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Second half surge helps Pulse post third straight win

Pulse co-captain Kelly Jackson was a key figure in disrupting the Steel's shooting options. Photo: PhotoWellington

Absorbing the early pressure, Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse have maintained their clean sheet in the opening stages of the ANZ Premiership to record a third straight win. 

Only a late injury to midcourter Maddy Gordon marred their performance at TSB Arena in Wellington, on Sunday, as they netted a 54-46 win over the Southern Steel. 

Gordon was assisted from the court in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury which upset some of the team’s flow up front, but the hard work done late in the third quarter – at both ends of the court – set the Pulse up for victory. 

It was again an improved performance from the Steel however and, despite still searching for their first win of the season, they will take the positives from another step up in play – the shooting combination of Grace Namana and Georgia Heffernan causing plenty of early problems for the fancied Pulse duo of Kelly Jackson and Parris Mason. 

They also got 45 minutes of court time from midcourter Shannon Saunders and a full game from Kate Heffernan, two of their most experienced players who are returning from injury. 

``In the last couple of games our team’s defence has really stood up for us and it was great to see in the second quarter today that our possession to score rate lifted after all the changes we’ve had down the shooting end, so I was really pleased about that,’’ Pulse coach Anna-Andrews-Tasola said.

``And just the team’s grit and determination to finish off that game and find a way to win, was very pleasing.’’

It was the Pulse who set the defensive tone from the outset, pushing the Steel wide and forcing their shooters to put the ball up from range. 

But Steel’s patience, the backbone of the club’s netball history, came to the fore as they waited for space to open up, levelling the scores early on. 

Navigating the long reach of Jackson was going to be one of the Steel’s biggest asks of the day, the Pulse defender an imposing figure in the circle. 

The shooter-to-shooter play between Georgia Heffernan and Namana did enough to work the ball closer to the post as the Steel went on a four-goal run to lead by three goals. 

Opening up space on attack, the experience of Saunders and Kate Heffernan helped thread the ball in past the hands of Jackson and Mason. 

In contrast, the Pulse looked for the quick feed into Amelia Walmsley with the height advantage over Taneisha Fifita. 

But errors crept into their attack as the Steel maintained their defensive pressure and the 14-11 scoreline in their favour at the break marked the first quarter the southerners have won this season. 

Play resumed with a shuffle in the Pulse shooting circle with Walmsley moving out to goal attack and Khiarna Williams picking up the shooter bib. 

It made an immediate impact for the hosts, but the Pulse continued to struggle to shut down the play of Namana and Georgia Heffernan. 

A footwork call on Namana gave the Pulse the opportunity to close the gap to just one goal mid-way through the spell. 

Andrews-Tasola went to her bench with five minutes left in the half injecting goal defence Kelea Iongi into the game. 

The patience and deception of Saunders’ feed into the attacking circle continued to confuse the Pulse’s defensive efforts however as the southerners clung to a 27-25 lead at halftime. 

Having had the better of their opponents in the first half, the big question was whether the Steel, looking to break a 20-game losing streak, could run out the game, knowing two of their most experienced players were on managed minutes. 

Steel defender Abby Lawson (nee Erwood) came off the bench to start the third quarter as their front line remained the same. 

Levelling the scores, the Pulse lifted in intensity with their through-court defence while Mason, who returned to play, went low for turnovers around the Steel shooters. 

It sparked a change in momentum as the hosts turned the tables to go up by three with eight minutes to play. 

With both teams desperate to get on top, the physicality also lifted and a warning to Fifita forced a change to the Steel defensive line as the Pulse went on a five-goal run to extend their lead to 42-35 heading into the last turn.   

Shooting stats

Amelia Walmsley 44/51 (86%)
Khiarna Williams 9/12 (75%)
Kiana Pelasio 1/1 (100%)

Grace Namana 27/35 (77%)
Georgia Heffernan 19/25 (76%)

ANZ Player of the Match: Georgia Heffernan