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Pulse sneak home with a close season-opening win

Centre Maddy Gordon was a key figure, both on attack and defensively, in the Pulse's narrow one-goal season-opening win. Photo: PhotoWellingto

Needing a gritty fourth quarter performance, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse opened their ANZ Premiership campaign with a thrilling one-goal victory over a never-say-die Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

Delivering in the big moments of the match, the Pulse held on for a thrilling 53-52 at Fly Palmy Arena in Palmerston North to maintain their dominance over the Magic.

``It’s always great to at least get the points,’’ Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie said afterwards. ``It wasn’t tidy, there were a number of things in terms of just game smarts that we weren’t so good at.

``Our attack line looked a little bit startled at times. They lost the running they normally have and that width and length but that’s okay, it’s relief more than anything.’’

There was special mention, from the coach, for shooter Amelia Walmsley, getting her first start at the elite level, and midcourt pocket rocket Maddy Gordon

``It’s huge for her (Walmsley), just having had that ability to run a game out and to see it to the end is huge, so I’m really proud of her. She showed some really good smarts and there’s still more to come from her.

``I thought Maddy’s service was outstanding to her today and she also really looked after our midcourt, upfront. She really had that attacking line running strong.’’ 

The ANZ Premiership’s most successful team in history has a target on their back but any concerns over how the defending champions would perform without prolific scorer Aliyah Dunn were somewhat allayed with Walmsley stepping up in what was just her 10th Premiership appearance.

The teenager earned an MVP performance having landed all but three of her 39 attempts at goal and teaming up well with goal attack Tiana Metuarau.

Having built a nine-goal lead early in the third spell it looked as if the Pulse were in the box seat for a 16th-straight win over the Magic, but the visitors, buoyed by the presence of Bailey Mes at goal attack and experience through the middle of Claire Kersten, switched gear to put themselves back in contention in a tense tussle in the dying minutes.

It took some dogged defence and special ball delivery from both Gordon and Whitney Souness on attack to set the Pulse up for the win.

There were no surprises in the Magic’s first line of the new season with the established front end of Mes and Ameliaranne Ekenasio in the shooting circle, and Simmon Wilbore and Kersten on attack.  New recruit Charlotte Elley took the wing defence bib with experienced defenders Georgia Takarangi and Erena Mikaere in the circle.

There was immediate pressure from the Pulse’s defensive unit of Kelly Jury, Kristiana Manu’a, Fa’amu Ioane and Gordon, forcing a turnover as the hosts settled quickly for a 2-0 start.

Souness showed early vision and was not afraid to send the long ball into Walmsley – the young shooter showing the confidence to demand the ball over Mikaere and landing all 10 of her first quarter attempts to help the Pulse to a 15-12 lead at the break.

Neither side made any changes heading into the second quarter, but it was the Pulse who made the stronger start to the spell, showcasing their lightning speed on transition from defence onto attack and Walmsley only building in confidence in the shooting circle as the hosts edged ahead by six.

It was Mes’ accuracy in the shooting circle that kept the Magic within touch but getting ball into the former Silver Ferns’ hands proving their biggest challenge.

The Magic were stagnant on attack at times with Gordon and Ioane providing a relentless defensive pressure outside of the circle for the Pulse while Manu’a kept Ekenasio relatively quiet.

In a bid to change the tempo on attack, Magic coach Mary-Jane Araroa injected Georgie Edgecombe into the wing attack bib for Wilbore.

At the other end of the court, Takarangi worked hard on defence, showing her aerial skill with six deflections in the first half but the Magic still trailed 25-30 at the main break. 

McCausland-Durie made one change for the third quarter with Ainsleyana Pulieata replacing Ioane on the wing while Araroa made a switch in their shooting circle with Mes moving out to goal attack and Ekenasio to shooter.

With a nine-goal advantage, the Pulse threatened to put the result beyond doubt in the third quarter, but the Magic responded to the challenge ahead forcing the hosts into errors and cutting the lead to 42-38 heading into the final term.

Shooting stats

Tiana Metuarau 17/18 (94.4%)
Amelia Walmsley 36/39 (92.3%)

Ameliaranne Ekenasio 27/31 (87.1%)
Bailey Mes 25/30 (83.3%)

MVP: Amelia Walmsley (Pulse)