Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Thunderbirds tasty test for red-hot Steel

Rebecca Bulley of the Thunderbirds walks off after losing the Minor Semi Final ANZ Championship. Photo / Getty Images
Rebecca Bulley of the Thunderbirds walks off after losing the Minor Semi Final ANZ Championship. Photo / Getty Images

In five rounds the Southern Steel have already amassed a tally greater than their 2015 ANZ Championship season total.

They've knocked over both last year's New Zealand conference finalists, and last week, Australian heavyweights the West Coast Fever. But for many, there is still one big challenge the Steel need to tick off before they can be declared the real deal: notch up a win across the Tasman.

For that reason, tomorrow's clash in Adelaide between the Thunderbirds and Steel looms as arguably the most intriguing match-up of a round which features all transtasman showdowns.

The Steel have set the pace in the New Zealand conference in the opening rounds, making an unbeaten start to the season. But if they can't knock over the Thunderbirds, who are winless this season and languish at the bottom of the Australian ladder, it will only be held up as further evidence of the superiority of Australian netball.

But after last week's 69-62 win over the Fever in Invercargill, the Steel should take the court tomorrow with full confidence they can do the job against the Thunderbirds.

With the exception of Jamaican import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, there is an absence of big names in the Steel franchise. But they are big on character.

Midcourter Gina Crampton, who is joined by several of her former New Zealand under-21 teammates at the Steel, believes with the core of the team having now been together for three seasons there is no excuse for not stepping up this season.

"There is just this feel in the team, you don't have to speak, we just connect really well," said Crampton.

"We've had a few years together now, we are starting to be more confident in the way we are playing."

Former Steel coach Janine Southby, who left her post down South late last year after being promoted to the Silver Ferns top job, is delighted to see the team finally deliver on their potential, even if the timing didn't quite work out for her.

She credits the team's improvement in the mental side of the game as being the key to their turnaround in results this season.

"I think it's fantastic to see them playing with confidence and applying the learnings we've had over the last couple of years. There's been some pretty tough times, but they have stuck together and they have got real confidence and belief in one another," said Southby.

Southby also believes the injection of fresh ideas from new coach Noeline Taurua, who she beat out for the Ferns role, has helped to keep the team on their toes.

The weekend of transtasman action opens today with the Northern Mystics facing a tough assignment in Brisbane against the defending champion Queensland Firebirds, while the Central Pulse have a similarly difficult task against the Swifts in Sydney tomorrow.

Monday night's action will feature a rare double-header in New Zealand, with the Tactix taking on the Melbourne Vixens in Christchurch, before the Magic host the Fever in Tauranga.

- NZ Herald

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