Wahine Toa defended their right to be in Whangārei's premier netball competition with a nail-biting 28-27 win over Manawanui Red on Friday night at ASB Stadium.
In a low-scoring but extremely competitive fixture, turnovers were the key to Wahine Toa's promotion/relegation win as they often looked troubled against the energetic premier reserve team which were pushing their case to enter Whangārei's top division of netball.
The small crowd at ASB Stadium certainly favoured the challengers as any goal or turnover was celebrated loudly with cheers that echoed against the surrounding walls.
The game started at a frenetic pace with both teams showing they wanted that premier division spot. With their traditional physical style of play, Wahine Toa proved a tough opponent for the challengers, leading at the end of the first quarter, 9-4.
The nervous excitement was clear to see in Manawanui's play and recognised by the team's management and bench with a number of calls to settle came throughout the game.
With height at both ends of the court, Manawanui should have had the advantage, particularly feeding into their shooters, but thanks to some uncertain play from their mid court and great defensive work from Wahine Toa, the threat of Manawanui shooter Adelle Turuwhenua was nullified for most of the game.
Trailing by four at half-time, Manawanui were able compose themselves enough to close the gap at three-quarter time to 22-20 in favour of Wahine Toa. Thanks to two quick goals from Manawanui, scores were tied in the fourth quarter and the tension in the stadium grew to breaking point.
Failing to keep hold of the ball was the main trait of both teams in the final quarter and in some cases, possession changed as many as six times before either side could convert.
As well as their goal-shoot Maria Himiona, Wahine Toa's defensive end of Madaya Butler and Armanya Potatau stood up when it counted, pulling off vital intercepts and turnovers in the circle to prevent Manawanui from taking their spot in the premier division.
Wahine Toa had not won any of their five games in the premier competition so far, but coach Ivy Te Nana said she was glad her side had broken their losing streak under a heavy injury cloud.
"We've had a lot of injuries so we've basically brought new players in and I thought they gelled in really well," she said.
"[Manawanui] threw it at us and I expected that in a promotion/relegation game but I thought our defence was outstanding."
In what was a rematch of a tight Wahine Toa win in the earlier grading rounds, Te Nana said she was proud of her new players who battled against a more experienced outfit.
Manawanui coach Derek Wall said his side performed well but couldn't take advantage of Wahine Toa's mistakes.
"We definitely had opportunities to win the game, we just didn't take them when we needed to, we just didn't capitalise on those turnovers."
Despite some big calls from the umpires towards the end of the game, Wall said his side didn't adapt to the pressure they were being put under by Wahine Toa's defenders.
"That's netball and you've got to adjust and we didn't adjust as quickly and as effectively as we could have."