Netball Expert & Columnist
Tamsin Greenway looks at ANZ Premiership front-runners and the Steel's development
Coverage of Round Five continues on Saturday at 6am, live on Sky Sports Mix, with the Steel taking on the Stars
Last Updated: 10/07/20 10:30am
Tamsin Greenway analyses Round Four of the ANZ Premiership and takes a look at the development of the Steel, the competition's first drawn fixture and elements that exposed both the Pulse and Mystics.
Let's start with the final match of Round Four, between the Magic and the Stars. I have to say that when I looked at the fixtures, I didn't think that I'd be talking about this one as my match of the round. However, what a game it turned out to be!
Since the season has restarted in New Zealand, these two franchises haven't quite grabbed me as much as some of the other teams.
The Stars, I feel are still trying to get their connections sorted, and at times they look completely out of sorts. There are loose passes and real unforced errors that can be frustrating to watch, especially when you have the quality of a goal shooter like Maia Wilson in the circle.
The Magic have individual players that I really like, I rate the powerful Whitney Souness and love the work of Holly Fowler but for me, other players can go missing in periods during matches and at this level that just can't happen.
ANZ Premiership Fixtures & Results - Round Five [All live on Sky Sports]
|Friday, July 10||Pulse 40-37 Steel||8am (BST)|
|Saturday, July 11||Steel vs Stars||6am (BST)|
|Sunday, July 12||Stars vs Magic||6am (BST)|
|Sunday, July 12||Tactic vs Mystics||8am (BST)|
|Monday, July 13||Tactix vs Magic||8am (BST)|
However, when it came to the match on Monday, it was incredible to watch. The way that they faced-off against each other; I loved the swings on the scoreboard, the matchups and then the intensity of the final quarter and how frantic the last few minutes were.
It was a match that showed us all just how netball has grown over the years and the ANZ Premiership, as a whole, is highlighting this too. Now, matches aren't over until the final whistle and more than ever big key moments can claw teams back into contests, exactly as the Magic showed.
After winning the first quarter, they lost the second by five goals and the third by seven goals, but as a group, the Magic just didn't give up.
Instead they kept fighting and Sam Winders' intercept at the end (a true captain's intercept) showed what perseverance and the right mindset can do. Seeing the Magic fight for the result was such a good lesson to all teams and players to never look at a four or five-goal deficit and think, that's it, the game is over.
Next, let's talk about the Steel because I've been really impressed with how they've grown as a team in such a short space of time. They've been so successful for so long but have clearly had to rebuild in lots of different areas this year, including in their shooting circle.
Kalifa McCollin is someone who I looked at signing when she was over in the Vitality Netball Superleague and I think it's great for her to now be playing in New Zealand.
Already this season, Jennifer O'Connell has been on a big journey in terms of her confidence and presence on court. I remember watching how nervous she was back in Round Two and against the Pulse, she looked so much more comfortable under the post.
O'Connell is one of a number of young shooters in the league and they're all trying to make names for themselves against vastly more experienced defenders including the likes of Katrina Rore, Jane Watson and Phoenix Karaka.
I remember playing my first Superleague game and it was against the England captain at the time, Amanda Newton. On that day, she ate me alive and you have to remember that the journey for a young shooter is very different to the journey for a young defender.
I've been impressed with how O'Connell has kept demanding ball and that the Steel have had the faith to keep her out there and give her the chance to keep on playing.
McCollin is also coming into her own, she showed that by how busy she kept Rore at the weekend, and with Gina Crampton and Shannon Saunders happy to look in and release the feeds into O'Connell shows the confidence is building.
From Steel, a team building, to the two front-runners who in Round Four got a small taste of pressure and exposure, so, let's talk about Pulse and Mystics.
I think that many people were surprised with how the Steel took it to the Pulse, and even how Magic did in the first quarter of their match on Sunday. The Pulse are a quality outfit, but Round Four did show that they are beatable and that there are a couple of areas that other teams will begin to focus on.
First, in their defensive end Kelly Jury can be exposed at times when the players in front of her aren't doing the right kind of work. She's a great player, but relies on the unit.
When Claire Kersten, Karin Burger and Rore keep players up the court, Jury is fine. Where she struggles is when she gets isolated on the edge one on one because she's not got the speed off the body, the instant elevation to win the ball or the natural switch.
So both teams handling pressure very differently in the last as Pulse finish strongly 47-40. but they were tested and weaknesses highlighted. Metuarau making an impact once again. She demands ball, she looks in fearlessly and allows Ekenasio freedom. Great game @SkyNetball— Tamsin Greenway (@tamsingreenway) July 4, 2020
The Pulse's opponents are going to want to look at that and see how they can expose her while Yvette McCausland-Durie will need to impress on Kersten, Burger and Rore the importance of their work to try and counter against it.
The other element that the Pulse need to keep an eye on is the combination between Aliyah Dunn and Ameliaranne Ekenasio. This combination can be absolutely lethal, but it's still developing.
When the Steel took Dunn out of the game it was interesting to see just how much work Ekenasio had to do. With Maddy Gordon being a young WA, she's not taking the bulk of the load yet. She's got all of the attributes; she's speedy and tenacious, she hits and drives, cuts and goes, but at the moment she doesn't lead that end.
This means that Ekenasio has to come out and do more work in the goal third, leaving Dunn isolated in the circle.
Two-on-one, Dunn isn't not tall enough to take those defenders out of the game, so the contest with the Steel did highlight concern in that circle. Now, I'm intrigued to see if teams can expose these elements more or if the Pulse fix it themselves and develop it further.
When it comes to the Mystics, it was their inexperience which left them exposed. Watching them play with such flair is absolutely amazing and you don't ever want to suppress that or stop them doing it, but they do need to learn to control it.
At the moment, when nothing else is on they've got the long 'hit and hope' style pass into Grace Nweke. The problem is that it just won't cut the mustard when you're going goal for goal with a team in the final minutes of a Grand Final, they have to learn to have a Plan B.
As a coach, this is a really difficult one to get right because you never want to stop young players playing with flair at this stage in their career, however they have to learn to pick their moments and know when they need to play another ball.
If the Mystics want to be true Grand Final contenders then they don't want to have to rely on players all having to have the perfect game in that match, they want their players to feel comfortable and understand when to keep possession and when to play.
Finally, I'm really starting to enjoy seeing how teams are matching up against each other.
We've spoken about this before when it comes to Superleague franchises matching up well (or not) against another and you're starting to see this in the ANZ Premiership too.
The Mystics and the Tactix almost cancel each other out defensively because they know how each other plays the zone. The art, when it comes to two sides matching up against each other like this, is finding out who or what the key element will be that makes a difference.
Teams always have to continue to evolve, it might be a positional change or a tweaking what you do on a setup. For example, the first phase or second phase of a centre pass, as a group of players you have to constantly adapt.
With five matches coming every weekend, the squads and tactics will be crucial; players who can make a considerable impact off the bench and create a different picture, and teams who can recover quickly and switch on to a new plan, will be vital.