Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball: Now Steel feel the heat of expectation

Unbeaten Southern team’s record finally convinces rivals they’re the real deal.
Southern Steel coach Noeline Taurua reacts to the last second win during the match between the Mystics and the Steel. Photo / Getty Images
Southern Steel coach Noeline Taurua reacts to the last second win during the match between the Mystics and the Steel. Photo / Getty Images

It has taken the Southern Steel all season to convince the rest of the competition they are the real deal.

Now they have finally earned the respect of their transtasman league rivals after completing an unbeaten run through the regular season, the Steel face a new challenge: dealing with the weight of expectation.

The Southern outfit's impressive record - the only blemishes being draws against the Mainland Tactix (round 2) and NSW Swifts (round 14) - affords them top billing heading into what will be the last ANZ Championship play-offs, meaning a home grand final awaits if can they keep winning.

In the nine seasons of the league New Zealand has never hosted the competition showpiece. The Steel are the country's last hope.

That's a lot of pressure riding on the young team that only two of whom - skipper Wendy Frew and defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit - have truly experienced the heat of the ANZ Championship play-offs.

Steel coach Noeline Taurua said her biggest focus heading into tomorrow's New Zealand conference final against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic is ensuring her side are mentally prepared for what lies ahead.

Taurua said it is about shifting the team's mindset to embrace that expectation rather than let it consume them.

"Instead of taking that pressure on and looking at it as a negative, we want to celebrate that we've got this far and actually secured a home conference final," said Taurua.

"But it's also planting the seed as to what's possible for this group. Consistently we have performed week-in, week-out and have got better. If we can continue to do that, we're in a good space."

The Steel have had the better of the Magic in previous encounters this season, but the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side have a history of pulling it off when it matters. At last year's New Zealand conference final they upstaged the Northern Mystics, who had set the pace all season.

A slip-up tomorrow would not be terminal to the Steel's title hopes at the semifinals next weekend, but it would mean giving up home advantage.

The New Zealand conference champion will host the runner-up in the Australian conference (the final will be played out on Monday night between the Queensland Firebirds and NSW Swifts) while the loser will have to travel across the Tasman to take on the top-ranked Aussie side.

"It's a huge learning for all of the girls. It's about us looking at things that are bigger than what is actually happening on the scoreboard - the performance we want to put out there, the behaviours, who we represent, ensuring we live to our values that we set ourselves at the beginning of the season," said Taurua.

"At this point in the competition, anybody can beat anybody, and that could happen [tomorrow]. But we want to make sure as much as we can we can control our own performance and quality of that, instead of getting caught up in the situation."

- NZ Herald

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