Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is a NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Steel fall to slick Swifts

The Swifts defence did a good job of cutting down the quick-release high balls into Jhaniele Fowler-Reid. Photo / Getty
The Swifts defence did a good job of cutting down the quick-release high balls into Jhaniele Fowler-Reid. Photo / Getty

NSW Swifts 65
Southern Steel 52

It is time to officially rule a line through the Steel's transtasman league play-off hopes after the southern side were out-muscled and out-thought by the NSW Swifts in Canberra today.

A horror start set the tone for what would be a tough afternoon for the Steel, who were never able to find their rhythm on attack, or make much of impact defensively against the slick Swifts unit.

Having clearly done their homework on the visitors' attacking patterns, the Swifts defence did a good job of isolating the Steel midcourters, and getting strong hands-over pressure to cut down the quick-release high balls into Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.

Unable to make the most of their key attacking weapon, the Steel slumped to a 65-52 loss to the third-placed Swifts, ending their faint hopes of a top four spot.

After a breakthrough win over their Thunderbirds on their last trip across the Tasman - their first win on Australian soil in 17 attempts - the Steel took a lot of confidence into the match.

But a four-day turnaround in between Monday night's win over the Tactix and the special Anzac Day clash appeared to sap some on the Steel's energy. Their captain Jodi Brown admitted there were things her side could have done better to cope with the challenging schedule.

"I think we have to go back and have a look at it, but we can't use it as an excuse. We had known about [the tight turnaround] for a long time, so it was something we had prepared for, but probably not as well as we could have. But you have to give the Swifts a lot of credit - they played extremely well today," said Brown.

Struggling to even penetrate their attacking third early on, the Steel found themselves 14-2 down mid-way through the opening quarter, with the gap between their second and third goals extending a painful six minutes.

The visitors managed to recover somewhat towards the end of the period, but trailing 20-10 at the first break, they were left with an awful lot to do of the remaining three quarters.

They managed to hang in there for most of the second spell, as they notably upped their defensive intensity to force the Swifts to work a bit harder bringing the ball through the court, slowing their service into shooter Caitlin Thwaites, who was in dominant form at the back, shooting 32 from 35 in her three quarters.

But a couple of errors from the Steel late in the spell - on both occasions a result of poor ball placement - allowed the NSW side to stretch out their lead to 13 heading into the second half.

The Swifts execution fell away slightly in the third period in the free and fast-flowing match, but the home side continued to dominate on the scoreboard as a defensive change saw the Swifts come up with more turnover ball themselves.

Leading 54-36 at the final turn, the Swifts took the opportunity to inject some youth off the bench, with shooter Gretel Tippett and midcouters Brooke Miller and Madeline Hay all getting a run.

With the game having already slipped through their grasp, the Steel also turned to their bench to give some of their youngsters the chance to try and prove themselves on the big stage and restore some pride for the team. They responded by winning the final quarter 16-11.

The other big transtasman clashes of the weekend will see the Central Pulse take on the table-topping Melbourne Vixens in Wellington tomorrow, while the Magic will meet the battling Adelaide Thunderbirds in Rotorua on Sunday.

- NZ Herald

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