Southern Steel beat Tactix in dominant start to ANZ Premiership season
Steel center Kate Heffernan controls the ball under pressure from Tactix against Kimiora Poi on Sunday.
The Southern Steel does not hesitate to fly under the radar.
Scratched again in pre-season, the southerners made an emphatic start to the ANZ Premiership, beating an error-plagued Mainland Tactix 71-54 in Sunday’s opener in Christchurch.
Given the lowest odds ($11) to win the title by the TAB, the Steel made a statement at the start of the season – showing that they will be very much in contention for the title.
It was a worrying opening performance from the Tactix, who could find things difficult in 2022 without Silver Ferns star defender Jane Watson, who will miss the season due to pregnancy.
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Few things went well for the Tactix, big runners-up beaten back-to-back, dropping 71 goals in 60 minutes and dishing out 29 turnovers.
There was a lot to like about the full display of steel with Shannon Saunders and Kate Heffernan shining in midfield and England’s excellent shot on goal George Fisher landing 47 from 50.
Mystics off-season rookie Savior Tui made a fine debut for Steel in goal attack, scoring 17 of 20, thriving for extended time on the pitch.
On defense, Kate Burley, another off-season acquisition from the Mystics, worked effectively with veteran Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit, forcing Tactix’s offense to make frequent mistakes.
The Tactix were sloppy to start the game, struggling with their connections across the pitch and turning the ball over eight times during the quarter.
Those errors were made by the Steel, who scored 19 goals in the first quarter alone, with Fisher and Tui making them pay.
Tactix coach Marianne Delaney-Hoshek went to her bench in the second quarter with Hannah Glen replacing Ellie Bird, who appeared to have knee issues, on the shooting side.
The Tactix played with more pace in the second term and began picking up the turnover ball, cutting the Steel lead to five at halftime (32-27).
That positive work was undone to start the second half with the Steel scoring five unanswered goals to open the third term, putting the Tactix down a 10-goal hole.
It got worse from there with Steel’s slick offensive connections taking them to 23 goals in the quarter and a 55-38 advantage three quarters from time.
Reinga Bloxham’s Steel refused to let go, even when she went to her bench in the final quarter as the misery continued for the Tactix.
Best on the court
standout english george fisher picked up where she left off last season, scoring 47 from 50 attempts, benefiting from precise ball feeders Shannon Saunders, Kate Heffernan and Savior Tui.
The big moment
After a poor first quarter, the Tactix fought their way into the game in the second term to trail by five at halftime. The Steel scored five unanswered goals to start the second half, taking their lead to 10 goals – which was the game.
Ranking of matches
6/10: The Steel didn’t look like a side playing their season opener, looking sharp both in attack and defense and punishing any mistakes made by the Tactix. The Steel are one of the few teams that haven’t had a positive Covid-19 case, using an Invercargill bubble, and they haven’t skipped a beat on the pitch. The Tactix, on the other hand, was well below its best.
The big picture
The Tactix could not have dreamed of a worse start to 2022 – driven off their turf by their southern rivals. They have a lot to cook up this week in practice ahead of a second-round matchup with the Stars next Sunday. The Steel have been clinical, never giving up, and have a juicy second-round matchup at Invercargill against defending champion Mystics, who should have Grace Nweke and Phoenix Karaka back in their roster.
Steel 71 (George Fisher: 47/50, Savior Tui: 17/20, Georgia Heffernan: 7/9) Tactics 54 (Ellie Bird: 32/36, Te Paea Selby-Rickit: 18/22, Hannah Glen: 4/7) 1Q: 19-13, excl. tax: 32-27, 3Q: 55-38.