybody's an attacker, and everybody's a defender, and we have to contribute to that all the time to take the pressure off."

McCausland-Durie can see that drive for improvement across the board in her players, but says they know they're going to have to lift further if they want to upset the Stars, who won 59-51 when the two teams met in round three.

"There's been a good step up, but we've got to keep getting better."