SOUTHERN netball legend Wendy Frew still gets goosebumps when she recalls the thrill of playing to a packed house of frenzied netball fans at ILT Stadium Southland.
“It’s a feeling like no other and it’s actually hard to describe just how exhilarating it is,” the former Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel captain said.
“I’m totally psyched to experience that again but this time sitting among the crowd.”
Invercargill would host the ANZ Premiership finals at ILT Stadium Southland on Sunday, August 23, with all six teams in action, culminating in the grand final between The Good Oil Tactix and Te Wananga o Raukawa Pulse. Just more than 600 tickets remain on sale.
Frew was eager to see local netball aficionados throw their support behind the netball extravaganza.
“We’ve earned a reputation as the best netball fans in the country and this is our chance to prove it once again,” she said.
“We talk about sportsmanship on the court, I guess we need to talk about it off the court as well. Yes, we’re disappointed Steel aren’t there playing for the title but we really need to show New Zealand that we can pack out this stadium.
“We need to be loyal to the game of netball and ensure we cheer on the two teams vying for that trophy. The Tactix and Pulse have worked extremely hard and been in consistently great form throughout the season and deserve to be rewarded for that.
“At the end of the day it’s about the game we love so I want to see people get behind it and make this a sellout.”
Before hanging up her sneakers in 2018, Frew led Steel to two ANZ Premiership victories and was a key component of the southern franchise for a remarkable 17 years. She rates the knowledge of the parochial crowd.
“They’re always really engaged. I like the netball brains down here because they’re not just there to watch the game, they actually analyse it. I’ve always respected their passion for the game of netball.”
Frew believed it was that unrivalled reputation which prompted Netball New Zealand to bring the finals south.
“It’s huge for Southland and really cool we’ve been awarded the finals series and will have New Zealand’s best playing right here. There hasn’t been much live sport – here or anywhere in the world for that matter – so we should be grateful for the opportunity and get behind it. It will be a massive netball showcase.”
She predicted the crowd would quickly adopt a team to barrack for as the “unofficial home team” in the two playoffs not featuring Steel.
“That’s pretty special and you will want to be that team they’re supporting opposition and there’s a reason teams fear coming here,” she said.
“The Tactix definitely have the edge with Te Paea (Selby-Rickit) in the ranks. I think the crowd will get behind her immensely. I was really sad to see her leave the Steel but for her personally and from a game perspective it’s been a great move for her. She’s in excellent form and I think the crowd will be leaning towards supporting her given she’s been loyal to the Steel for so long.”
Former Steel players feature in all five visiting teams. Defender Phoenix Karaka is captain of a Northern Mystics side which includes Courtney Elliott, Sulu Fitzpatrick and Dani Gray, the Robinhood Stars have Jamie Hume and Storm Purvis in the ranks, while Erena Mikaere is with the Splice Construction Magic. The Pulse includes Katrina Rore and Aliyah Dunn, while Jane Watson and Sophia Fenwick also play for Tactix.
“I’m really excited about catching up with everyone. When you’re team-mates for so long you become very tight-knit. You’re often away from home and living in each other’s space so you do form really close bonds,” Frew said.
“I think a piece of the Steel is always in their hearts so they will be excited to get back down south and play in our stadium again. It will bring back emotions and feelings for them some of which have been lucky enough to win down in Invercargill so there’s fond memories there.”