It is often asked how strong the table-topping Southern Steel would be without their star import Jhaniele Fowler-Reid.

Today's ANZ Premiership clash against the struggling Tactix provided the answer - and it wasn't flattering.

The Steel had to call on Fowler-Reid, who was rested for the middle two quarters, to save the day in the final spell as the league cellar-dwellers closed to within one-goal by the end of the third quarter.

The return of the Jamaican supershooter saw the Steel ease out to a 61-55 win, denying the Tactix a deserved bonus point.

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The result ensures the Steel continued their unbeaten run, but would have provided critics who argue the Steel are a one-woman side with further ammunition, with the Tactix winning the middle two quarters when Fowler-Reid was off the court.

Looking to give some of their younger brigade more court time, the Steel took the opportunity to inject goal attack Jamie Hume and goal defence Abby Erwood into the starting line-up for the first time this season.

While still having the safety net of Fowler-Reid, 21-year-old Hume did not look out of place, effectively setting up the circle movement and shooting with accuracy.

Both teams contributed to an open and entertaining spectacle early on, the Tactix showing great patience in getting the ball into Brooke Leaver and Anna Thompson as the pair ensured the visitors held their own.

A clutch of mistimed passes from the Tactix proved crucial, the Steel pouncing and punishing while building a handy 21-14 lead at the first break, Fowler-Reid sinking a perfect 16 goals from 16 attempts.

One tall goal shooter replaced another on the resumption, Fowler-Reid taking a seat on the bench while rookie 1.94m Ellie Bird took her place under the Tactix hoop.

Elevated from the Mainland Beko Netball League team the week before, Bird made an instant impression, her height proving a ready and visible target. Midcourters Thompson and Nicola Mackle provided an efficient service as the visitors evened up the contest.

The Steel took time to adapt to their new combination of Te Paea Selby-Rickit (goal shoot) and Hume, the Tactix more than keeping their opponents honest as they went on to narrowly win the quarter, the home team heading into the main break with a 34-28 lead.

Fowler-Reid remained on the bench for the third stanza, Hume and Selby-Rickit switching positions ahead of a stirring comeback from the Tactix.

With Leaver and Bird excelling under the Tactix hoop and defenders Zoe Walker and Temalisi Fakahokotau picking off turnovers at the other end, the visitors chipped away at the deficit before levelling up.

It was an exciting run to the last break, the teams going goal-for-goal with the Steel protecting a narrow 53-52 lead.