Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse have delivered their coach Yvette McCausland-Durie the 2020 ANZ Premiership crown in her last dance.
Defending champions the Pulse put on a punishing display to end an unprecedented season with a 43-31 Grand Final victory over the Tactix.
Although they led by 10 at halftime, the experienced Pulse had to pull out all the stops in the final quarter to keep out a fast-closing Tactix, who continued to show the astonishing resilience which has marked their difficult, but still rewarding, year.
Pulse captain Katrina Rore, leading by example in her 150th combined national league game, dedicated the victory to McCausland-Durie, who stepped down after 102 games and four Grand Finals.
It was a fitting reward and farewell for the coach who has done so much for the Pulse.
``This is huge for us. We have a very humble, amazing, passionate team and it’s all brought to you by Yvette McCausland-Durie,’’ Rore said. ``This is for her, absolutely. She’s been with us for four years, four Grand Finals and her second win. The woman is absolutely amazing and we’re really going to miss her.
``She’s a very special human, a very unemotional woman but for our team and myself personally, we owe a lot to her and are so grateful.
``There’s so much resilience in this team and I’m just very, very proud of our humble girls.’’
First-time finalists, the Tactix put on a gutsy fight-back in the third quarter, but it was hard to halt the Pulse’s speed and confidence through court.
With only family members of the teams allowed in the crowd at ILT Stadium Southland, under COVID-19 Level 2 restrictions, the game began with the Pulse breaking the Tactix’ first centre-pass – and they roared out to a 4-0 lead, proving just how hungry they were for the title.
Maddy Gordon showed no signs of the ankle injury that kept her out of the last encounter between these two sides, and snatched an early intercept.
The Tactix took almost four minutes to score – but a Kimiora Poi steal helped them to get back into the game.
The defensive pressure on the Tactix, especially on the centre pass and again into the circle, where the Pulse’s Gordon, Claire Kersten and Karin Burger were everywhere in the midcourt - forced the Mainlanders to look at different channels to move forward.
Although there was just one goal between them for much of the quarter, five unanswered goals by the Pulse leading up to the buzzer saw the defending champions lead 12-6 at the first break. The Tactix’ six goals made it their lowest opening quarter tally of the season.
The next spell started in the same manner - another intercept by Gordon made sure the Pulse added another three goals to the scoreboard before the Tactix could even reply.
Jane Watson and Temalisi Fakahokotau remained relentless on defence in the Tactix circle, but both Pulse shooters Aliyah Dunn and key playmaker Ameliaranne Ekenasio were in outstanding form, barely missing a shot (three to be exact) in the first half.
Pulse goalkeeper Kelly Jury showed why she is the competition’s leader for intercepts and got the better of Tactix goal shoot Ellie Bird. Although Te Paea Selby-Rickit didn’t get to put up many shots, when she did, and from long range, she was spot-on.
Up 23-13 at halftime, the Pulse made a change to their line-up bringing Tiana Metuarau on at wing attack for Gordon.
While both sides were guilty of some misdirected play to start the third quarter, the Tactix appeared more assertive and composed on attack, with Poi calling the shots, making important steals and patiently waiting for Bird to be available.
On defence, Watson, Fakahokotau and in particular, wing defence Charlotte Elley, made it harder for the Pulse shooters to get their hands on the ball.
The Tactix won the penultimate quarter by three, and at 31-24, were still within striking distance with 12 minutes of the season remaining.
With a fired-up assault right through court, the Tactix immediately closed to within five. Watson and Fakahokotau tried to rattle the Pulse’s shooters, but Dunn stood her ground, ending the match with 28 from 30 attempts.
Back on court, Gordon worked in synchronicity at high speed with Kersten, and with Rore leading by example, the Pulse accelerated away again to lead by 10 with two minutes to go – ensuring their hands would be back on the ANZ Premiership trophy.
Aliyah Dunn 28/30 (93%)
Ameliaranne Ekenasio 15/18 (83%)
Ellie Bird 19/23 (83%)
Te Paea Selby-Rickit 12/13 (92%)
MVP: Maddy Gordon (Pulse)