The Central Pulse started their 2020 ANZ Premiership campaign with a win over the Mainland Tactix. Five months, a worldwide pandemic, two lockdowns and 15 games later, they've concluded the season in the same style.
The Pulse have defended their Premiership title with a 43-31 victory over the Tactix, sending out departing coach Yvette McCausland-Durie on a winning note.
They were deserving victors, based both on tonight's final and the season as a whole, which saw them reel off a 10-game winning streak to start the season, and concluded with the side scoring the most goals, conceding the fewest and having the best shooting accuracy in the competition.
The Tactix were worthy rivals, having won a franchise-record six consecutive games to make the final, but playing in front of an empty arena in Invercargill, they were quickly put under pressure by the defending champions, who kept the Tactix scoreless for nearly four minutes to begin the contest.
In a speedy and frantic first quarter, defence took centre stage, with multiple intercepts and defensive tips – mostly from the Pulse, who held the Tactix to just six goals, their lowest first-quarter score all season.
The Tactix defensive duo of Jane Watson and Temalisi Fakahokotau were uncharacteristically quiet in the second period, having only two gains and one intercept between them, and the defenders seemed dejected towards the end of the half, as the Pulse feeders found their shooters with ease to take a 23-13 halftime lead.
Aliyah Dunn was as reliable as ever at goal shoot, sinking 28 of 30 attempts, and holding her ground against the physical Tactix defence, while Ameliaranne Ekenasio chimed in with a 15/18 mark and nine goal assists.
A lifted Tactix side showed patience on attack in the third quarter, winning it 11-8, but ultimately their slow start cost them, as the Pulse still led by seven with 12 minutes to play, and held their nerve in the final moments to seal a 12-goal win, and their second straight title.
Pulse captain Katrina Rore credited McCausland-Durie for the victory, and dedicated the success to her coach.
"We have a very humble, amazing passionate team and that's all brought to you by Yvette McCausland-Durie," said Rore.
"This is for her - she's been with us four years, four grand finals, her second win. That woman is absolutely amazing and we're really going to miss her. [She is] just a very special human, very unemotional woman, when things are down, you can never tell, when things are up, you still can't tell.
"But she means a lot to our team, and me personally as well, so I owe a lot to her to getting me from down in the dumps back up to where I needed to be, so for me, I'm so grateful."
Both squads now await the naming of a Silver Ferns squad and a development side on Tuesday, with several Pulse and Tactix players expected to be in the mix.
Here is the goal-by-goal action from the final: