Netball: Fairytale end to final chapter of league

By Suzanne McFadden

In the official book of the national netball league history, they left the final page blank. Last night's grand finale filled the page with a cliffhanger ending - a one-goal victory that gave everlasting glory to the Southern Sting.

Legends are made of games like this, and with seven victories from 10 seasons, the Southern Sting will go down in history as the most successful and dominant team in the National Bank Cup. It also gave their coach Robyn Broughton a fitting end to her 100th game.

For the Force, victory will always be elusive, even after throwing everything into a game that was only won in the last seconds.

At the final whistle, Sting centre Liana Barrett-Chase leapt into shooter Daneka Wipiiti's arms, and goal keep Megan Hutton burst into tears.

In typical no-nonsense fashion, Sting stalwart Donna Wilkins said: "I predicted us to win by eight. But one will do.

"We deserved it. We've been the in-form team this season. To be honest with you, I'm quite pleased it's all over."

Force coach Yvonne Willering was clearly in pain. "It really hurts. We had it, but the Sting had that element of luck - the ball just seemed to bounce their way."

As you'd expect from a grand finale, it was fast, furious and goal for goal from the outset. Wilkins took a dominant role in and out of the Sting shooting circle early. One of the greats of NBC history, Wilkins threw herself at every intercept, appealed every umpire call. "I'm pulling my hair out here," she mouthed.

Force goal keep Vilimaina Davu was sluggish to start, despite the encouragement of Force followers wearing masks of her mug. Defence partner Leana du Bruin worked exhaustively on Wilkins, but Wipiiti made the most of her speed and extra space she was allowed.

The Force wasted a few valuable opportunities in their shooting circle, and found themselves trailing 16-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Force shooters Catherine Latu and Megan Dehn shot exquisitely, yet Latu - who never missed a shot all night - was unsure under the post, too often passing back out of the circle, costing the Force precious possession.

The Sting's midcourt defence, in particular wing defence Erika Burgess, made no mistake snaffling loose ball and Wipiiti and Wilkins converted it into an eight-goal lead.

As they have done many times this season, the Force relied on their tenacious captain Temepara George to rally them back into contention. Her sneaky intercepts and drive pulled the Force to within four at halftime.

The Sting's lead never looked safe, as George and wing defence Sheryl Scanlan went for broke and closed the gap to three, 38-35, with 15 minutes remaining.

With the whistle to start the last quarter, George stamped her intention that the Force weren't going to lose scooping up an intercept to put the Force within one.

Just as the giant in Davu awoke, Willering whipped her off and replaced her with former New Zealand squad member Lorna Suafoa, who has barely made an appearance this season. Suafoa brought new vigour and mobility into the circle defence and got under Wilkins' skin.

Four minutes left on the clock, and the Force took the lead for the first time. But when Dehn threw the ball out of the circle and into Barrett-Chase's hands, the Sting muscled the ball back down court and took control.

If there was any consolation for the Force, it was George's crowning as the outstanding player of the season.

Sting 50
Force 49

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