Southern Steel 51
Mainland Tactix 46

The Southern Steel weren't supposed to win this match.

Even though they were unbeaten and top of the table, and to host the ANZ Premiership final in a few days, they'd had a horror crash in their team van on Monday, which cost them four of their best players. How shaken that left the players only they know.

But they did what champion sides do, with a clutch of young players coming in, they produced a super final quarter, which they won 13-5, to beat the bottom-placed Tactix by five goals.


No Wendy Frew, Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, Shannon Francois or Te Paea Selby-Rickit meant they were certainly vulnerable and the Tactix - whose only previous win this season was against the Stars 46-43 on June 4, and who'd been thumped 90-41 by the Steel in round back - had their noses in front for the first three quarters.

There wasn't much in it, but with Brooke Leaver busy at goal attack, Ellie Bird proving a reliable shooter and captain Anna Thompson toiling tirelessly at wing attack, the Tactix got to the start of the final quarter three ahead and in touching distance of victory.

Instead player of the match Jane Watson and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit mounted a fierce defensive operation for the Steel. Suddenly blue-clad players were winning the 50-50 battles, they stepped up the urgency and the Tactix lost the plot.

Silver Fern Watson broke down in tears after the match, unable to speak and there were Steel players wiping their eyes as they reflected on a traumatic week in which four of their players had spent time in Christchurch hospital after their team van had toppled on its side after a collision with a car.

But they dug deep from a reservoir of determination and got, considering the circumstances, a terrific win.

''I can't believe it," captain Selby-Rickit said. ''We've had some issues in the last couple of days but I'm so happy for those girls who stepped up out of nowhere. So proud of them. I'm just stoked we got there in the end."

''Issues" is one way to put it, but while the Tactix were sympathetic to their plight, Thompson was bitterly disappointed.

''We're gutted. We certainly had control of the game but in the last quarter they really put the head on us and we crumbled a little bit. We're really disappointed," she said.

The Steel, sitting on 28 points, nine clear of the second-placed Mystics, finish the round robin against the Central Pulse at Invercargill next Monday. But they are assured of hosting the final on June 28.

The Tactix finish their campaign in Auckland against the Mystics next Sunday.