Swifts 55 Steel 38
SYDNEY - The Southern Steel reluctantly contributed to transtasman netball history last night, becoming a rampant NSW Swift's latest victim of a unique unbeaten run through the regular season.
The Swifts upped the ante with ease when necessary at Olympic Park, and cruised to a 55-38 victory which anointed last year's also-rans as the only franchise to claim a perfect 13 wins from 13 games since the inaugural competition in 2008.
They won the first ANZ Championship and are heavily favoured to do so again after easily beating the Steel - the fourth and final qualifier for the play-offs.
The Swifts dealt to the Adelaide Thunderbirds - their opponent in Sunday's all-Australian semifinal - 60-44 in round eight. More recently the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic succumbed 60-43.
The Steel also came up 17 goals short as coach Robyn Broughton's side had no answer to the Sydneysiders' pressing midcourt and a defensive circle marshalled by England international Sonia Mkoloma and Rebecca Bulley, who was named the competition's player of the year after the final whistle.
An unanswered six-goal spurt either side of halftime trimmed the deficit to three at the start of the third quarter, the closest the Steel would come to a combination expert at exploiting turnover ball - even if Catherine Cox and Susan Pratley were not as accurate as their Steel counterparts Daneka Wipiiti, Megan Dehn and Julianna Naoupu, who made a final quarter cameo at goal shoot.
Broughton realised the signs were ominous as soon as lax ball security gifted the Swifts an early 6-1 buffer.
"We threw six passes away in the first five minutes, you're always going to play catch up then," she said.
"It was us doing it to ourselves and they got their tails up. In an elite team situation you can't do that."
Broughton was pleased the team rallied midway through the second quarter but again turnover ball handed over momentum.
The loss ended the Steel's four-match winning streak - a run that included only one Australian opponent, the Melbourne Vixens.
Broughton said adapting to the Australian style and officiating was a constant challenge.
"It's quite different when New Zealand teams are playing," she said, adding she was surprised wing attack Liana Barrett-Chase was so heavily penalised.
On a positive note Wipiiti (19/24) was effective, especially from long range, though goal attack Dehn (13/14) was given little leeway by Bulley and Mkoloma.
"Daneka's shooting was right up there with the best of them which is a good sign for next week.
"It wasn't Megan's best game, I wondered if it was because she was playing against her own," Broughton said of her captain, a former Australian international.
The Steel head home to prepare for Monday's sudden death semifinal with the Magic, a team they beat 52-47 in round 10.
The Thunderbirds are next side tasked with plotting how to knock the Swifts out of kilter.
Ironically, competition wooden spooner the Canterbury Tactix came closest to shading the title favourites. In round three the Swifts needed extra time to pip the strugglers 56-53.