Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Southern Steel continue to dominate New Zealand conference

Te Paea Selby-Rickit (R) has flourished in a starting role with the Southern Steel. Photo / Getty
Te Paea Selby-Rickit (R) has flourished in a starting role with the Southern Steel. Photo / Getty

The Steel's unlikely dominance of the New Zealand conference continued today, as the Southern franchise extended their buffer over their domestic rivals with a commanding win over the Central Pulse.

The 67-54 victory maintained the Steel's unbeaten start to the season, and was by far their most comprehensive performance to date, as the team displayed a more ruthless edge once they got their noses in front. The Steel now hold a four-point lead in the New Zealand conference - a margin that will remain in place regardless of the outcome of tomorrow night's match between the Northern Mystics and Mainland Tactix in Christcurch.

Today's win over the injury-hit Pulse in Invercargill played out in a similar way to their previous outing against the Magic, with the Steel producing a rampant second half performance after holding a narrow lead at halftime.

Steel captain Wendy Frew joked her side just need a good "halftime shake-up" from Taurua to bring out their best.

"I thought overall we played a consistent 60 minutes, but there were a few pieces we needed to work on," the veteran midcourter said.

"We showed a lot of grit in that second half to push that goal differential out."

Since the arrival of Jamaican super shooter Jhaniele Fowler-Reid in the deep South three years ago, the Steel have had one of best scoring records in the competition. But they haven't held the same clout throughout the rest of the court.

The franchise's investment in youth - which was part strategic, part enforced through an inability to lure big name stars to the region - looks as if it is beginning to pay off, with the likes of Te Paea Selby-Rickit, Gina Crampton and Stacey Peeters now flourishing in their starting roles for the side.

A more recent recruit, Canterbury defender Jane Watson, is also proving a savvy pick-up. The 26-year-old led the way in defensive gains for her side yesterday with 10 - seven of which were intercepts as she kept impressive young shooter Maia Wilson, who was playing in just her fourth game at ANZ Championship level, reasonably quiet.

Selby Rickit, who was coming off a MVP performance in Rotorua last week, also impressed for the Steel, slotting 25 of her 28 shots at goal to help take some of the goal-scoring burden off Fowler-Ried.

In today's earlier match-up, the NSW Swifts swept back into top spot in the Australian Conference with a masterful 63-52 win over the West Coast Fever in Perth. After trailing by one goal at halftime, the Swifts, who were on the road for the first time this season, produced a dominant second half performance to notch up their fourth straight win in the double digits.

- NZ Herald

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