Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Steel maintain unbeaten record

Jhaniele Fowler-Reid of the Steel. Photo / Getty
Jhaniele Fowler-Reid of the Steel. Photo / Getty

The Southern Steel may be the only unbeaten team left in the transtasman league this season but their record hasn't silenced all their critics.

The Steel extended their lead in the New Zealand conference out to 10 points today with a 66-60 win over the Northern Mystics in Dunedin - a game that marked coach Noeline Taurua's 100th ANZ Championship match. The result followed the NSW Swifts' upset win over the Queensland Firebirds in Sydney, leaving the Steel as the only team not to have a mark against them in the loss column this season.

The Steel's dominance has been built on a fairly obvious gameplan - patience, ball-retention and the reliable target of Jhaniele Fowler-Reid in the goal circle. With a 1.98m scoring machine at the back, the well-drilled side give little ball away on attack, and what crumbs they can pick up defensively they take full advantage of.

Their style couldn't differ more greatly to that of the Mystics, who like to inject flair and creativity into their play, but it is very often high risk, low reward.

Despite being dealt their second loss of the season to the Steel, Mystics captain Maria Tutaia offered a withering assessment of the Southern side's game plan in her ill-judged post-match comments.

"They're a vanilla team, they play quite boring netball - no disrespect to them, hey they won, so it works for them," said Tutaia.

"For us it was making sure we have the structures to combat them, but it's hard when they've got [Fowler-Reid] at the back."

As was the case in the round one meeting between the two sides, the Mystics enjoyed most of the early running, leaping out to a five-goal lead in the second spell before the Steel gradually wore them down.

The Mystics were once again forced to make more changes to their line-up than they would have hoped, with injury niggles in the camp restricting the workloads of some players. The constant chopping and changing did not help the Auckland side's consistency, with the disruptions in the midcourt having an impact on their attacking flow.

By halftime the Steel had clawed their way back to level pegging with the visitors, before taking a one-goal lead at the final turn.

A couple of early turnovers in the fourth quarter effectively sealed the Mystics fate, as the Steel seized the advantage and never allowed the visitors another look-in.

In today's earlier game, the Swifts brought the Firebirds' record winning streak to an end, handing the defending champions their first loss since the opening round of the 2015 season. An unexpected change-up to the shooting circle in the second half proved the catalyst for the Swifts win, with the smaller more mobile pairing of Stephanie Wood and Susan Pettitt helping open up the attack end and overturn a four-goal halftime deficit.

The 58-54 win saw the Swifts, who were beaten by 10 goals in their first meeting with the Firebirds in round five, move into the top spot in the Australian conference standings courtesy of a superior goal percentage.

- NZ Herald

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