An epic decider is looming in the battle for South Island netball supremacy and Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel head coach Reinga Bloxham wouldn’t have it any other way.
On Monday night, the Steel faces off against The Good Oil Tactix for the third time this season and, with a win each to their credit, it’s a highly anticipated showdown.
Steel opened proceedings in round one with a dominant 54-36 victory while the Tactix reversed their fortunes in round six 60-50 after a bruising encounter where physicality and umpire involvement created a stir.
On reflection, Bloxham took a pragmatic approach.
“There are definitely things we could have done better ourselves in that last encounter. I don’t think we played our best game and we weren’t consistent enough,” she said.
“Going into this one we just need to make sure of our own game – we’ve got our structures, we’re feeling a lot more confident doing them, we’ve just got to be able to execute them right from the beginning to the game to the end.
“It’s really important that we control what we can do rather than worry about the umpires and how they are going to control the game.”
“Last time it was a tightly contested game. It was rough, it was tough and you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way to be fair because I think that’s what the contest is all about – teams absolutely leaving it all out there on court. As long as the intent in the game is that you’re always getting the ball, I think there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Steel had identified some areas of concern and Bloxham was satisfied with the progress made, particularly by formidable young defender Taneisha Fifita.
“Taneisha’s done really well, especially in the last couple of weeks, to try and step off the body to use her strength in the air because she’s amazing in the air. Sometimes she gets it right and then there are still moments where she gets it wrong but she is constantly trying to adapt and change to how the umpires are ruling it and I think that’s the only thing I can ask of her.”
“It’s beneficial to have a player of Te Huinga’s (Selby-Rickit) experience out in front of her as she can help direct that energy sometimes.”
Bloxham predicted the match-up between Fifita and Tactix shooter Ellie Bird would be exciting to watch.
“They always have a good game against each other and I’m really looking forward to that contest again because I think Ellie might have got the better of Taneisha on the last occasion and now T has definitely made some impressive ground.”
Steel’s one-goal nail-biter over the Splice Construction Magic in Dunedin last weekend finally enabled the southerners to chalk up back-to-back wins and Bloxham was eager to turn that into an undisputed roll.
“We knew that we were consistently inconsistent so we’re trying to build on that consistency throughout. Even in our game against the Magic, we came away with the win but we were still inconsistent at times. If we can focus on doing our job for the whole time, the rest of it will take care of itself,” she said.
With Monday’s game to be played in Nelson, the Steel was treating it as neutral ground – Steel captain Shannon Saunders grew up in nearby Motueka while Bloxham has strong family ties.
“Shannon has family there and I’ve got family there so it does feel a bit like neutral territory. I’m looking forward to it actually. I think it’s going to be a real ding-dong battle.”
Saunders was equally pumped to return to familiar turf.
“I’m quite excited – I’ve been waiting my whole ANZ Premiership career to get up there for an official game. It will be awesome,” she said.
“It’s kind of like a home game for us so I will get all the fans around the Steel and hopefully we’ll have a bit of support behind us.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to play the Tactix again because it wasn’t a flash performance last time so we’ve got lots to prove. We just need to put a full team performance out there.”