IT was a true celebration of netball in Invercargill on Sunday night not the result most of the spectators were wanting but definitely a celebration.
The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel was playing the do-or-die match against The Good Oil Mainland Tactix at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill.
With the victor earning the right to take part in the ANZ Premiership final against the Mystics in the season decider at Auckland this weekend, it was a game each team was desperate to win.
The parochial Southland crowd were there to cheer (and umpire) from the sidelines and they weren’t disappointed when Steel came out blazing in the first quarter.
However, a patchy second quarter, where the Tactix defence almost shut down Steel’s goal third completely, saw the margin grow.
While Steel came back to within four goals in the last quarter, it was always a bridge too far, with the result ultimately ending in Tactix’s favour with a 54-49 score.
For Steel captain Shannon Saunders, the fact the team never gave up was a real positive.
“We really just froze up on attack and I think we played into what they wanted defensively.
“But the positive was that we could come out of it and we were able to adapt and I thought opened up a lot more in the second half.”
Coach Reinga Bloxham said she was overall really happy with the team’s season and the preseason goal of making it to the top three had been fulfilled.
Steel fans were delivered good news on Monday when the southern franchise announced its signing of English import goal shoot George Fisher for next year’s campaign.
The international shooting sensation has played a pivotal role in Steel’s success this season, her trademark accuracy and dynamic combinations formed proving influential.
Fisher was “super excited” at the prospect of returning to Steel for the 2022 ANZ Premiership campaign.
Turns out she’s rather fond of her southern home.
“When I came over I was so nervous that I was going to miss home and kept telling myself it’s only six months.
“Now I don’t want to leave. I love everything about it,” she said.
“When they said to me about coming back, it was a definite yes. It wasn’t a hard decision at all.
“I think Shannon (Saunders) summed it up perfectly the other day when she said she had never been part of a team culture like this. Literally everyone genuinely likes each other and has each other’s backs. We don’t just train together, we hang out. It’s awesome.”
Her reason for coming to New Zealand was to grow as a player and to learn as much as she could.
“What I’m most happy about is genuinely how much my game has changed and how I have grown.
“I’m seeing things, the way I move and hold, it’s all so different and that’s what I wanted. I’m really happy with the way it’s gone so far.”
A big lesson she learnt this season was that being in the “hurt box” is a good place to be.
“Before I kind of shied away from it but it’s really good.”