With momentum on their side but facing a tricky assignment, it’s an all-too familiar setting for Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse heading into their final match of the regular ANZ Premiership netball season.
Moving to the top of the table took the Pulse 11 rounds and 14 matches and to keep them on their toes, a dogged challenge from the Tactix in Wellington on Saturday awaits, the southerners in a perilous position and desperate to keep their season alive.
On the back of an eight-match winning streak, the Pulse have clambered back from a point of almost no return to pole position while becoming the first team to confirm their spot in the Finals Series.
In what has been an enthralling season of ever-changing scenarios and still with the remaining two Finals Series teams to be confirmed in this weekend’s final round, the Pulse are keen to keep all guns blazing.
``We know the Finals Series is just around the corner but our focus is on our one remaining game in the regular season and we want to get the win to put us in the best position to try and get straight to the Grand Final,’’ Pulse midcourter Maddy Gordon said.
With both teams coming off their most complete performances of the season in the latest round and featuring the two best defensive teams, it shapes as a riveting contest.
``Obviously we’re really hungry but they’re probably almost hungrier because it’s do-or-die for them and they have to pretty much win every game from here on in,’’ Gordon said.
``Getting to the position where we knew we had to win every game from that point onwards is hard for any team to do but in some ways, you could look at it as a blessing in disguise. The losses have helped us learn how to play under lots of pressure which has built some resilience and composure and now it feels like the team is getting better and better.’’
From pin-point delivery at the front end of the court to hunting gains on defence, the non-stop Gordon is never far from the action. She presents as a key cog in a potent attacking trio alongside wing attack Whitney Souness and goal attack Tiana Metuarau through their speed, vision and ball handling movement. With her game continuing to excel, Gordon, 23, couldn’t ask for better side-kicks.
``I feel like we’re getting better and better,’’ she said. ``People say we’ve played together for years but when I played wing attack Whitney wasn’t here and then when Whitney and Tiana were here, I was wing defence, so we’ve never really played down the attacking third together.
``It’s so fun. Whit and I provide the speed and Tiana is just so slick in there with her feeding and positioning. It’s going well and I’m really enjoying it.’’
There was plenty of satisfaction in toppling the Mystics last weekend but for Gordon, there’s more work to be done.
``After finishing that game, I thought it was one of the better games we’ve played but when I look back, we only won two of the quarters, so again, it wasn’t the complete performance that we would have liked but it did feel really good,’’ she said.
``And that was because everyone played so well and we hadn’t got to that stage previously where everybody has put their hand up and really, really played well, and that’s just exciting going forward knowing everyone’s ready to play.’’
The Pulse have enjoyed stellar support from their faithful this season and TSB Arena, on the Wellington waterfront, will once again, engage a full house for Saturday’s contest.
``It’s so cool knowing we’ve got the best crowd in the country, and lots of them, supporting us,’’ Gordon said.
``What they’ve done with the lighting and stuff this year just brings an extra vibe and the crowd really gets into it. We can certainly hear our eighth player out there, it’s been amazing.’’
With the Netball World Cup looming on the horizon and a host of top-notch midcourters to choose from, Silver Ferns selection does not weigh heavily with Gordon.
``I’ve got to a point in my thinking where it’s out of my control and I can’t do anything about it, so if I know I’ve played well, that’s all that really matters and that I have put my hand up,’’ she said.
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